So, you want to be a social enterprise. Welcome to the tribe.

I’ve been a social entrepreneur since 1991, before it was a buzzword or sustainability was considered cool. That’s the year I founded Oliver Russell, an ad agency that builds brands for purpose-driven companies and causes. I quit my cushy corporate job, despite having two small children at home, because I wanted to make the world a better place through meaningful work.

I learned quickly that it’s a lot easier to do good if you aren’t broke, so making a profit has always been the core focus of my agency—we just consider our financial impact in the context of impact on our people and the planet. That’s why we took our social responsibility philosophy to the next level in 2011 and became a Certified B Corporation. That may not be the right choice for every company, but there’s some powerful data that shows why social enterprise has become a trend.

According to a recent article in Fast Company, Millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025. More than 50% of them say they would take a pay cut to find work that aligns with their values, and 90% want to use their skills and talent for good. By 2017, the number of B Corps increased globally to more than 2,300 companies. That’s up from 299 in January 2012—and remember, the first public benefit corporation legislation only passed in 2010.

With this sort of trajectory, it’s important for all businesses to be aware of the power of purpose and have a basic understanding of how to leverage it to reach customers. Here are five ways to get started, whether you are a B Corp, a mom-and-pop shop, or just noodling on your business plan.

  1. Find a Mentor. I’ve benefited from a number of stellar mentors, and I like to think I’ve helped many young social innovators along my 30-year journey as a serial entrepreneur and business owner. Don’t be afraid to reach out. If you’re reading this and message me on LinkedIn, I promise I’ll reply. And if I’m not the right person, chances are I can point you in the direction of someone who is.
  2. Know Your Values. The “how” of your corporation, your three to five core values matter. They act like pheromones—those chemicals that are emitted by insects and animals to trigger a social response—attracting like-minded customers and employees. The number one corporate social responsibility (CSR) trend in 2016 was companies leading with their values, demonstrating such commitment by tackling controversy and advocating for policy change that aligns with their values.
  3. Tell Your Story. Consumers can smell a fake. Your values and your story matter when conveying the authenticity of your brand. Use your purpose to your advantage, starting by creating employee evangelists who are bought into your company’s purpose and feel valued. They can become your best storytellers. Consider how you can choose vendors or suppliers that share your values, and how to convey your social impact through an annual report.
  4. Prove it. You’ve outlined your values and use them to stand out from the crowd and change the world through your business. Now’s the time to consider third-party validation from independent certification groups, such as Certified B Corporation, GoodWell, or industry-specific options like Fair Trade Certified or the Forestry Stewardship Council.
  5. Spend Wisely. We’re all social entrepreneurs, if you think about it. Where and how we spend our money matters. You cast your vote at the cash register or e-commerce checkout. When you buy a product, in essence you are voting for the company that produces it. So vote wisely.

This is a high level overview of some ways to get started on building a social enterprise or adding purpose to your business. For more detailed tips, please get in touch or consider ordering my book, Rise Up: How to Build a Socially Conscious Business, at www.russstoddard.com.

Author Details

Russ Stoddard is the founder and president of Oliver Russell, an ad agency that builds brands for purpose-driven companies and causes. His book, Rise Up: How to Build a Socially Conscious Business, was released nationally in September.

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Russ Stoddard is the founder and president of Oliver Russell, an ad agency that builds brands for purpose-driven companies and causes. His book, Rise Up: How to Build a Socially Conscious Business, was released nationally in September.

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