Follow Your Heart, Start a Business
For too many previous incarnations, running a business meant focusing on profit and growth. Social issues, community involvement, and sustainability were thought to be the exclusive purview of the non-profit sector. Thankfully, these days that is no longer the case.
While Ben & Jerry’s ice cream has been successfully balancing social initiatives with business profits for years now, other major corporations are starting to wake up and get woke. It’s called “social entrepreneurship,” and even the biggest brands in the world such as Addidas and LEGO are hopping on board.
If you are one of the 94% of Gen-Zers who believes in mixing financial sustainability with social change, then you are already a social entrepreneur. Here is some advice for maintaining balance and maximizing impact…all while making a profit.
Don’t take on a cause you don’t believe in. With so many real problems facing the world, chances are excellent you can find one that really calls to you. Your cause doesn’t even have to be globally catastrophic; no one expects you to single-handedly stop climate change or cure cancer. Start with your immediate community and really look for those issues that affect the people around you every day.
When a cause hits close to home for you, you are more likely to take a stand. That stand should trickle down to the rest of your team. It should ignite your passions and give you a reason to wake up in the morning and get to work.
Be a Problem-Solver
Social entrepreneurship is more than identifying a problem and drawing attention to it. Once you have your cause and take your stand, what are you going to do to make things better? This is where your unique business plan will come into play. What product or service can you provide that will help make the problem go away?
While thinking about this, make sure you are actually focusing on real solutions that will benefit those you are trying to help. That means being a good listener when people talk to you about their needs and finding ways to fulfill those needs, rather than imposing your ideas on everyone.
In the case of social entrepreneurship, good intentions are not enough. True social entrepreneurship means going way beyond wearing a ribbon for Whatever Awareness. Not every cause needs a bucket of money dumped on their doorstop (although cash donations rarely hurt). No one doubts you have excellent ideas, but before you move forward with your enterprise, be certain you’ve worked with the community you are trying to help.
Empower Your Employees
Go beyond paying lip service to your cause and actually get your whole team involved. Everyone deserves to be heard and respected. Your team will perform better when they are working to their strengths and when they are also working towards a cause they believe in. Better yet: hire people within the community you are trying to help. They are already living with the problems you want to solve and can offer valuable insight for your business. Doing so also proves that you are more than a lot of ideas with no follow-through.
Make Your Cause Something You Would Help Fix Anyway
If there were zero profit to be had; if this were volunteer work on your part; if there were no scholarships to compete for or community service requirements to fulfill; then what would you do?
Even though you are running a for-profit business, your cause should not be an afterthought. In the 21st century, the two models – for-profit business and non-profit organization – are symbiotic. Therefore, make a point of keeping your business’s social impact initiative front and center.
Bring Your Unique Perspective
Remember earlier when we discussed looking for a cause close to home? This includes putting your unique life experience to work. Your upbringing, your circumstances, your gender expression, your physical and mental abilities, all come into play with social entrepreneurship. Maybe someone helped you along the way and you want to pay it forward by helping others who are suffering the same setbacks you once faced. Or maybe a relative or close friend has inspired you. Whatever it is, you are perfectly situated to tackle this problem.
You do not need an advanced degree or special training to want to help yourself or someone you love: all you need is the will to make one life a little bit happier.
Maintain Smart Business Practices
While your cause should be kept front and center, don’t ignore the business side. Your company still needs to make a profit. If you are not naturally business-inclined, there are plenty of blogs, books, podcasts, and organizations especially designed to teach you things like financials, marketing, and business plan development.
If you have integrated your social cause and your business model correctly, then your company’s profits will directly help boost your giving-back and vice versa. They are intertwined now, so make sure you take a little bit of time to learn how to start and run a business.
Think Outside the Box
Yeah, it’s an old-fashioned saying, but it still holds true. In fact, these days it’s probably truer than ever. The old ways of doing things have never solved problems. Sometimes the problems arose because of the old way of doing things!
This is where you come in. Your biggest strength right now is your youth. As a young entrepreneur, you are not beholden to outdated business models and practices. You are not stuck in your ways or confused by emerging technology. You know social media backward, forward, and in your sleep. You have fresh eyes and lots of new, exciting ideas. Take all of that and run with it! Every single problem facing the world today needs clever, creative solutions…YOUR clever, creative solutions.
You don’t need to save the entire world while balancing school, homework, volunteering, athletics, friends, family, and personal care. In fact, it would be irresponsible to try to be all things to all people. However, you can make a direct and deep impact on your small corner of the world through social entrepreneurship.
Florida’s young entrepreneurs are encouraged to apply for a Kantner Foundation college scholarship. Learn more by clicking here!