What to ask Before You Turn Your Business Into a Social Enterprise

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Not all social entrepreneurs start from scratch. Imagine someone who starts a business, and happily grows their business. They developed a knack for entrepreneurship and one day they came across an issue that won’t leave their mind. They discovered a social impact concern they wish to help with.

That same person finds out about social entrepreneurship and decides they want to help through a for-profit solution. Understandably, that person could have lots of questions. Should they start a new business? Should they form a nonprofit instead? Should they increase their ESG programs? What if… they transitioned their business into a social enterprise?

Can your business handle a transition?

Now, let’s think that the entrepreneur is you. You might feel a transition could work. You can shift the focus of your already existing business towards good causes that support a community or solve a concern.

The next thing you could be thinking is how you would possibly maneuver such a transition. Here’s a few disclaimers or reminders of what to ask yourself at the start:

“How large is my company?”

Larger companies have funding, but they also have more moving parts and more infrastructure that may require more work. Smaller companies are easier to shift, but should consider if they have or can raise funds to support the shift.

“How much time can I dedicate to a transition?”

This is not to say that a transition will take a long time. The idea here is to realize how long your business could support itself during the transition if needed. You may not see a decrease in profits, but if you did, ask if the business could still run with that risk.

If you’re really committed, that can help you find solutions to barriers you may experience. At the same time, it’s okay to rethink or find a different path so you can protect what you built, your team, and yourself.

You determine if your business is capable of the transition. It could be a few simple steps and collaborations that lead you to a new, impact-driven, profitable business.

What do you know about the social impact cause or concern?

One of the first things to explore is the topic itself. You need a chance to educate yourself about the cause or concern you’ll support. A business solution will be hard to come by without research. Due diligence opens your mind to what solutions are actually effective in helping the community you hope to support. Education and research is a prerequisite.

If you feel nervous, don’t. Research isn’t about taking a formal class (although that can help in some cases). It’s more so a strategy of engaging the community directly. This is part of what’s known as Human Centered Design in the social enterprise field. You base your solution around real information from the stakeholders involved with the cause or concern. It’s like market research (but with more empathy).

You’ll most likely need to build an MVP (minimal viable product) or run a type of beta program, depending on the solution. Many of these tasks aren’t too different from strategies done when building any other business. You have an upper hand since you already have experience. Gather all your newfound insight, and imagine what solution could exist for your business.

Where can change start in the business?

You know your business model best. Identify opportunities by taking a look at where you are now. Based on the insight you gathered, you can brainstorm ideas to change the direction of your services or products. The changes could be big or small.

For example:

  • A business owner who manages a beauty e-commerce store can shift their products to zero-waste options.
  • A business owner who has a potato chip brand can move into doing a food security subscription meal box.
  • A business owner who runs a sneaker brand can change to sustainable materials and manufacturers.
  • A business owner who manages a window cleaning agency can decide on building a social impact marketing agency.

In most cases, you may have a team you can speak with to tackle the changes together. Why else would you have leaders manage separate departments? The management team holds a closer look at the moving parts you don’t see every day. With their help, you can create an actionable plan that matches the capacity of each section in your business.

Bringing the team into it also offers a sense of ownership. Your leaders can feel more invested into what’s happening.

Once you identify where to start, you can choose when to start. It’s a great idea to discuss how soon changes can be implemented. You can plan if these changes need to happen in steps/stages, and how many stages it’ll take to get things moving.

Reminder: Try not to get too caught up with planning. You need planning and action together to move forward.

This is also a chance to track what’s happening. Being able to leverage past data and insights usually has a high ROI.

What resources are available to your social enterprise journey?

Speaking with team members, peers, or coaches gear you up for success. Essentially, you’re tapping into different ideas and perspectives on how to get your new business into reality. It’s the casual conversations with friends or mentors that spark the most novel solutions. There’s something about collaborative energy that fuels thought and brainstorming.

Beyond the people around you, focus on organizations that can help you out. You can talk to a nonprofit involved in the cause since they have experience and stakeholders to speak with. Another place to look is online communities. They can be related to your cause or to social entrepreneurship in general. These online communities can direct you to contacts or resources that are helpful for your journey.

If you get into these conversations, you may start to realize how possible it is to transition your business. Access to groups gives you a place to brainstorm and present. Over time, your new resources make every process smoother. You’ll gradually build the new business you dreamt of seeing, and you can finally support communities with your social enterprise.

As you can see, asking a few questions can help you start your social entrepreneur journey. If you have any questions about social entrepreneurship, leave them in the comment section below. What are you curious about? What would you like to know?

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