Social entrepreneurship is a rapidly growing sector of new business owners. These industrious types are looking for ways to combine the innovative entrepreneurial spirit with righting the wrongs they see in the world. Using a strong foundation of business know-how and charitable drive, they are combining capitalist notions with altruistic principles to create a work life that is both fulfilling and financially beneficial. Social entrepreneurs are launching both for-profit and nonprofit ventures, and driving change both inside and outside of the business and nonprofit communities. Whether your business idea encourages you in the direction of the for-profit or nonprofit sector, the fundamental skills are the same. The keys to succeeding in either environment are good planning, effective marketing, and solid financial management.
The first step in launching your social entrepreneurship idea is to gather information. With a for-profit business idea, you need to evaluate whether the idea is actually viable — if it can make money. Though you will need detailed planning before you launch, at this point it is just important to take a realistic look at your idea. Talk to people you know, talk to business owners within the industry, and read everything you can about your particular business idea. While the business doesn’t have to be original (over 52,000 restaurant permits were issued nationwide last year alone), but it does need to stand out from the competition. Thus, you also need to get to know both your direct competitors (those who do the same thing in the same way) and indirect competitors (those who solve the same problem, but in a different way). You need to think about ways to set your business apart from the others by providing better service, better prices, better value, or whatever works for your target market.
With a nonprofit business idea, your first step is an informal needs assessment. Find out which other nonprofit organizations are addressing the same problem you want to address and how they are getting it done. Volunteer with them to see how they work, talk to the target community (those you want to help) about their views on the programs or services available. Check out every local effort, but also investigate similar programs in other areas. Read the research on your issue to see what the latest innovations are and where the problem is heading. Before you commit too much time to a new nonprofit idea, it is important to evaluate the need for your effort — too many nonprofits seeking funding can quickly saturate a market, leaving every group short of cash and struggling to serve. You may find that the cause closest to yur heart is already being effectively addressed. If so, consider launching a for-profit business and committing a portion of your profits to the existing organization. Otherwise, this informal needs assessment will go a long way in helping you develop your idea into a legitimate, successful nonprofit organization.
Once you are convinced that your business idea — whether for-profit or nonprofit — is viable, the real work begins. Seek out resources to guide you through starting up the right way — with a focus on planning, marketing, and financial management — and get to work on developing your entrepreneurial skills. Social entrepreneurship is the way of the future — making money and doing good are no longer oxymorons. Combining business acumen with a charitable outlook benefits everyone, whether through a successful for-profit venture or a well-developed, effective nonprofit organization.