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The Biggest Mistake (Aspiring) Social Entrepreneurs Can Make

Words by 3p Contributor
Investment & Markets

By Solene Pignet

There is one mistake social entrepreneurs (or aspiring social entrepreneurs) very often make. I estimate that 80 percent of social enterprises projects fail because of that mistake.

Yes, you read that right: 80 percent.

I have been providing consulting for social entrepreneurs since 2014, and I have met many (aspiring) social entrepreneurs who make this mistake. This is not very often discussed in the media or in social entrepreneurship resources, so I decided to share it with you in this article.

The No. 1 mistake (aspiring) social entrepreneurs can make is ... to never start

Never getting started is a mistake social entrepreneurs don’t even consider when they start imagining their project. Most think that a bad idea, not enough money or a not-ready market are their biggest risk. When in fact, the biggest risk of all lies in their capacity to take action!

The reason is: Most aspiring social entrepreneurs fear their project will fail.

So, they spend time fine-tuning their business plan; they look for investors; they apply to highly selective accelerators (and shape their progress schedule according to the deadline given by those programs – even if in a few month); they look for co-founders, partners, etc.

In other words, they spend time on doing everything possible except actually getting started. The longer this goes on, the more they start doubting about their idea, or even sometimes doubting about their own capacities. They look at the time and energy spent for little - if not no - results, and end up never starting at all.

In an article published by the Guardian, Matthew Cain -- a former social entrepreneur who experienced failure -- summarize it as follows:

“There’s no correlation between the quality of a business plan and the business, it is revenue that determines the early success of your enterprise. The sooner you are generating revenue the better. Time spent planning often defers discovery. It may get a grant or investment – but persuading an investor is different from persuading a customer to part with their cash.

"Some startups spend hours choosing the name and perfecting the business model […] Others start trading and see what happens.”

Why is it a common mistake for social entrepreneurs?

The difference between social entrepreneurs and “classic” entrepreneurs is that social entrepreneurs have the ambition to make a difference in the world through their project. They often forget that, even thriving initiatives – like the micro-credit bank of Muhammed Yunus or TOMs one-for-one – actually started small.

Dream big, start small

If “making a difference in the world” is a big, bold, almost unrealistic dream, making a difference in someone’s life is possible. For social entrepreneurs who tackle issues such as hunger, education, health, social integration, gender equality – and so much more – the gap between the big dream and the realistic start is huge.

Sometimes, you have to “quiet your ego” and accept that doing something is already better than doing nothing.

Start by designing and offering a qualitative solution to an important problem, then you will have the market knowledge and growing community of supporters to scale your solution and reach a quantitative impact. In any case, start!

If you have the drive to make a difference in the world, and make it a (even slightly) better place, it is your responsibility to make it happen.

And I am not the only one to think this way:

“Business is such a simple way to solve some problems in our society! And I`m lucky: I live in Europe, I have the education needed and the skills to develop a socially responsible enterprise. And I think it would be absolutely selfish not to do that if you have all these skills,” said Fionn Dobbin, entrepreneur and lecturer at Stockholm School of Economics in Riga. (Extract from an article in Delphi.)

  • Imagine if all the young, educated, energetic individuals started making a difference in the world?

  • Imagine if all the people who are tired to work for companies whose only ambition is to make money, actually quit their job to create more sense in their career, in their lives, in their communities, and started changing other people’s life?

  • Imagine how YOU would feel by making a good living through your entrepreneurial initiative, while doing something good for others?!

Now, imagine you would stop dreaming, and start doing?

Are you planning to start a social enterprise soon?

If you want to make sure your project is part of the 20 percent that actually get started, there are certain traps to avoid.

I will outline six of the most common traps that prevent (even the most ambitious!) social entrepreneurs to get started, during a one-hour live webinar on Sept. 1. If this concerns you, sign up for free here.

Image credit: gratisography/Ryan McGuire

Solène is a globetrotter, committed to sustainable development and passionate about alternative entrepreneurship. She founded Creators for Good in 2014. She provides online consulting services to (aspiring) entrepreneurs willing to make a difference in the world, in order to maximize sustainable revenues AND social impact.

Learn more: www.creatorsforgood.com

3p Contributor

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