1. Start with a Clear Social Problem
Almost every social entrepreneur that I have met, has been inspired to start their social enterprise as a result of an issue that they have experienced in their personal life or through their extended environment. While having a broad problem to solve is a great starting point, however in order to build a product or service that can truly help address this problem, one needs to go many layers deeper to understand the root cause of the issue so that you can ensure that through your venture you are genuinely addressing this cause and not just the symptoms. This takes time and patience but should be the starting up and will eventually turn out to be one of the best investments that you make in setting up your social enterprise. Once there is total clarity on problem, then it is easier to understand who your end users or beneficiaries will be and make sure that your product or service is truly addressing their pain point and hence validate the market need for it.
2. Define your Core Values in the Beginning Itself
It is very important to define in the early stages of your venture what are the core values, both personal as well as for the organisation, that you would want to adhere by. When you start up a new business, you are never sure of the exact direction that it will take. In particular, for social enterprises there are often choices to be made which sometimes feel like a trade off between financial returns and impact and when you might find yourself at crossroads in such situations, it these core values that you have defined that will be your anchor. As you grow and need to hire and take on partners, these values will also help you see if there is alignment and if you are all driven by a similar outlook.
3. It's Never Too Early to Start Thinking About Building a Team
When you just start out, you might feel that you really don’t have the financial resources to hire a team. But do not let that stop you from thinking about the team that you would like to have and in doing so be honest with yourself of your strengths and weaknesses so that you can bring in people who will complement your skills and fill gaps. You may choose to hire a freelancer, or outsource your work entirely.
If you have a strong vision of what you want to achieve, you will be able to bring on people even as volunteers and interns who would be more interested in joining you to make a difference and are driven by a shared purpose as yours. Mentors can also help in plugging in gaps around strategic thinking and to be a sounding board. As you think about working with mentors, look for people who shares your passion, can bring their experience to shorten your learning curve, open their networks to you and most importantly are able to give you tough but very honest and constructive feedback. Don't forget to pay close attention to cultivating an open, positive company culture.
4. Develop Impact Metrics and a Long Term Sustainability Plan
Start defining how you will measure your impact at the onset. It is only when we know what we want to measure are we able to actually measure it. Developing impact metrics will help you understand if you are getting closer to the change that you want to see and if you are meeting your impact goals. It will also be the data that you use to set future growth strategy as well as understand which areas need to be changed or improved. Impact metrics is also what funders look closely at and this is true for both grantmakers and impact investors. It is also vital for social enterprises to have a long term sustainability plan - since funders do want to see that in the long term you have a revenue model that will allow you to be financially independent.
5. Don’t Underestimate The Strength Of The Company You Keep
Make the effort to create a strong peer network around you by attending industry events, conferences and talks. Learn to give and take within this peer network since this will help you get a better sense of what is happening within your local social enterprise ecosystem and bring up new sources of funding and partnerships. You will also be able to learn through the experiences of your peers and given that they are on a journey similar to yours they will be one of your biggest cheerleaders when things seem difficult.
In the end and most importantly - stay resilient and inspired.
There will be many ups and downs in your journey and plenty of times when you will have self – doubts and feel like giving up. And while the road ahead might seem long and daunting, be kind to yourself and pause regularly to look back and give yourself a pat on the back for how far you have come.