So now you know you want to start a social enterprise and you have gained awareness about what your skills are (See last post), your passions, your hobbies, interests and experience. You are committed to ride it all the way and all you need are some good ideas. The next step is to determine what type of business you want to start.
In general terms there are three types of businesses: start-up, lifestyle and side businesses.
Start-up businesses are high risk, high reward. They need more innovation as they are very sensitive to competition. They potentially need a team of people to launch it and larger amounts of investment. If you have a unique and potentially patentable product or idea you can attract investment and take it from there. You must be aware that start-ups require the most amount of commitment in terms of energy and time and you would be required to focus solely on launching and growing your start-up business. Especially for the first 2-3 years. Tip: A good start-up idea needs to be original and have the potential for massive impact. Make sure you research your market and beta test your idea (more on beta-testing in another post).
The lifestyle business is not as sensitive to competition but you do need to have a unique offer. It’s medium risk and can potentially offer high rewards depending on the product and your running costs. If your business is based around digital products the amount of commitment will be larger at the beginning during the set up and considerably less once it is up and running. You could launch it and run it as a part time venture. Tip: Make sure there is a large enough market for your idea. Lifestyles businesses are called like that because they are designed to fit your lifestyle needs. Know exactly what your lifestyle is and make sure there is enough market to provide for your specific needs. Create a plan using actual numbers- how much do you need to sell/make to be able to sustain your lifestyle? Make sure your ‘story’ is unique.
Side businesses are the ones that require the least amount of time. They are low risk but are also low profit. If you only have a few hours to spare and want to create a social enterprise on the side, this is a great way of doing it as you can do social good without having to completely commit all your time and efforts to it. Tip: Look at your hobbies and see if there is something you already do that can be used to create value for a community and profit for yourself. Make sure there is demand for your service. Even if it’s a small niche, make sure you know everything there is to know about that market in specific. Look at websites and other platforms your potential market uses and use those same platforms to reach out to your audience.
When you are thinking about creating a social enterprise the most important thing is to figure out how you will provide value to people. This is where asking the right questions is so important. If you know WHY you are doing your business, WHO is your target audience and HOW you will help them and create value for them you have enough clarity to know how to provide a good product or service.
Social enterprises are still businesses and for them to be fully sustainable and have longevity they must stand on their own feet. This means they should create profit to sustain your salaries and to reinvest in your company, in addition to making a good impact on the community and creating social value.
“A half-baked idea is okay, as long as it’s in the oven” unknown
For any of your business ideas to be successful, they must meet your personal needs, both in terms of the time you can put in, the resources you have or can access and they type of business that would suit you best.
Remember: All ideas are worth considering. Always carry a pocket sized notebook and always write down your ideas as they come up. I prefer using Evernote because I always have my phone with me and it’s quick and easy to save my notes to the cloud.
But wait… how to come up with something new?
- Problem Solving Business Ideas.
Every day we come across problems that potential innovations in products and services would solve, making them better, cheaper, faster, more reliable, seamless, etc.
Make a list of everyday problems for two weeks. Write everything down, even the smallest of problems. Then write down the solutions that already exist that address those problems. If you can’t find any, you have found a potential area to offer a new product. If you have found solutions that are not quite appropriate, ask yourself if you can provide something better.
Once you have a few business ideas you need to rate them. A problem that is huge for you might not be so important for the rest of the world, so it’s crucial to determine the pain level of each problem. For example, it bothers me that when it rains, my umbrella gets wet and when I need to put it away in my bag it wets the inside too. Now, this issue might not be as painful for the rest of the world, or it might be painful, but not enough for people to spend money on a different umbrella, so your market might be very small. That is, unless you really come up with a ground breaking innovation in umbrella manufacturing or materials.
If, however, you are aware of a problem that affects millions of people, it hasn’t been solved yet and the pain level is high, then you have a potentially big business idea.
Embrace Global did just that. When premature babies are born in remote areas in the world, they often die due to lack of medical attention. Incubators can go for thousands of dollars, so Embrace created a small sleeping bag system that keeps the temperature of the baby. Not only that but it uses no energy as it can be recharged using boiling water. And it costs $25.
So they solved a big and painful problem for a lot of families and by doing so raised millions to deliver their product.
Remember, the bigger the pain level, the bigger your business idea’s impact, so look to solve problems that save lives, affect millions, save money for people, and are game changers.
2. “Wouldn’t it be nice if” method.
This method asks the question ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if….’ to come up with business ideas. Start this exercise now. Take a sheet of paper and write a minimum of 20 answers to the question, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if….’. Think about situations where value can be added by changing how things are done. Remember, don’t judge your ideas. All ideas are good at this stage, so just write them down.
Wouldn’t it be nice if I could rent my books and get a small fee?
Wouldn’t it be nice if people could create energy all the time as they walk, talk and play?
Wouldn’t it be nice if I could teach children in the developing world how to make products using trash and sell them online?
Wouldn’t it be nice if I could make shoes and every time I sell one I send a free pair to a child in the developing world? Blake Mycoskie probably asked himself something similar when he started TOMS shoes and in doing so invented a new business model that kick-started his company and gave shoes to thousands of children.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a world-wide platform of inventors, engineers and designers that helped each other to create open source innovations and was funded by corporations?
Wouldn’t it be nice if everybody could grow their own food in cities, and sell their surplus through a digital platform?
Look at the world we live in today. Look at the trends in technology, what’s happening in the work place, in politics, in resource management… The world is constantly changing and there is a big need of businesses that tackle challenges that are barely beginning to be forecast.
This method starts by making predictions about the future. Ask, which industries are undervalued right now? Which factors, already apparent, will affect how we live?
What knowledge do I have in my industry that very few people have? How does this knowledge give me an advantage to predict change in my industry?
Think about the past, and how innovations back then are today even silly. Think about how we will view certain innovations of today in the future and what might be in their place.
Create a mind map starting with a problem or issue you have observed. From that central point, create as many branches as you can. See if you can force the connection between previously unconnected areas. See example below.
There are a few apps and software you can use to help you do this. I sometimes use SmartDraw, but to be honest it’s often easier to sketch it by hand. You’ll engage more areas of your brain when you sketch out your ideas and put it on paper.
There are other methods you can use but I find these to be very good. Ideas come up all the time especially if you are looking for them, so if you remember anything from this blog post is always keep your ideas notebook with you!
That’s all for today’s post. On the next one I’ll go through some types of business models and how you could implement them for your business idea.
Diana Simpson Hernandez
Designers for Humanity founder