Your burning questions answered by our experts! The Experts in Residence series makes professional advice from experts in a range of fields – from fundraising to marketing, public speaking to banking – available to all Hub members for free on a weekly basis. Find out more about who they are and what they do with this mini interview series! Today meet Jonathan Wade, a veteran social-enterprise consultant who wants to help people give wings to their ventures. How? Read on to find out!
What makes you an “expert” in your field?
For almost 20 years, I was a fundraiser (and communications staff member) in various international and domestic non-profits. I realized that what I loved about my work was that I was convincing folks to change their opinion and to do something about social issues. I was a social marketer, using commercial marketing techniques such as direct mail, partnership agreements, and telephone solicitation to encourage people to do something that they didn’t know that they wanted to do.
When I went out on my own over 10 years ago, initially as a social marketer, I found that a good many of my clients were social enterprises, or non-profits seeking to sell some sort of good or service. In the ensuing decade, I’ve learned from (and with) over 300 social enterprise clients from all sectors about what it takes to conceive, plan, launch, promote and scale a social enterprise. I’ve also participated in networks of people working in this growing field in Canada. I’ve learned from both my own clients, and the clients of colleagues from coast to coast. I understand the policy landscape and the practical challenges and opportunities faced by social entrepreneurs.
What are the most common questions you get asked by your clients during your first meeting?
Most of my clients, and those I’ve coached, are anxious to go straight to launch and their questions often revolve around how to get customers. However, as we work together, many realize that customers are not necessarily the primary challenge. They ask about how to develop positive relationships with suppliers, partners, funders, investors, collaborators, and…of course…clients.
Many ask about how best to incorporate their social enterprise: non profit? Co-operative? Sole-proprietorship? Limited company? Many are concerned and interested in how to get money for start-up costs. There are questions about intellectual property ownership, social metric measurement, building a team (ie how to I get skills I don’t have?), sustainability/succession planning, and how to connect with existing community resources and partners.
What can Hubbers expect from you?
I’m a sounding board who will listen to the specific challenges faced by the social entrepreneur. My business is to help grow the social enterprise sector by helping individual actors build businesses that will change the social, cultural, religious, environmental landscape (for the better). Bring me your challenge, and I’ll ask you relevant questions and help you find the answer (or at least a path through). I can offer business tools, strategic advice, links to networks and to others working in similar fields.
I’m even here to simply test your value proposition, or practice your pitch. Consider me a free resource whose only interest is to see your social enterprise succeed.
What are the most common social enterprise “fails”?
This depends on the stage of the business, although very rarely do social enterprises fail because of lack of money.
Some key reasons for failure, in my experience, are as follows:
- Lack of awareness of the collaborative landscape. Enthusiasm, and the mistaken public perception that all entrepreneurs have to be some kind of lone wolf, often lead new social entrepreneurs to ignore all the work that has been done before them.
- Lack of planning for the bad times. Starting a social enterprise is exciting for the first few months, but then there is a “dark” time when the work is hard, the achievements are slow to materialize, and the “glamour” has evaporated. The business planning process has to set benchmarks for sales, accurate accounting of costs, and strategies to mitigate risks in the marketplace.
- Investing in marketing too early. The business fundamentals of product development, accurate costing, securing financing and mitigating risks are kinda boring compared to sustaining an active social media presence, or designing a logo. Time is valuable, and as much of it as possible has to go into developing the quality product or service.
- Chaos on the homefront. Businesses require some stability, and moving, divorce, multiple jobs, and other distractions make it very difficult for a social enterprise to succeed. When the social enterprise is operated from within a non-profit, lack of board (or staff, or volunteer) support can quickly lead to tentativeness or analysis paralysis…which invariably leads to failure.
- Profit over difference. It is easy to sacrifice a social mission—or to convince yourself that you’ve stayed true to your social change objective—when trying to make enough money to pay the rent. Social enterprises, by any definition, have to focus on social change first, and many social entrepreneurs simply become regular These businesses need to focus on HOW their sales directly improve social welfare; often an investment in social metrics will help.
- Social work mentality. Ironically—and paradoxically, given the last point—many idealistic individuals and non-profits will be so protective of the social mission that they’ll design a social enterprise which simply is a social service organization, where there is little real chance of sufficient earned revenues to cover costs. These businesses soon are looking for operational grants and donations and really should hire a business manager for a fresh perspective.
Social enterprises rarely fail spectacularly. More typical is a slow change from active to passive ideas and/or operations. A sort of gradual disappearance, wrought with much hand wringing and a frustration that revenues are insufficient to support the dream.
Find Jonathan at the Hub every Tuesday from 9.30-10.30am.