The best way to get advice is from those who’ve experienced it in their own skin. I’ve been asking close to a hundred social entrepreneurs “What’s the piece of advice you’d like to give to other businesses trying to make a difference for good?” and this is what they said.
From the day I discovered the world of eco and social enterprises I have been obsessed with learning everything I could to support making the world a better place. It seemed so obvious to me that we can actually make a huge difference if we just choose better brands as consumers, or if we decide to make a business out of a social or environmental problem.
Luckily our ways are changing, and there are brave people creating a path for what slowly is becoming a new economy.
Under the belief that most people want to be good people, I have spent most of my time building a network for both consumers and brands to make better decisions. There is one absolute truth for me, and it’s that eco and social entrepreneurs are good people. They are not just doing business, they work on a mission, on something bigger; and therefore they don’t mind sharing their ideas and their knowledge because for them everything is about collaboration.
Hundreds of articles and interviews later, I asked for advice from eco and social entrepreneurs. Today is my chance to share them back with you, so here are the 30 top tips and highlights to leave you as inspired as I feel.
1. Nina and Rafa, the artists and co-founders of Cali Life Co
“You have to be persistent, you have to have a good product that people can afford, and you have to work well with others to be successful! Retail can bring out the best and the worst in people, so you have to take each day in stride. There will be days you just wish you had a boss and a predictable income! And other days you will feel on top of the world, but you still need to be humble and considerate of your company and customers needs. I’m so grateful we came up with something that we can stand behind, something we can believe in. Because when the bad days come, we know deep down we are still on the right track.”
2. Mark Abrials, CMO and co-founder of Avocado Green Mattress
“Stay true to your core mission and values — even when it’s costly, even when it’s disruptive, even when it’s the longer, slower road. We practice radical transparency which means being honest, even when it’s difficult. This is what inspires our brand advocates.”
3. Diane van Zwanenberg, founder of Coconut Matter
”Start a business that relates to a matter close to your heart. When things get tough along the way, you can always go back to your heart to gather strength and keep going forward.”
4. Joakim Cimmerbeck, founder of Eicó
“Do your homework, market research and feasibility studies before you start. Also, make sure your products or services do what you want it to do. In Asia, we have diverse weather and often extreme climate, if your products or services are dependent on this make sure it works.
Whatever is the number of sales you are targeting and time it takes to be self-sufficient, expect it to be a lot harder. Have time and money more than you think you need, double at least.
Prepare for surprises. Listen to your opposition and the ones that say what you do not want to hear. Those are the only ones that matter. The ones that say what you want to hear do not help your business. They grow your ego but that will never make business.”
5. Michael Menninger, founder of Far From Lost
“My advice would be firstly to find a topic or a problem that you are extremely passionate about. Secondly, it would be to find your inner voice, and distil all your thinking into something compact and digestible. And lastly, starting a business is very expensive, it is imperative to start as small as you can and validate each and every step along the way so you don’t go with a “spray and pray” approach.”
6. Damien Gould, founder of Goodtel
“My advice would be to just start doing something. No matter what it is or how small, if every business decided to make a difference over and above just trying to make a profit we would all be living in a much better world.
Allowing your team to volunteer regularly for charities, holding fundraisers, donating goods or services to those who need it. Ensuring all staff are paid fairly or ensuring your business is sourcing materials or services ethically, are some of the simple acts small businesses can do in most cases without much difficulty.”
7. Jared and Ryan, founders Goose Boards
”We all have good inside of us. Explore those inklings, and slowly (or quickly) make it happen. All you have to do is make a start. You don’t often get to see the impact of doing good things as they impact others in such a variety of ways. Also, don’t be afraid of wanting to make money, but don’t make that your only definition of success.”
8. Valinda, founder Green&Happy
”Take small steps. Each time you run out of a product look for a more sustainable alternative.”
9. Miranda Davidson, founder of Happy Planet Toys
”Have faith in what you’re trying to achieve, and stay the course. It takes a lot of confidence and resilience to put yourself and your product out there. Like any small business, it takes time to build your profile and get visibility for your product or service. But believe in what you’ve created and the change you want to make, sing it from the rooftops, and people will pay attention in time!”
10. Marianna Sachse, founder of Jackalo
”Surround yourself with talented people and keep learning. No one person can do or know everything, so seeking guidance and support from others is critical. I know that sounds like a contradiction since I said I’m essentially a one-woman business, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get fabulous guidance, as I talk to peers and leaders whenever I can. Having an “accountability partner” can be so helpful, this means someone you talk to regularly to help move your business forward. Rather than a mentor or coach, this is a peer (perhaps another entrepreneur) who is tackling similar challenges.”
11. Lisa Nel, General Manager of Jumbari Famili Safaris
”Find out what government organisations, affiliations or NGO’s there are that you can partner with to work towards making a difference. We suggest donating to an ethical trust or charity that makes a difference in your line of business.”
12. Andrew Gibbs-Dabney, founder of LIVSN design
”Define your values from the beginning and make them public. When you’re starting out, nearly everything you do is behind closed doors with little scrutiny. It’ll be up to you to make the right choices, and it makes it easier when your fans know your intentions and are able to call you out if you don’t.”
13. Anna Brindle, founder Lost Shapes
”It’s not enough to just have a worthy idea – you need to create something that people really want to buy too – especially if your target market is ethical consumers, as they’re not impulsive buyers!
Unless you are deliberately giving your time for free for the venture, and have another income, make sure you factor in paying yourself, otherwise, it’s not truly sustainable.”
14. Julie Grant, founder of Mandala Dream Co.
”For the social entrepreneurs who want to join the sustainable ecosphere; I’d suggest they’d stay versatile and fluid as it’s an ever-changing beast. Research your competitors and their propositions, but model yourself on businesses that you admire and genuinely love their ethos. Reach out to eco-bloggers and like minders. A sadly prepare yourself for the ‘fakers’ & ‘takers’, as plenty will promise the world for free product and not deliver. So consider a contract for all of these dealings from the start… that will get the non-genuine running away.”
15. Lesley Elder, founder My Sea Horse
”Find your tribe! There are lots of other people out there who have the same beliefs and concerns as you. Not only can they become your customers but they will help to sustain you when things get tough. And they will get tough. You will make mistakes but the important thing is just to keep going, do the best you can and be honest when you mess up. In the 6 months since we started our workshop has been flooded for a week, we’ve dealt with the uncertainty in our UK market with Brexit and now we are weathering the coronavirus. Not many new businesses have to deal with all of this in such a short space of time but we are still here!”
16. Julie Weig, co-founder of Ruby Cup
“If you have an idea, make an imperfect start-up plan and then get out and test it. You won’t know if it works until you try. In my experience, many skilled and experienced people out there are willing to help and give advice, so don’t be shy to reach out to people, even those you might think are too important or out of reach. If you want to use business to make social change, make sure you put heavy weight on the business part of the idea. You won’t make any impact without money.”
17. Sarah Freeman, founder of The Clothes Library
”Don’t give up when things get tough. There is always a way to achieve what it is you want to achieve. It might be hard work and long hours and what you end up doing may not necessarily be what you planned in the beginning, but somehow in some way, you can make it work and, if you can’t do what you set out to do, at least you tried. Failure isn’t not being successful, but it’s about not bothering to give it a go in the first place. Learn from every mistake- teach others what you learned. Another piece of advice is to COLLABORATE!!!!! I cannot tell you how important it is to share information, share experiences, share opportunities and people will want to do the same with you. It is hard when you are trying to do everything on your own. Help others out wherever you can. Support businesses in your area and get involved in community events. Meet people. Ask for help when you need it. You can write all the business plans in the world but you have to get out there and put them into practice to see if it works.”
18. Mark Suarkeo, co-founder and Chief Paper Saver at SquiQR
”I would say that it’s really important to understand how it feels to have compassion. Make sure your whole team can appreciate this essential quality too. This will help sustain your desire to carry out your mission while feeding off the positive energy that surrounds you. Flourish authentic relationships with those who truly align with your values. Help as many people as you can along the way, and most of all, enjoy every moment of the journey.”
19. Diti Kotecha, founder of Théla
”Keep at it and don’t give up! Intention and talent and intelligence are all very good, but they mean very little without perseverance.”
20. Lisa Sjöblom, founder of TYOUB
”Get involved, join groups, learn from others and make your journey a shared experience. Trying to do everything yourself is not as easy as it sounds – tasking others with things you can’t do is a great way to sustain your business. Be organised and keep a vision of why you are doing what you are doing. Make each day about learning and not necessarily about selling. It must be a passion. Something that feeds your inner-self. Having people you can trust and call on to help you with questions you are not sure of. Be curious and ready to learn, even when you think you have all the answers.”
21. Malou Claessens, founder WAVE Eco Solutions
”Environmental and social entrepreneurs, we all are on the same path, working towards the same goal. Responsible entrepreneurship needs to happen to save the environment and make that change the world is crying for, so let’s all help each other.”
22. Lauren Derrett, founder Wear’em Out
”Be as personable as you can be, every large marketing campaign you see is built on connection with the customer on an emotional level, you have to touch people so they can relate to you and in time, trust you, and therefore, trust your product. People will know if you have a passion for your product and in turn, they will become passionate about it too.”
23. Jo Salter, founder of Where Does It Come From?
”The main advice would be to choose something that you feel passionate about and test it on your target market. Being heard in a busy market is much more challenging than I ever anticipated!”
24. Shivani Patel, the founder of Arture
”Sometimes it can get overwhelming, especially when starting up because you want to get everything 100% right. I would say, try to get as close to 100 as you can, but don’t beat yourself up. Start, dive in, and ensure that you keep making small changes to get you closer and closer to that 100%.”
25. Svintha Bootsma, co-founder Common Texture
”The hardest thing about being an online business is that people can’t feel your products before they buy. Our collections are very textural, so most people are blown away by the quality and feel of the products. Some people just gasp and say… ’oh I didn’t think they would be this luxe.’ Conveying that online is our biggest challenge, our advice would be that stockists are your friends. Opt for stores that stock fairly made products so it’s easier to get your message across.”
26. Lindsay Platzer, co-founder of How Cork
”It might be hard at first to get going, but we have an important message to spread. Encouraging people to think differently about everyday choices such as food or fashion is never easy, but in my view, there is nothing more important than creating a sustainable alternative to our current systems of mass-production that leave pollution and exploited human and animal rights in the wake. So don’t give up if it takes some time, in the end, it will be worth it. What we’re doing matters!”
27. Megan Shepherd, founder of Lovesay and Mo
”You can’t change the world single-handedly but as part of a community, you can make a big difference.
Don’t give up – you will have to make sacrifices but it will be worth it.
Accept help if it’s offered – you can’t do everything.
Listen to criticism but learn from it and move on.
You can’t please everyone!”
28. Maria and Emily, co-founders of Me & Em
”It’s a lot of work building a business but having a greater good makes it so worthwhile. Always remember why you do what you do and what makes your business special. And don’t forget to have some fun too.”
29. Josh Bowden, co-founder of noissue
”Don’t cut corners, do your research, and be patient!”
30. Samuel, founder of Ozaclean
”Be patient and believe in yourself and your products and try to add value by providing solutions to real problems. Don’t think only to earn money, provide products that will not harm the future generations because it does not make sense to earn money while destroying the place where we live.”
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Maxime Dücker is the co-founder of Ourgoodbrands.com - an entertainment platform that exists to empower consumers to make better purchase decisions through valuable & honest information, tools and resources that come in the form of social impact brands & sustainable lifestyles. Maxime also runs her impact agency supporting social enterprises with their marketing.