So you want to be a social entrepreneur or have already started down this path?
Well I have put together my top 50 tips to help you to succeed. All the things I wish someone had told me when I started out. As well as the things I wish I’d actually listened to and put in place at that time.
Given the current job market and economic situation, if you don’t have a secure job now, then you may well be thinking about how you can create your own.
So these top 50 tips are designed to help you do just that, they cover; hopes & dreams to systems & finance, as well as lots of the other stuff in between. There are some useful tips and insights to help you succeed, while saving you valuable time and money along the way.
I’m Traci Lewis, co-founder and director of social enterprise Catalyse Change CIC. I also run my own change agency, Sustain-Live Consulting Ltd, helping purpose-led businesses to thrive.
For 18 years, before I set up my own businesses, I worked for the Soil Association organic food and farming charity, also their not-for-profit company, which I helped grow from a small organisation to the successful market leader they are today. I also managed their regional Organic South West office supporting lots of social, environmental and community businesses to start-up and to grow.
Throughout this time I have experienced lots of successes and lots of failures too.
When I started working for myself 5 years ago I made a lot of mistakes. However it has been an incredible learning journey, which is why I would like to share some of it with you now.
These tips are relevant for women who are just thinking about – or have already started – setting up and leading their own social enterprise or business.
You might call it a social, green, purpose-led, ‘BIG WHY’ or ethical business.
We’re talking about the same thing. It’s all about having purpose at the heart of your business and ensuring that all of your objectives and activities are aligned with that.
Although a defining legal feature of a social enterprise, is that the social or environmental objectives are actually also written into the companies governing documents. But I’m jumping ahead, let’s start at the beginning first…
Hopes, dreams & creating the right mindset. It all starts here…
1. So what’s your Dream?
Think big and don’t be afraid of that. You can narrow down the details later, but it’s good to start with a big vision about what it is you really care about and what you want to spend your life creating. A good way to do this is by taking time out away from other people and your computer. Get out into nature for a good walk or even better a camping trip.
Just do some daydreaming.
Try and remember what you dreamed about as a child or teenager. What things did you really care about? What did you used to imagine yourself doing before your worries and fears got in the way?
Write it all down, nothing is too silly and see where it takes you.
2. What problem do you want to solve?
This is also a good starting point and a question you need to answer as a social entrepreneur.
What are the things you really care about most?
Is it climate action, ocean pollution, social injustice or poverty?
For me it’s gender equality. I want to help empower young women to have the confidence to be the change they wish to see in the world. And as we are in a climate emergency I also want to help ensure they have the knowledge and tools to be effective change agents.
A good place to look for inspiration is the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 17 global goals, which identify what we need to focus on and how we can work together to create a sustainable world.
3. Don’t give up your day job
Well, at least not straightaway. Clearly, you’ve got to be able to generate enough income to at least provide for your basic needs. So unless you have savings, or other sources of income, then you need to carry on working until you know that you can generate enough income to cover your outgoings. You can explore other sources of available finance such as; loans, social investment, grants. However it’s good to know that you have a viable business model first.
4. Be clear on your business model: How will you make money?
You need to create a profitable business with proven revenue streams. A business model is essentially the way or how a company makes money and delivers value for the customer. The Business Model Canvas is a useful tool to help you develop yours. There are many different existing business models you can choose from e.g. Manufacturer, Distributor, Retailer, Franchise, Online Marketplace, Affiliate Marketing. However as a woman in sustainability, just starting out, you might want to keep it simple to begin with. For inspiration and advice read Paul Jarvis’ book Company Of One and Heidi Fisher’s How to set up a successful social enterprise.
5. Start as a freelancer
A good way to start working for yourself, is as a freelancer, exchanging your time and skills for an hourly or day rate. You can register with HMRC as a sole trader and with a relatively low financial investment start earning money straight away, doing what you are already most skilled at. It is a good way to test the water and see whether you enjoy working for yourself, and if so, how you like to do it. It will help you to build your confidence and give you time to put your marketing, admin and finance systems etc. in place. You can then develop your business model over time, if you wish.
6. Get a Growth Mindset
Have you got the right mindset to be an entrepreneur? It’s important to be open, flexible and growth orientated. Having this mindset changes your approach to problem solving and collaboration. Tony Robbins, a world renowned motivational speaker and coach, says that running a successful business is 80% psychology, and 20% skill. This is all about having a growth mindset. Read Carol Dweck’s book on Growth Mindset and see what you can learn in order to grow yours. Once you change your mindset you will find that your external circumstances change accordingly.
7. Be confident
In order to go out and convince other people to believe in you, you really need to believe in yourself first. Only you can make this happen. However getting a good coach or mentor helps too. Someone with whom you can talk through your challenges and decisions, to help you explore issues you are unsure or stuck on. Self-care practices such as meditation, affirmations and regular exercise also really help. As your outer experience is just a reflection of what is going on internally. So make sure you are being kind to yourself and building up your confidence, instead of listening to your inner critic.
8. Get networking
This is a key activity to help you succeed in business. In fact it’s value can’t be emphasised enough. So ensure you grow a really strong network by getting out there regularly – on and offline – to meet people who might end up being customers, but will also help you to grow your business in many ways eg. information sharing, partners, supporters and referrals.
9. Organise the money
If you set up a limited company or social enterprise you may want to hire an accountant. However you should also consider using one of the many useful online accounting tools such as QuickBooks, Xero or Sage as doing this will help save you time and money in the long run. To ensure good money management do also get a separate business bank account as soon as possible.
10. Set Goals
Setting goals help us to prioritise and gives us a roadmap to follow. They are also a great way to hold ourselves accountable and define what we truly want in life. Just make sure that you set goals that really motivate you, so ones which are important to you and that you really want to achieve. Try using SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timebound) as a useful framework to ensure your goals work. Also do record them in a working business plan, using a management tool – such as Trello or Excel – to help you actually do them.
Unfortunately there isn’t room to include all 50 tips here, however I’d be delighted to send you a free copy of my ‘Top 50 Tips for Female Social Entrepreneurs’ playbook,
*Want to find out more?*
If you are considering working for yourself, or have just started, I’m running an online programme – consisting of four masterclasses in October. To show you how to ‘Set up Your Own Successful Social Business.’ Each will will dive deeper into the four sections of the WINS masterclass ‘Being a Social Entrepreneur – how to check if it’s right for you.’ Book HERE
(Email me if you are a member of the WINS Members Hub for the 20% discount code. email@example.com)
I also lead a WINS freelancer and entrepreneur group, our next online meeting is 1-2.30pm, 21st October BOOK HERE It is an informal and friendly format – where we network, share knowledge and support each other to grow our businesses – I do hope you can join us.
For more information please get in touch with me;
Traci Lewis, WINS Bristol hub lead, firstname.lastname@example.org @TraciLewis79