Making The Leap From Social Enterprise Idea to Action

Bridging the gap

Recently I received a fabulous question from a Sedge member who was taking advantage of the BOOST Sneak Peek Video Training Series.

The point was raised that for nonprofits looking to grow their budgets with a complementary social enterprise initiative, it can often be difficult to move out of the ideation phase and into the action phase.

Even with plenty of planning and discussions leading up to the point of implementation, taking action to launch a brand new initiative into the unknown – where peers and stakeholders can finally interact with it (along with their inevitable judgements and critiques) – is a scary transition.

There are several reasons a team can be excited to unveil a social enterprise but hesitant to take action. In this post we’ll review:

  • the three biggest obstacles that prevent changemakers from taking action with their idea, and
  • the four tangible steps you need to take to jump from social enterprise planning into action.

 

First Obstacle – Readiness

Trying to force an organization into social enterprise when it’s not a cultural fit can stall even the best ideas from ever taking off.

It’s possible that an organization needs to revisit and discuss their core values, beliefs, mission, purpose and goals before taking action. Ensuring the entire staff, board, and other key stakeholders are all “on the same page” in terms of the specific goals and priorities of the organization, and how a social enterprise fits into those, is crucial.

Taking steps early in the process to have these tough discussions allows the team to iron out any misalignments before they are amplified by the social enterprise.

In fact, facilitating an environment where the culture can grow into being open and excited about the idea of an entrepreneurial approach is key. Jill Andres, founder of Creating Value Inc., completed research on the critical success factors for nonprofits starting social enterprises and found that organizational culture was one of four factors most critical to ensuring success in social enterprise.

 

Second Obstacle – Risk

Committing to take calculated risks is hard enough for the profit-driven entrepreneur. So, it is understandably even harder for a social entrepreneur or nonprofit to take risks that put their social or environmental mission in jeopardy, no matter how big or small the potential consequences could be.

In mission-driven organizations, the risks associated with social enterprise need to be carefully weighed against the “non-negotiables” that are intimately tied with achieving their social impact.

This brings us to the third obstacle faced when trying to move from social enterprise idea to launching a product or service…

 

Third Obstacle – Fear

Ultimately, the biggest reason it is so hard to move a social enterprise idea from conception to reality is simply fear.

It is the fear of making the wrong move. It is the fear that moving out of the heavy research phase will mean missing the exact stat that will magically confirm for 100% certainty the idea is solid and must be acted on.

It is the fear of spending valuable resources of time and money too quickly, on the wrong things, or at least not on the exact right things.

 

In order to successfully cross the gaping (and often undocumented) canyon of social enterprise idea to living, breathing operations, let’s look at four steps that can bridge the action gap.

 

Bridging The Action Gap – Step One: Stay Open

Let’s assume you and your team have diligently gone through the process of developing a rock solid business plan for your social enterprise idea. You have polled the board, your beneficiaries, crunched the numbers, and landed on the idea you know you should move forward with.

If you have yet to take action with the idea, the first step is to remember to stay open to receiving and integrating the information you are about to receive.

As a social entrepreneur, perhaps deep down the absolute scariest part of taking action is knowing that you are about to receive some serious feedback. Both negative and positive feedback can present issues for a team attempting to implement an idea.

If the feedback is negative, it could mean all the hard work that has gone into an initiative was for an offering that isn’t quite right. Or worse, it could mean all that preparation is completely irrelevant!

Even positive feedback can present challenges. It could mean navigating growth pressures like growing a team, tough decisions about allocating limited resources, or challenges keeping up with communication to various stakeholders (clients, beneficiaries, staff and others) as the organization expands into new markets.

But in the end, wouldn’t you rather be working from real-world-confirmed feedback than continuously bleeding resources on hopes and hypotheses?  Being open to take in and integrate all feedback, positive or negative, is taking powerful action to move your initiative forward.

 

Bridging The Action Gap – Step Two: Ask the Right Questions

The Business Model Canvas is a fantastic tool I recommend every entrepreneur, from social entrepreneur to technology entrepreneur, make good and thorough use of. It can be cleverly adapted for mapping out social enterprise initiatives specifically – if you’re interested in a free training on exactly how to do that check out our Sneak Peek Video series.

While the Business Model Canvas is a tool mainly for the conceptual phase of strategic social enterprise development, it is also a valuable jumping-off point for taking small, low-risk, measurable actions to begin validating pieces of the business model.

Ok, so now that you have laid out the ‘big picture’ of what you’re trying to achieve with the social enterprise in the Business Model Canvas, and you are keeping an open mind, then what?

Here is the one big question you need to ask that will lead you to several tangible questions you need to set about seeking answers for:

When you look at the ‘big picture’ outline of how you predict the social enterprise will run, what assumptions are you making that need to be confirmed as true in order for the entire model to work as you envision?

Taking this step at the end of the conception phase allows you to list out very specific areas of uncertainty. With these specific questions at your fingertips you can then easily move into the next step of prototyping and testing.

 

Bridging The Action Gap – Step Three: Prototype and Test

Armed with specific questions to tackle the remaining void-of-uncertainty, now you can begin formulating bite-sized actions that will help gather the info you need to move forward into action.

No test is too small when it comes to gathering information relevant to your initiative. Every hypothesis you make will lead to a conclusion (however small) that can inform your next phase of action and help you iterate and move forward.

In your testing phase remember to declare what you expect to happen and so you can compare actual results to your predictions. Document all of your learning so you can look back at your progress.

Finally, evaluate as a team how the findings support your current strategy or point to changes that can improve your business model.

 

Bridging The Action Gap – Step Four: Validate the Market

With each small action you take to test and confirm your assumptions, answering crucial questions along the way, you gather valuable, real-world information that continues to build off your conception phase.

How will you know when you have “validated the market” and are ready to make the big leap?

This threshold will be different for each unique case, but let’s just say as a rule of thumb: if you have hit the streets with your product or service and landed several paying customers (family and friends not included) then you are close to ready, if not altogether ready, to jump all in.

At a certain point, all of this very recent and relevant information that you are integrating into your model will reach that tipping point where there is no question but to go forward implementing the plan!

 

Hopefully these four steps shed some light on making the jump from conception to actualization of that social enterprise idea you and your team have been sitting on.

In short, it is important to remember that the most successful enterprises, profit-driven or otherwise, are built with focused, small actions and patience. The outsider looking in sees an overnight success, when the team driving the operation knows it takes 10-years to become an overnight success.

Without a doubt there will be bumps and dips in the road. Stay focused on the outcomes you seek and open to integrating feedback along the way and you can create the positive change you envision.

What has your experience been making the leap from conception to actualization of your social enterprise idea?  I would love to hear from you – write me at danielle@theSedge.org.

 

Danielle Carruthers

Danielle is the founder of theSedge.org, a global community focused on building smart social enterprise strategy today for sustainable impact tomorrow. To stay updated on the latest material covering social entrepreneurship and strategic social enterprise design and development, sign up for our newsletter and receive our free 3-part video training series.

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