You’ve got the idea; you’ve got the determination; you know the market is out there… you’re ready to build your first social enterprise!
But what on earth should you do next?
Starting out on any business venture – be it social or traditionally commercial – is both exciting and confusing, and this is particularly the case if you don’t have a huge amount of experience from which to draw.
When you’re in the pre-start phase (i.e. the point at which you haven’t so much as laid a pen to paper or delved deeply into your audience), there are six things you’ll need to do in order to ensure the birth of your social enterprise is as strategic as it should be:
1. Ask yourself if this is definitely right for you
Social enterprises, by their nature, are usually highly emotive businesses. They require significant amounts of your time and the old adage of “don’t take work home” isn’t usually that easy to implement.
With that in mind, ask yourself honestly if you’re in the best place to start this enterprise now. If you decide the answer is “no”, that’s not a failing on your part; it’s in fact a very brave thing to do, and you can always return to the idea later.
If you have passion and enthusiasm bursting out of your body for the enterprise and you know it can fit in and around your life – get cracking!
2. Speak to family and friends
Before you approach your target market with your idea for a social enterprise, speak to those closest to you.
If you can talk candidly with people you trust and whom you know will offer honest, heart-felt advice, you’ll come away with incredibly useful feedback on the social enterprise. Some of it might be hard to bear, but if it’s offered by people who love you and want what’s best for you, it pays to take their thoughts on board (even if that makes you turn back to tip 1 above).
3. Delve into your market
There’s no need to hold focus groups at this stage; if you have a device that connects to the internet, you have all the tools you need to start delving into your market.
Research potential competitors, join social networking groups related to your social enterprise’s purpose and look for governmental research that might further justify the need for your services.
Always make notes – no matter how innocuous they might feel – and start building connections with people online who may one day become brand advocates of your social enterprise (hey, there’s nothing wrong with dreaming big!).
4. Think about premises
Do you need premises for your social enterprise? If so, there’s no harm in thinking about them early on, because they’ll likely be one of your largest overheads.
Research locations, speak to property agents and start to get a feel for the level of investment you’ll need to open your first office, shop or warehouse.
If you decide to work from home initially, start thinking about how you can create a working space that is both functional and separate to that of your personal life – it’s vital you can shut off the business when you need some downtime.
5. Find a mentor
Every successful social entrepreneur has received input and close guidance from someone they trust.
Usually referred to as ‘mentors’, these people will have significant industry and business experience and be particularly adept at listening to and advising people on a human level.
That mentor could be a friend, or someone you meet as a result of social (or in-person) networking, but whoever they are, keep them close by during these early stages, because they’ll help you formulate your ideas, allay fears, focus on what matters and idiot-check the stuff you’re unsure about.
6. Write a business plan
There’s no way to get around this; your social enterprise needs a business plan, no matter how much you don’t want to write one.
Use your learnings from the above to form the basis of the plan, but promise yourself you’ll write something that will become a ‘living’ document as your enterprise grows; you’ll revisit it and adjust the goals as the market and business itself matures.
This document will become your bible, so spend as much time on it as you need to and don’t dive into the start-up phase until it’s complete.
Enjoy your time as a pre-start social enterprise! It only gets better from here, but those formative months (or years!) are some of the most exciting.
Use our tips above, and you’ll lay the groundwork for a social business that will ensure society profits!