Starting a business is never easy. It’s an uphill battle for sure. Accepted wisdom dictates that if you keep your head above water for two years ‒ by any means necessary ‒ you’re rewarded with tenure as a profitable venture. Only, that’s not true.
There’s no divine right to longevity in business. The goalposts are always moving as industries are disrupted. There’s certainly no guarantee you’ll still enjoy the process by the time your business does ‘make it’.
That said, by no means is it all doom and gloom.
A simple shift in mindset can help entrepreneurs maintain passion alongside profit. By focusing on meaning as the core objective, rather than money, you instantly shore up the foundations.
While the first impulse is to keep all eyes on finance as your business grows, this is an outmoded approach. There’s a noticeable trend towards businesses that throw their weight behind social causes ‒ and not just as a token afterthought. Think of Koala Mattress or Sendle, for example.
Koala helps to rehabilitate sick koalas and preserve their habitat with the money it makes selling mattresses (Photo: SMH)
For many new ventures, social responsibility is at the very heart of their objectives. Not only that, altruism is considered a key driver of success. It’s not about charity, necessarily. It’s about empowering people to help others and the environment via trustworthy, effective channels.
For both NGOs and traditional commercial ventures, the lines are beginning to blur. On the one hand, NGOs are looking for more sustainable models, while commercial ventures recognise the value of caring (and being seen to care). The strengths of each are fusing to form a popular, hybrid business model.
So, what are the benefits of social purpose? And how can you make it commercially viable?
The purpose of social purpose
- People want to work for an employer that cares.
A large part of job satisfaction comes from pride in one’s work and the sense of making a positive difference. A lot of job descriptions talk a big game ‒ each trying to outbid the last in effusive odes to ‘company culture’. By having a designated social mission, this gives a tangible idea of your values and will attract like-minded people.
- Lower marketing costs
Think of the entrepreneurial videos that really grab your attention on social media. Ideas that address inequity are highly engaging and inspirational. It’s not about buzzwords and bravado, but seeing people bettering the world around them. It taps into people’s innate desire to help others but, crucially, also shows them a path to affect real change.
- Better access to funding
Not only is social purpose an attractive prospect for employees, investors are equally keen to align themselves with brands who embody positive values. Consumer standards are increasing. It’s not enough for a product to work. At the very least, it shouldn’t exploit people or harm the environment. If it can improve the lot of either, all the better.
- Community building/networking
The tricky part of any attempt at networking is the elephant in the room. The thinly veiled agenda that you ostensibly want something from the other person. This barrier is far easier to overcome when your brand helps people. Your reputation as a ‘good’ organisation is naturally magnetic. Useful allies will gravitate organically.
- Humanise your venture
As mentioned above, consumers will actively seek out brands doing good work. They’re also more patient with mistakes or delays if a mission is charitable. The last place the average consumer wants to invest their hard earned is in a faceless corporation. By underpinning your venture with charitable intent, you make your brand more likeable and accessible. Yours is a story people can engage with.
- Word of mouth
It remains the most persuasive form of marketing going round. If people think highly of what you do, they tell their family and friends. The opposite is also true. That recommendation comes with infinitely more trust than any branded channel can muster.
How to get started
Right. All those good intentions need to go somewhere. Here’s your checklist.
First, choose the area you want to make a difference in. Ideally, a cause close to your heart, but one that also presents an opportunity to make real change. Add it to your company’s mission statement. The rest of the process is more or less like any traditional venture:
- Define your purpose and USP (unique selling proposition)
- Research and prove demand for your product
- Enlist a business mentor or experienced advisor
- Sound out stakeholders
- Draw up a business plan and projections
- Recruit the right talent to realise your vision
Of course, there’s a lot of obligatory admin involved as well ‒ like getting insurance and registering for tax. But the keys to success are to find a worthy purpose, stay true to it, and surround yourself with the talent to make it happen. If you show enough potential, investors will invariably follow.
Inspiration in quotes
“Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionised the fishing industry.”
- Bill Drayton, Leading Social Entrepreneurs Changing the World
“The bottom line is down where it belongs ‒ at the bottom.”
- Paul Hawken, Growing a Business
“I think one of the most exciting trends right now is the birth of the global citizen who is interested in not only improving his or her immediate neighbourhood, but also helping his or her neighbours across the globe.”
- Kathy Calvin, United Nations Foundation
“If money could have changed the world, money would have changed the world.”
- Sharad Vivek Sagar
“My dream is to find individuals who take financial resources and convert them into changing the world in the most positive ways.”
- Jacqueline Novogratz, Acumen
“We can no longer define success as just greater profits. That’s obviously important (no margin, no mission) but true success leads to a stronger and healthier community and environment as well.”
- Jay Coen Gilbert, BCorp + BLab
Reputation is everything in marketing. However, if your charitable intent is motivated by PR, it’s fairly easy to spot. To be an asset to your business, your social purpose must be authentic and consistent, otherwise the whole thing crumbles.
However you choose to launch your business, social purpose can’t be a token addition. It should be something you believe in and that you’re willing to maintain regardless of your business’ rate of growth. Doing good should be inherent in the fabric of your business, inextricably linked to your commercial objectives.