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How to Become a Social Entrepreneur

Serving the Greater Good is Good Business

We’re firm believers that social entrepreneurship is the only way to go when it comes to starting a business. Never before has social entrepreneurship gained such momentum.

For those who don’t know, social entrepreneurship isn’t much different from standard entrepreneurship. It’s still business, but with one very different purpose–to help people while you’re at it. Social entrepreneurs recognize a social problem and use entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to achieve social change.

Whereas a business entrepreneur measures success purely on profit and return on investment, a social entrepreneur focuses on social capital.

As Rupert Scofield, the president and CEO of FINCA International, writes in the Social Entrepreneur’s Handbook, “whether your mission is as ambitious as pulling millions of people out of poverty or as modest as feeding people in your neighborhood, now is the perfect time to get started. Social entrepreneurship has never been more needed, more valued and more achievable than it is today.”

So, how do you crush it as a social entrepreneur? Inc. Magazine outlined some steps to success:

1. Know Your Issue

The most successful social entrepreneurs are the ones who know what issue they want to tackle, and then aim to make that issue the core of their business. Having a passion for what you’re doing is super important. For us, we knew we had to provide easier access to healthy foods and beverages, and we achieved it through healthy vending. Being physically active with a passion for health and nutrition, this mission fits seamlessly with our business.

The best advice? No matter what issue you want to tackle, make sure you’re 100% into it. Being half in/half out is self destructive from Day 1. Know your issue and run with it. It takes an immense amount of dedication to found a business around a core issue.

Sit back and think, “Why do I want to do this? Why do I want to help solve this issue?” That right there will fuel your passion.

2. Build the Brand

In any business, the brand itself is huge. Some brands are so important that people feel like it’s a part of their life. Take Apple for instance. People are attached to their iPhones and iPods and it actually contributes to their sense of self. Just look at the Mac vs. PC commercials! People actually define themselves as Macs or PCs.

To really hit it off in social entrepreneurship, people need to know your brand. Brand recognition is essential for people to trust you and jump on board with your mission. Build your brand and make it so you set yourself apart from the competition.

3. Think of It As a Business

The term is social entrepreneurship for a reason–it’s still a business venture. Don’t lose focus of the fact that it’s a business. Of course, it’s still important to focus on your mission as the core of your business. However, make sure to run your company like any other well-run organization. Establish deadlines, keep up on accounting, etc.

4. Hire Employees Smarter Than You

This one may seem surprising, but it works better than you think. For one, hiring people who are smarter than you ensures that 1) you have a highly talented team that are key players in a variety of departments, and 2) your employees will recognize your ego doesn’t get in the way of your success.

It’s safe to say you aren’t an expert in all things business (after all, companies aren’t ran by just 1 person), so hiring the absolute smartest employees is key.

In this economy especially, human capital is what counts. You can’t outsource creative, intelligent people. Your brand will fare far better. Be selective with who you hire. Talent is better than a saving a quick buck any day.

5. Employ Transparency and Authenticity

It is extremely important to be open and honest with everything you do in your business. People who want to join your cause don’t want to be treated like dollar signs…they want to be treated like human beings. If you’re a nonprofit, be completely transparent in where the donations go. If you’re in a philanthropic business like ours, make it clear to everyone where your donated proceeds go.

There shouldn’t be any guessing games. Be real with those you interact with; people appreciate honesty and realness. We all know what it’s like to avoid the salesperson who comes knocking at our doors. People don’t want to be sold, but people like to buy. By establishing a personal, open-door policy with your employees and customers, you will establish trust, which equals better business.

6. Develop Smart Partnerships

According to Inc., “For many social entrepreneurs, success is dependent on effective partnerships.” Developing partnerships not only helps build your brand, it establishes credibility and is a great networking tool. Align yourself with organizations with similar missions. We have partnered with numerous organizations that support our cause and have similar causes themselves. These include nPlay, Let’s Move, and the USDA MyPyramid program.

Not only that, you can’t do it alone. You need to look out for companies that can help you reach your goal.

The most important thing? Make sure your partners clearly understand your goals and your mission, so there is no confusion and nothing gets lost in translation.

7. Make an Emotional Connection

Every company wants more media attention and more press. Press is good, but it isn’t the only way to get yourself out there. Sometimes it’s as simple as going back to your original passion and establishing an emotional connection with people. Word of mouth is especially important.

You can control the message and the medium, just never lose sight of what your original mission is.

8. Utilize All Available Platforms

When it comes to getting your name and mission across, use every single outlet available. Some companies have gone from no-names to super brands, just by making a splash on social media sites. Youtube, Facebook, Twitter…all of these are essential for any social entrepreneur to have. You are then able to reach out to a larger audience and establish rapport with others who support your mission.

This doesn’t have to be limited to social media, but blogging, geo-targeted websites, consumer websites, etc. are gold mines for building a brand.

Don’t hesitate to go hog-wild. There are so many platforms available today, it’s mind blowing. Never before have we been so connected, so capitalize on that.

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Ann Cooper “The Renegade Lunch Lady” Talks School Lunches

“My thing with school lunches is that it’s a social justice issue” says Ann Cooper, also known as “The Renegade Lunch Lady.”

Check out this TED talk on the social injustice of America’s standard school lunch program:

Ann Cooper makes a powerful point: We need to teach children the relationship between healthy foods, a healthy planet, and healthy kids. We’re feeding our children to death.

So how de we change it? It’s all about education. If we send our kids to school and tell them to learn, they need to learn that what they put in their mouth’s is education in itself. Not just that, but teachers, administrators, and parents need to be educated as well.

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