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Be an Social Enterprise Hero

Many people are motivated to use their energy, creativity and skills to help solve some of the big issues facing the world today. They have a number of options, from working for a charity, trying to find a business they believe in, or working in the public sector. A smart alternative is to set up or work for a social enterprise.

Starting your own social enterprise, like running a private business, also means that you can be your own boss and have more control over your career. In addition, you can make a real difference to people’s lives. Apart from a greater sense of fulfillment, social enterprises also often offer increased employee rights, ranging from training opportunities to a stake in the business.

Social enterprises are dynamic and innovative businesses that are not as constrained by bureaucracy. At the same time staff is valued and listened to and often able to influence management decisions. The diversity of social enterprises and their social and environmental aims help to explain why the movement is a popular choice for graduates and other job seekers, in particular women and ethnic minority groups.

What are the first steps to setting up a social enterprise?

Some useful tips and advice for would-be entrepreneurs thinking about starting up social enterprises:

  1. Clarify your objectives: Think about what you are trying to achieve and be clear about the social and environmental goals you are setting yourself. They should be things that you are passionate about and that you really believe in.
  2. Strike the balance: Ensure that you are not blinkered in your approach and don’t let your social objectives blur your business direction. Successfully running a social enterprise will require you to balance your social aims with business sense.
  3. Decide on your business model: Do you want a social enterprise, or an ethical business? Once you have decided this, choose the right legal structure to enable you to achieve it.
  4. Do research: Look at similar businesses or projects for ideas and inspiration. How have other public, private or social enterprises tackled issues? Create partnerships where appropriate – building on the experience of others is likely to be the quickest way to achieve your goals.
  5. Develop a business plan: This is an important hurdle many aspiring social entrepreneurs often never get past, because it requires resources which they do not have. But it is essential to have a good understanding of the market for your product or service, the costs you are likely to occur and a realistic understanding of how your income will build.
  6. Start small, gain experience and build a track record: Learn quickly from your successes and also the things that don’t work out, and be prepared to change things. If you are clear about your objectives, you will find it easier to adapt the route you take to get there.
  7. Aim to be independent: There are grants and public funding options available in certain circumstances, however, as far and as soon as possible you should try to be independent of these funding sources to ensure you can mobilize your business in line with its social objectives.
  8. Work out what help you need – and where you can get it from: You will need lots of different skills and energy to succeed, and you can’t do everything yourself, so create a network of business specialists and people who understand your social/environmental objectives each of whom brings something to the organization.

Source: Business Link and SETAS, 2006

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Categories: General
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