What is a Social Enterprise?

So, I often get asked the question “what is a social enterprise?”  The best definition I have seen of social enterprise is “an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being—this may include maximizing social impact alongside profits for external shareholders.”  The concept is simple, you can do well while doing good.  With my work in SEA Change, Ohio I have been fortunate to work with many companies in our area that have started businesses to solve community problems and make a living while doing it, thus creating a company with a triple bottom line.  These companies are tackling issues such as food waste in our communities, helping refuges earn living wages, creating companies to help formerly incarcerated individuals and raising awareness of bullying in our schools. 

These companies are not creating nonprofits; they are creating for profits that utilize typical business sustainability models.  This is an important distinction.  People are under the impression that if they want to create a company to solve a social issue, they must create a nonprofit to do so.  This is FALSE.  The issue with this thinking is you are now at the mercy of funders and foundations to ensure that your company survives.  Funders are notorious for getting “funders fatigue.”  Funders do not want to support an organization indefinitely.  Typically, you can expect support for 1-3 years.  If this is your only income strategy, what are you going to do when the funder decides to move on to another cause?  Will you simply close up shop, leaving your customers and employees in the lurch?

A better model is to create a sustainable business to support your mission or cause.  One great example of this is a central Ohio company called Hot Chicken Takeover. HCT was created to help formerly incarcerated individuals and homeless individuals find employment.  The company realized the best way to do this was to create a company that employed this population; thus Hot Chicken Takeover was created.  The company sells some of the most amazing hot chicken you will ever eat!  Most people would not even know the entire staff is formerly incarcerated individuals.  HCT serves its mission by selling chicken.  Simple as that.

I believe social enterprise and the way these entities receive funding and make money is not only a growing area, but also one that will evolve significantly over the next few years.  More and more consumers want to patronize a company that aligns with their beliefs, while more donors and foundations want to invest in companies that have a sustainable business model.  The issue right now is that most foundation support will only go to nonprofits.  I believe innovative donation support will come online over the next few years to alleviate this issue, and help more social enterprises thrive.

Be well,

Eric

It's All About the Lifestyle....

So it has been a few months of running my own business.  I can honestly say it has been a long time since I have been this professionally happy.  It is exciting, and busy and challenging.  But most importantly it fits my lifestyle, and has actually increased my work life balance.  This is an area that is very important to me.  Which got me thinking about lifestyle businesses.  It is a term you hear every so often, and most people have either never heard the term, or simply do not understand it.  So what does the term “lifestyle business” mean?  A definition taken from Wikipedia seems to nail it perfectly.  It is as follows: 

“A lifestyle business is a business set up and run by its founders primarily with the aim of sustaining a particular level of income and no more; or to provide a foundation from which to enjoy a particular lifestyle.” 

Now, a lifestyle business does not need to be small, in either the amount of income you make, or the number of employees.  It is simply the desire to create a business that allows you to live the life you want to lead.  In my career I have seen the individuals that want to swing for the fences and achieve greatness.  There is nothing wrong with this.  These individuals dive head first into the startup pool and devote years of their lives, raising rounds of VC dollars, sacrificing it all for the great reward on the other side.  This is good.  This is needed.  This is not me. 

On the other hand, I have seen many people start businesses just to earn a living.  I had a client once who was earning a nice living working for a company that he had been with for 18 years.  He wanted to leave his job and open a small convenient store.  “Why would you do that?” I asked.  “You are going to make less money, and are taking a great risk”.  He explained that he had a child with special needs and he wanted to spend more time with him, and just earn enough money to support his family.  Good reason.

To me, the freedom to work when I want, to pick the projects I want to work on, and the ability to earn as much or as little as I want is something that is worth a great deal more to me than the stability of a 9 to 5.  Don’t get me wrong, running your own thing has challenges, and there are days I wonder if I lost my mind.  But those moments are fleeting. When these ideas start to float in my mind, I just get outside and enjoy the weather, or take my family to lunch; something that rarely happened when I was in corporate America. 

So when starting your business, think about what type of business you are looking to start.  Are you swinging for the fences and trying to hit that grand slam?  Or are you satisfied hitting singles and doubles and creating a life on your terms?  Both are completely acceptable.

Be well, 

Eric

Where do you keep your ketchup?

Where do you keep your ketchup?

So I have been think a lot lately about team building and how organizations approach team building.  And then I started to think about ketchup.  No, it was not my ADHD kicking in, stay with me for a moment.

If you are from the United States, you probably keep your ketchup in the refrigerator.  If you are British, you probably keep your ketchup in the pantry.  So what?  Well, in the US if you run out of ketchup, you may reach for something else in the fridge; maybe you reach for mustard or mayonnaise.  If you are British and you run out of ketchup you might reach for something different in the pantry, like malt vinegar.

The point is this:  When you are building a team you do not want to hire people that come from the same backgrounds and have the same beliefs.  You want to hire people that approach things differently, have different views and perspectives.  You want to make sure that you are hiring a diverse workforce.  You want to hire people that keep their ketchup in the fridge, and those that keep it in the pantry.

In my last post I talked about culture.  This great ketchup debate ties into culture.  I have seen organizations where the leaders were afraid to hire people who were smarter than them.  The owners wanted to be the smartest people in the room, and did not want to worry about the conflict that comes from healthy discussion around disagreements.  This leads to a stagnate work environment, where the employees feel they simply serve at the pleasure of the owner, and thus are not engaged.

When I build teams I am always looking for the people that are willing to have those healthy debates.  Conflict can be good!  Challenging ideas can lead to breakthroughs.  This type of team is the one you want to create if you want a group that will strive to think big and act big!

So, where does your team keep the ketchup?  

Be well,

Eric

Culture Trumps All!

So, I have been thinking about what I wanted as the topic for my first blog post.  As I sat and began to think about this, it was pretty clear that culture should be the first topic because every company boils down to its culture.  Over the years I have been very fortunate to work in some amazing cultures.  At the same time I have also worked in dysfunctional cultures, and have witnessed damaged cultures in the companies I have had as clients.  I have said many times “culture trumps the best laid plans every day of the week.”  As I began to think about my own company, I realized that I had the opportunity to create the culture that I have always dreamed.  Even though as I sit here and write this post, I am a “solopreneur”, I know my company will grow, so it is important to define my company’s culture right now.  From day ONE.  This, in my opinion is just as important as building your business plan, setting up your legal entity, branding your company, etc.  Again, culture trumps all else.

What is culture?  I have asked this question to companies in the past and you get answers like “to be the best organization in our class” or “to make money and WIN!”.  They are confused when I tell them this is not culture, these are goals, and your culture will help you reach these goals.  Then what is culture?  The best definition of culture that I have seen comes from the website business dictionary andis as follows: 

‘The values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization. Organizational culture includes an organization’s expectations, experiences, philosophy, and values that hold it together, and is expressed in its self-image, inner workings interactions with the outside world, and future expectations. It is based on shared attitudes, beliefs, customs, and written and unwritten rules that have been developed over time and are considered valid”.

The thing about culture is it grows overtime.  Culture is organic.  Culture is also set by the management, and needs to be part of the hiring process.  I often hear companies talk about an employee not being a good fit.  When I hear this I immediately wonder if their company has a defined culture?  While we all make mistakes in hiring, I find companies that integrate their culture into the hiring process have less of these “not good fits”.  The other thing about culture is if you do not define it, it will define you.  Companies that have horrible cultures created that environment.  They may not know it, but they did.  Dysfunctional cultures grow like cancer.  This type of culture leads to decreased productivity, high rates of turnover, reduced profits, and employees who simply show up, keep their head down, and go home dreading the next day where they have to do this all over again.  Is that the type of company you want to work for?  Is that the type of company you want to create?  I sure hope the answer is a loud “Oh hell NO”.  

So, as I begin to form my own culture I would like it to include the following elements:

  1. Inclusiveness
  2. Creativity
  3. Honesty
  4. Integrity
  5. FUN

This I vow, to form a company where all my employees feel valued for their ideas, who are encouraged to think BIG, to speak openly about all things, to feel proud to be part of the team and also have some damn fun along the way.

Be well my friends,

Eric