Doing business so society profits

Angelena Boden

Angelena Boden

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November Talking Point with Angelena Boden

If you are looking to start a small business either as a result of redundancy or retirement or because you want to do something more meaningful with your life, consider setting up a social enterprise.

Increasingly popular especially among young people, there are more than 70,000 social enterprises now registered in the Brtish Isles.

Although run along the lines of regular businesses, they have a wider and maybe more altruistic mission:- to contribute to the community and help solve some of society’s problems. Big Issue is a good example.

Social enterprises often capture the public’s imagination and therefore are more likely to attract support.

‘Who Made Your Pants?’ operates out of Southampton. It provides training and work for refugee women who make underwear in supportive conditions. (pun unintended).

Are your pants ethical? Have a look now!

Like any business, a social enterprise must generate its income from sales and not rely on grants. This means having a dedicated and skilled team in marketing, finance, customer service, sales, product design and development etc. In addition, passion for a social cause – the homeless, the unemployed, and community based problems makes a social enterprise different from other businesses. Profits within reason are ploughed back into the business to help these causes.

top 10 tips

If this appeals to you here are ten top tips to bear in mind:-

1.Don’t pester for sponsorship. Raise the profile of your enterprise by asking for advice or contacts. If you truly are passionate about what you are doing then money will flow.

2.Be clear about your mission and who is going to benefit from your business ideas. Living Furniture Project employs homeless people in London to make furniture from reclaimed materials. This provides them with skills, references, and a way out of their situation.

3.Whilst social enterprises rely on passionate leadership, they should not provide fuel to the ego. It’s about real team work, shared values and a determination to help the target group.

4.Just as there is a demand for pants there needs to be a demand for your product or service. Many customers look for eco friendly labels and are concerned about buying products produced in sweat shop conditions. This can be your marketing USP.

5.Social enterprises can be limited or unlimited companies but also have the option of becoming a Community Interest Group (CIC) or Trust.

6.Volunteers or interns are critical to helping your social enterprise get off the ground. Go for a mix of professionals and volunteers who share the same ideals.

7.There is some funding available from independent trusts and foundations and indeed from ethical financial institutions. You will still need a solid business plan.

8.A number of organisations have sprung up to share the stories of social entrepreneurs – UnLtd, Office of the Third Sector and the School for Social Entrepreneurs are just a few examples.

9.Whilst businesses today can benefit from inexpensive digital marketing and e-commerce website, face to face networking is still important. Look for PR stories which measure how you are helping society.

10.Finally do your research. Make sure you understand the community you are trying to help. You can end up patronising or being gimmicky just for the sake of jumping onto the social entrepreneurial wagon.

Not all social enterprises succeed. It’s great to have passion but, like love, it can be blinding. Being inspirational and dedicated must be tied into sound business sense. Over inflated idealism and sentimentality have no place here.

Converting interest into sales is a skill that most people don’t have. Marketing is easy enough but getting that customer to part with money needs a good pitch. This is combined with solid financial management if the business is to be profitable.

Just like any other business.

The founder of One In Four, a small independent magazine on mental health, which ran for six years before it folded said just because you think your idea is brilliant doesn’t mean you’ve thought through your customer base. There simply weren’t enough customers for something so specialised.

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