Diving into entrepreneurship is a commendable action. Deciding to plunge into social entrepreneurship is enlightening. However, deciding to build a business that turns a profit while benefiting the earth and humanity poses great challenges. Cynics believe there’s no way to do good, while reaping financial rewards. We beg to differ. Here are five keys for creating and sustaining a successful social enterprise.
Build a Brand
Unfortunately, charity is generally not thought of as “sexy”. Websites are often clunky and packaging dull. I admire companies such as charity: water that make it an important part of their overall strategy to brand their company correctly. By aligning their look to the donors they are trying to attract, they have become extremely successful. Their magazine quality photos, sleek website, striking videos and hip merchandise are akin to a high end fashion brand, not a non-profit.
Pick Great Partners
No one can do it alone – pick the right partners for your company. At Jack’s Soap, we love our charity partner, Children of the Nations International. COTNI was the perfect choice for a partner because as we grow as a company, we can grow with them – they provide for children in 7 different countries. Currently we work with them to provide soap in a village in Haiti. Building strong relationships with many different charity partners is not easy, so the fact that we can expand beyond Haiti with the same contacts was a huge win for us. COTNI has an office here in southern California, so we can visit with them at anytime. They allow us to be completely transparent with our customers, which brings me to the next point.
People are more likely to purchase a product or donate to a cause if they are 100% positive that their contribution is going to the right cause and the right place. In this day and age with social media, Google Earth, smart phones etc., there is no reason why your company can’t be open with its customers. Tell them exactly why they should be interested in your cause – who does it effect? How exactly is your company helping? Where does their money go after they pay? Krochet Kids does a fantastic job of this. Not only does their website explain exactly where and how they are making a difference, but when you purchase a hat, it comes with a tag sewn inside that is signed by the lady who made it. Go to the Krochet Kids website, search the name, and you see a photo and biography of that woman – and can even send her a message! Take the extra step and make the personal connection between your customers and your cause.
While building your company, you must remember to think locally about the area that you want to help. Every country is different, and sometimes you may be hurting more than helping if you do not research the local culture. Sir Richards, a one-for-one condom company, takes the extra step of thinking local – when giving to a specific area, they design a completely new brand that has cultural relevance to that place, with guidance from local artists and healthcare providers.
Provide Great Customer Service
This may seem like a basic responsibility of any company, but I feel it is even more important in a charitable organization. Glasses company Warby Parker does an incredible job at customer service. When browsing different frames on their website, the customer can upload a photo of themselves and see how it looks right then and there. If that’s not enough to decide, Warby Parker will ship you your choice of different frames to try out at home – for free. If you still aren’t sure, jump on their Facebook, post photos of you in the different frames, and they will respond with which pairs they think look the best. They will even personally call your eye doctor and ask for your prescription! Going above and beyond with customers will make them return.
Bridget Hilton is the co-founder of social start-up Jack’s Soap, founded in 2011. In addition to being immersed in the social entrepreneurship scene in Los Angeles, she does marketing for major label musicians and guest lectures at UCLA and USC Marshall School of Business.