Joe Johnson, Ph.D.
Entrepreneur. Investor. Startup Expert.
The more effort you expend on researching social entrepreneurship endeavors, the more likely it becomes that you’ll want to launch your own social enterprise and begin changing the world. That said, it’s important that you fully acquaint yourself with the other side of the equation: the need to work tirelessly to overcome hurdles and to accomplish your goals. Although you may believe that you already have the best possible plan in place (you don’t), social entrepreneurship theory alone is entirely insufficient to prepare you for its reality. These few topics comprise but a brief overview of the harsh realities you’re soon to confront:
You Need a Strategy
While the process of getting underway will present its own range of challenges, you’ll eventually reach a point at which it appears as though conditions have stabilized. Whatever your impressions at that point, this is not the case. Though laxity and inattention are never a good idea, this is possibly the worst point at which you should yield to those temptations. In point of fact, it’s just when daily operations begin to steady that you should focus on strategies for the future. A social entrepreneur never stops planning for the future, as market conditions can and will change constantly with concomitant effects on the business. It’s absolutely essential to build a solid core business capable of sustaining itself through difficult times.
Ownership Can Get Messy
While many social enterprises are owned by individuals, there are instances where the people in the community co-own the business in conjunction with the innovator/investor. On those occasions, it’s sometimes a case of “too many cooks” wherein so many individuals believe they have a right to be heard in any decision-making process that the company’s very ability to grow is hampered. You may also confront the situation of having people who expect (or even demand) to make decisions, but take considerable pains to evade accountability for them. Regardless, it will fall to you – and you alone – to right the ship. In aviation, as in the military, that’s known as the concept of command responsibility; in business, it’s simply being the boss.
Balancing the Books
Social entrepreneurship should always be about business first; absent profits, there’s no ability to help others. You’ll need to strive toward self-sustainability and not depend on investors to regularly fund your enterprise. Some people enter social entrepreneurship ventures in the belief that they’re providing a social good and in the expectation that they’ll receive substantial support from the people around them, then find that much of the ground work must be accomplished on their own. If you disconnect your emotions from the realities of running your business, you’ll go a long way toward overcoming this particular challenge.
The participation experience for normal commercial entrepreneurship is almost always that of an upward climb and social entrepreneurship is much the same, though the virtual incline may be perceived as being that much greater. Social entrepreneurs must take care to ensure that they pace themselves carefully lest they risk running out of steam before meeting their objectives. It’s essential to commit oneself to the process and seek as much support and advice as possible from those who stand ready to assist you. As always, plan on there being quite a bit of learning along the way.
Lack of Understanding
When you begin to engage in social enterprise, you’re likely to encounter resistance from family, friends, or those who depend upon you financially. The reason is that your priorities will have shifted from being primarily focused on making money to achieving social change. You’re bound to confront a range of questions, from whether or not you’re really employed, to why you’re unable to hold a ‘real’ job, to doubts about your very survival if you’re no longer focused solely on profit. This sort of bombardment can serve to make you question your own faith in what you’re trying to accomplish. You must appreciate that there’s every possibility that those closest to you will never understand what you’re doing or why. Don’t focus on their negativity, but simply soldier on.
As a prospective social entrepreneur, you must realize that you’re unable to control everything and that external factors can affect your business. That said, these harsh realities shouldn’t hinder you, but motivate you to continue working hard toward your goals. Increased familiarity with the truth of social entrepreneurship will serve to make you a better entrepreneur in the long run.
About the Author
Dr. Joe Johnson is an entrepreneur, investor, and startup expert. He is the founder and principal of GoodField Investments and the GoodField Foundation (www.GoodField.com).
Joe has a Ph.D. in Entrepreneurial Leadership and an MBA. He is the author of the upcoming book on The Science of Why Most Entrepreneurs Fail and Some Succeed.
Most importantly, he is the incredibly blessed husband of one amazing wife and father of six wonderful children. He resides in Bradenton, Florida. For more information on Dr. Johnson and his work, go to www.JoeJohnson.com.