Social Enterprise: TOMS

Some people are of the opinion that social entrepreneurship has something to do with how you market your business over social media, but this is far from the truth. True social entrepreneurship has to do with the underlying objectives and human elements behind the running of a company. It stems from the personal philosophies and ideals of those in charge and filters through to the main workings of the establishment. In this lies the continuous challenge to balance the goal of any business – which is turning a profit, and making the business serve a higher purpose.

Shout It Loud and Proud – Share Your Good Works

Many companies do actively support charity drives and worthy initiatives, and they are not shy to make this known to the public. The benefit to be gained by this approach is that the company will invariably always draw unto itself like-minded individuals who would be proud to serve under their employ. At the same time, the company has no trouble keeping existing staff members happy who view their participation in the business as something noble and fulfilling. More companies are realising the tremendous benefits attached to the social enterprise business model.

Employees are a social enterprise’s biggest resource

There is no denying that companies who operate for a higher goal are still sometimes faced with a scenario where the ‘chase for profits’ remains the number one priority. It’s important to note how employees react in this situation, particularly those who were initially attracted to the company on the basis of its so-called mission. Some may feel disenchanted with the firm once they realise that the company was merely projecting a façade, and others may even feel betrayed now that they have seen the ‘higher mission’ fall through the cracks.

Being a true social entrepreneur means going above and beyond appearances, and herein lies the biggest challenge. When you look at a firm that claims to contribute to preserving the environment, you want to hear about the actual endeavours they have undertaken to make a difference. You are not so easily convinced even if the company takes a can of spray paint and decorates its brand image up and down in appropriate green. People relate to real life stories and the truth always comes out in the end.

Finding the right quality people to share in your vision is another task altogether. Sometimes it’s not easy trying to determine people’s motives and having to separate the wheat from the chaff is not a straightforward affair. From upper management teams to office staff, to labourers on the workshop floor, you wished everyone was possessed by the same level of dedication to the ”cause” as you are. Finding investors though who may well share your specific dream shouldn’t be as difficult as the Huffington Post would suggest.

Assess every aspect of your business model

When your business is in motion, you have yet to arrest yourself from the balancing act that lies between achieving profits and promoting social initiatives. You have to drill down to the most minute of elements in your business and see if they are inline with the larger objective. For example, if you’re an environmentalist this could mean making sure all writing material comes from recycled sources, and when disposed is recycled again.

But it doesn’t stop there – there are bigger fish to fry. The daunting question is whether the company is prepared to take a slight knock to its profits in order to better serve the bigger goal. If it means that a few pennies lost here and there will somehow translate to a profound impact on the company’s contribution to its cause then by all means. But it is never as simple as that. There are a lot of grey areas but certainly objectivity helps a great deal to complete this balancing act.

Believe in the ideal – and remind yourself regularly

You need to truly believe in and stand for the bigger mission you serve. This goes without saying, and is the foundation of a true social enterprise. As the business owner, you have to demonstrate this purpose driven philosophy in both word and action. This not only cements the company’s deeper goal in the minds of your staff but also plays a huge role in fostering powerful relationships with your customers.

Remember – you are in control, and it is only you who can decide when you will happily reap the profits, and when you should relax your business mind so that the social initiative can take precedence. The constant back and forth guidance between profit and cause is completely at the behest of the entrepreneur, but the rewards of playing to this balance go to the company as a whole.

Another core responsibility of the social entrepreneur involves learning how to use creativity and open-mindedness in this balancing act. This is critical for any business so that it never has to feel like the social project is a lead weight around your waist. Instead, the company’s mission should be a source of inspiration and strength to all parties concerned.

The secret to success

Those social enterprises that have made the biggest impacts haven’t learnt any mysterious secret. In fact, they have succeeded in part because of their intelligent use of data gathered from the process of balancing the mission and the money. They have learnt how investing more revenue into the mission meant the wider success of the social initiative; how in turn, the greater success of the mission resulted in more money coming to the company. If you need help deciding the structure of your socially oriented business here is a wonderful resource detailing the models of social enterprises.

Greater than profits is when you realise that your customers and clients have a definitive role to play in the bigger scheme of things.  For the social enterprise, this means figuring out how you can create a direct bonding between your company’s social mission to the values of every customer. The first step will be to look at ways in which your business can join forces with customers in order to further the social goal. And secondly, since you wouldn’t be in business otherwise, is to see how this process can be made profitable.

The last stage to linking your customers to your mission happens when you learn to take active involvement with your customers. This happens through the very support your customer gives to your company when they buy your products and services. It actually plays a role by serving or enhancing the mission and is contributive in some way. Remember though that this does not take place directly, this can only be achieved over a period of learning to bring customers closer to the higher goals of your business.

Written by Anna Lemos