Are you one of the many people out there seeking more meaningful work and possibly even considering ditching your 9 to 5 to start (or work for) a social enterprise venture?
So what’s holding you back?
Based on my own experience, I’m guessing it’s the fear of the unknown and the nagging uncertainty of whether or not you have what it takes to become a success.
Over the past year, I’ve interviewed many successful social entrepreneurs and startup founders for my blog globesprouting and I’ve noticed a definite pattern emerge – there are certain qualities they all seem to possess.
Based on my findings, following are some of what I believe are the top indicators that you’ll be a successful social entrepreneur, along with resources to help you develop the traits you might need to work on a bit more:
1: You’ve got dollars and sense
Great ideas and a burning passion will only take you so far.
Tyler Gage, co-founder at Runa, probably summed it up the best during a recent interview: “I think as a social entrepreneur, my biggest piece of advice is to focus on the business first. Ultimately if you have a really great social mission but the fundamental operations or business of what you’re doing isn’t viable, then you can’t really help anybody.”
And Tyler’s right (of course). Unlike a not-for-profit which solely relies on donations and tax breaks, a social enterprise is a business. And the more money the business makes, the more people it can help.
If you’re looking for a crash course to refine your startup business skills (outside of the traditional social enterprise resources that organizations like Acumen offer) I’d suggest checking out General Assembly’s class schedule. With physical locations in major cities around the world, in addition to online options, General Assembly has a solid reputation teaching entrepreneurs real-life skills. There’s plenty of classes to choose from, ranging from project management to seed-funding to marketing.
2: ‘Tenacity’ is your middle name
Launching a social enterprise (or any startup for that matter) is hard work – to say the very least. Especially if you find yourself working in a completely new industry, like Lazlo founder Christian Birky.
But Christian didn’t let the fact that he had no prior fashion experience stop him from launching successful ethical fashion startup that directly benefits former inmates.
Being able to teach yourself the ropes is mandatory. Which means you’ll not only need to be tenacious in your approach but also understand how to best utilize all of your resources on a shoestring budget.
Check out UnLtd’s Strategies for Operating on a Shoestring if you need more guidance.
3: You take things personally
Obviously the world of social enterprise attracts people looking for more meaningful work. But be careful not to confuse working for a cause with something you’re personally passionate about.
Knotty Gal co-founder Nur-E Farhana Rahman is a great example. Following a trip to the Bhandari Girls’ School in Bogra, Bangladesh, originally founded by her great-grandfather, she returned to the U.S. with a personal desire to help the students there. So she quit her job and put all of her efforts into launching Knotty Gal, a handmade accessories line that donates proceeds to purchase improvements for the school.
While working for a greater cause is great, you’re more likely to put in the late hours and stick with it if you’re also helping to solve a problem that you can personally relate to on some level.
And if you’re still searching for your ‘purpose,’ check out these Fast Exercises to Find Your Purpose and Passion for Work.
4: Jumping off a cliff seems like a good idea
Scary as it might sound, risk-taking ranks as one of the most important traits for just about every successful entrepreneur I’ve ever spoken to. And no one exemplifies this more for me than Wize Monkey co-founder Max Rivest.
I’ll never forget how Max told me he “used credit cards to fund the first trip down to Nicaragua to setup the supply chain…” to get his coffee leaf tea business started. But his risk paid off and Wize Monkey now financially supports coffee farmers in Nicaragua with their award-winning tea.
So I hate to break it to, but there’s really no way of getting around it – at some point, you’ll need to take a leap of faith. This Business Owner’s Guide to Taking Calculated Risks can help you summon up the courage.
5: You’re a marathon runner not a sprinter
If you think your social enterprise will somehow just ‘blow up’ overnight as a result of a piece of media coverage or word-of-mouth – think again. Because becoming an overnight success often takes YEARS.
When I asked Proof co-founders (and brothers) Brooks, Tanner and Taylor Dame about how Proof grew so quickly, they reminded me of the five years they’ve been working hard on the business, which sells handcrafted eyewear to benefit a range of global charities. In fact, many social enterprise founders I’ve spoken with had been working for much longer before achieving ‘mainstream’ success.
So before you even think about getting started, make sure you’re in it for the long-haul and have a long-term strategy for success ready. These 11 Tools for Managing Long-Term Strategic Goals can help.
Rebecca Cressmana is a PR/Communications Consultant and Purpose-Driven Blogger helping organizations reach a wider audience with their social impact and sustainability stories. As the founder of globesprouting, she tells inspiring startup stories and provides expert advice to help entrepreneurs launch and grow a purpose-driven business. She’s also a certified GRI (G4) sustainability reporting trainee and her thought-leadership content has appeared in publications like Foundr, Adweek and Causeartist. Most importantly, she promises to keep everything 100% GMO and BS-free.