5 life changing lessons I learned after interviewing 100 social entrepreneurs
A primer for innovators who are eager to start their own social venture
I’ve spent the last 10 years rubbing elbows with some of the awesomest social entrepreneurs in the world. It all started for me back in 2003 as an AmeriCorps member in Cleveland, which then blossomed into a life of involvement with places like World Relief, Habitat for Humanity, and the Dave Ramsey Show. Since 2014, I’ve been running two successful impact businesses with my wife: Hostel KC and Social Change Nation.
Over the past three years, I’ve been on a quest to interview as many social entrepreneurs as I could so I could share their wisdom and experience on my podcast. Below are the top five lessons I’ve learned across all my interviews. I’m sharing these in hopes of helping anyone out there who’s an aspiring impact entrepreneur.
1. Make your followers part of something larger than themselves
I recently interviewed Davis of Cotopaxi. Cotopaxi uses the “get one, give one” model. Buy one product = give something to someone in need. Every product line at Cotopaxi is tied to a unique social mission–I personally bought a water bottle tied to a charity, a water project in India. Not only is that painted on the bottle, but it had a little card attached to it explaining exactly what my purchase meant. When’s the last time your Nalgene bottle did that???
People yearn to hear stories. People want to be part of movements they understand and can communicate with others. People want YOU to make them part of social change. So, you want to create a successful impact business? Then follow Cotopaxi’s lead and make your customers part of something truly great.
2. Create movements that spark conversations
Panda’s one of the companies I interviewed. Panda is a cause based company through which the purchase of sunglasses leads to a vision exam for someone in dire need. Made from bamboo, the sunglasses are sustainable, look wicked cool, and are totally unlike any other pair of sunglasses you’ve ever seen.
So what do you imagine happens when folks are walking down the street and rocking a pair o’ Panda? It starts conversations, and if you don’t plan on creating work that starts conversations, you may as well stop now. A critical mission for you as an impact entrepreneur is to get people talking about change. Panda shows us the way to do this with excellence.
3. Make your product or service the star of the show and your cause the supporting actor
No story, no amount of passion, and no flashy marketing will make up for a product that sucks. Like any entrepreneur, you must still deliver amazing quality that smashes that of your competition–that in combination with a social mission leads to rabidly loyal followers and healthier margins.
4. Don’t be afraid to sell yourself. Remember, where there’s no MARGIN there can be no MISSION
The best cause based entrepreneurs sell their businesses’ impact. Now, you must do this from a genuine and authentic heart, but you shouldn’t ever be afraid to market the change you bring to the world.
So, as you build your business: don’t be afraid to sell your social impact. Wear it proudly and WEAVE IT INTO YOUR BRAND. Your customers will be stoked to know that their involvement with you is part of something larger than themselves.
5. Wear your heart on your sleeve
A lot of companies have a social mission, but (for reasons that I cannot fathom) they don’t tell me their story. As a result, I have to dig through 20 webpages to figure out WHY they do what they do.
Please don’t do this in your business. Wear your heart on your sleeve and weave it into every interaction your customers have with you. Here’s an example: LSTN headphones does this by artfully sharing the story of how their helping the world to hear all over their website. If that weren’t enough–every headphone they sell comes in a box that’s branded with their mission, plus a story telling the customer WHY the LSTN cause is so important.
It worked on me anyway—I own 3 sets of LSTN headphones. I’m gonna be a customer for life because they make a product that’s second to none and gives to a vital cause.
Along my journey to social entrepreneurship, I’ve learned there’s definitely a right way and a wrong way to go about doing this. These five lessons will help you start laying a foundation for your own social venture. I’ve also put together a more detailed e-guide that features five more lessons to guide you as you make a dollar AND a difference. It’d free and you can snag it on my site right here.
This article originally appeared on Causeartist.com and is reprinted here with permission.