03.13.20164 min read

Emily May’s 5 Rules for Social Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners

Would you rather make money or change the world? You can’t do both. Or can you?

The new wave of social entrepreneurship would suggest that social change and profit need not be mutually exclusive. By melding the best of the non-profit and for-profit sectors, social entrepreneurs are applying business knowledge to humanitarian issues, making major impact—and sometimes profits—along the way.

Change makers like Emily May are blurring the lines between the divide. As Co-Founder and Executive Director of Hollaback!—an organization and movement dedicated to ending street harassment on a global level—Emily is one of a new breed of entrepreneurs who combine the very best of the business world with the heart of humanity.

One of the best-known examples of the melding of business and humanity that is the hallmark of social entrepreneurship may be TOMS Shoes, a company that incorporates humanitarian giving as an intrinsic component of their overall business model. However, the social entrepreneurial umbrella is broad and also expands to include those, like Hollaback, who run their movements as nonprofits, as well as businesses who are both ‘for-profit and for-a-change’, like microcredit lender SKS Finance

Just like small business ownership, social entrepreneurship demands innovation and creativity. It also requires a willingness to disrupt the accepted rules of social engagement and revenue generation with a focus on scalability and a willingness to explore monetization when it makes sense to the movement; a desire to move beyond the commonly accepted rules of the existing infrastructure and mobilize ideas, tools, business practices, and people to create movement toward quantifiable social change; and most important to the social entrepreneur, a focus on a bottom line that is not measured simply in profit and loss but also in terms of social value.

The Social Entrepreneurial movement has gained much by a willingness to adopt and innovate tools and lessons from the business world.  Much like small business owners, social entrepreneurs are accustomed to thinking outside the box and using creativity and passion to create lasting change. In return, they have much wisdom and experience that is directly applicable to the small business owner.

The following are Emily May’s five rules of social entrepreneurship for the small business owner.

1. Jump off a cliff and build wings on the way down

If your idea is truly visionary, don’t be surprised if the first thing you hear in response to it is crickets. And although it may feel like you need to raise your first million before you can bring your idea into reality, it’s not true. Start as small as you can start. Test and iterate. Over time (and with surprisingly little investment) you’ll watch your idea merge with the world’s needs, resulting in a product that is irresistible.

2. Solve a real-world problem

The world is riddled with problems. Some of them you can make money solving; some of them you can’t. If you can make money solving the world’s greatest problems—that’s fantastic, go for it. If you can’t, welcome to the wonderful world of nonprofits. No matter what your revenue model, remember the world isn’t going to fix itself. It’s up to you.

3. Collaborate

Is someone else trying to solve the same problem as you? It’s time to take your ego down a notch, think of your end users, and collaborate. Can’t collaborate because you hate their guts? It happens to the best of us, even the most terrible people can build beautiful things. If you find yourself in this sticky situation, do us all a favor: don’t duplicate their efforts. Multiply them.

4. It’s easier to hate than create

The world is filled with haters. Some you can write off as idiots; others you can’t. Those sting the most. When hate comes your way (and if you’re successful it always will), give yourself some space to get angry. Some of my most earth-shaking ideas have started with anger, including Hollaback!. In the words of Ellen DeGeneres, “My haters are my motivators.”

5. The most successful form of marketing is movement-building

Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, not a list of facts and figures. Build a base of supporters who understand not just what you do or how you do it, but why you do it. Share your vision publicly and often. Be transparent on how your business will change the world. Your base of supporters will be the physical embodiment of your vision—help them own it, and they will change hearts and minds. In the process, your business will grow.    

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