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Social Entrepreneurs: 5 Moves to Get Started Now
 

I know you're passionate about changing the world, but if your business model sucks and you go out of business, it helps nobody. Here's how to make the smartest moves.

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How sweet would it be to be able to make a difference in the world while making a profit? I think it's pretty sweet—and so do the 30,000-plus social entrepreneurs in the U.S. So what's stopping you from making a change?

Consumers actually demand that companies use their business to have a positive social impact: Cone Marketing found that 85 percent of Gen Y said they would switch to a cause-oriented brand over a non-cause related brand when given a choice.

So if it's something you want to do—and it's something customers want—the question becomes: How do you get started?

Here are five tips to help you get going:

1. Establish a business that has value in the market and solves a real problem. It's the same as with any other type of company: The most important tasks for any entrepreneur are to see a problem in an industry, recognize an opportunity, and create a new business model that solves the problem. I know you're passionate about changing the world, but if your business model sucks and you go out of business, it helps nobody.

2. Integrate cause into your business model—authentically. In a cause-related business, people need to buy both what you do and why you do it. That "why" can create authentic and engaged customer relationships, and keep people coming back for more. So make sure the cause behind your business is something you're truly passionate about—because consumers can sniff out a phony a mile away.

Remember: There's a difference between cause marketing and cause integration. Marketing is temporary, integration is forever. (To see a couple of good examples of cause-integrated brands, check out No One Without or This Shirt Helps.)

3. Do the math—account for the cause. Make sure that your cause factors into your "cost of goods sold." That ensures that as your profitability scales, so does your impact. It also helps you accurately set market pricing, so your margins are healthy and your impact is secure. If you plant a tree for every purchase made, make sure you account for how much it will actually cost to do so per unit sold—before you set the MSRP.

4. Don't take the whole world on your shoulders. No matter how passionate you are about finding a cure for cancer, breaking the cycle of poverty, or putting an end to global hunger, your business does not need to solve the entire issue. So as you integrate cause, ask yourself: Where can I make an impact? Do I need to solve global hunger, or could I start by helping feed the hungry in my community?

When we all do our part to make the world a better place, the aggregate social impact becomes incredibly powerful.

5. Keep it simple. Think about TOMS Shoes: What made them so successful is the simplicity of their business model. They sold a product that was cool, affordable and distinctive—making every customer a brand ambassador. In 2007, when I got my first pair of TOMS, I was often asked, "What are those funny looking things on your feet?" My response was always, "Oh, wow, let me tell you about these…" Simple. Easy. And incredibly effective, because many of my friends went out and bought a pair.

Making a difference in the world through business is all about getting started and keeping momentum. Remember: Progress is always better than perfection. Do one thing each day that moves your idea, concept, or business forward. Go out and talk to people—especially customers—and start making your dream a reality.

IMAGE: iStock
Last updated: Dec 29, 2011

BRENT FREEMAN is a serial entrepreneur who is passionate about social entrepreneurship, technology, and youth education. He's the founder of Roozt, a Web 2.0 marketplace that connects trendsetting cause-oriented brands with online shoppers. He also founded a pilot program in Los Angeles with the Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) to mentor and teach for-profit social entrepreneurship to low-income, at-risk high school students.




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