Social entrepreneurship has arrived. And even though some still look at the concept as quaint or the next level up from volunteering, the idea of having a business with a social mission will, in all likelihood, serve as the future foundation for many Gen Y startups to come. So it makes sense to get in at the ground level.
But if starting up your own social venture sounds too daunting, consider dipping your toe into the waters of social entrepreneurship by way of consulting. Here are four ways to get started. Who knows? Maybe you’ll like it.
1. Align your consulting approach and your mission. If you are a “greenefier,” -- that is, someone who helps companies become more environmentally friendly and sustainable in their daily operations -- you’ll probably focus on long-term strategies and shifts in mentality. As you show companies how to reduce waste, for instance, you might also want to incorporate an educational component. In other words, don’t just show them how to reduce waste, tell them why they should. This way, you’ll not only help validate your paycheck, you’ll potentially help contribute to a virtuous cycle where the companies you work with promote environmental sustainability and, by extension, so might their customers.
2. Address your clients’ clients. To become a go-to resource, your first stop should be low-hanging fruit. When I started in HR consulting for the nonprofit world, I realized that my clients’ beneficiaries (a.k.a. my client’s clients) could also be on the receiving end of my services. To give this theory a try, I approached an organization that was helping women reenter the workforce. I not only offered recruiting and development services to the organization itself, but I designed workshops for their “clients,” including career coaching, interviewing tips and resume reviews.
3. Draw them in with your expertise. Borrowing from the long-standing traditions of consulting, show potential clients what you can do for them. If through your consulting practice you’re trying to achieve a certain social goal, consider issuing a white paper that can be housed on your website or sent to potential clients. The paper could outline why you’re more than just another expert in your field. It can also mean writing up a blog post based around a game-changing innovation or contributing an article to an industry publication on responsible-corporate practices.
4. Think long-term. I know you’re only “dipping your toe into social entrepreneurship,” but if consulting sounds like it just might stick, I suggest planning for growth right away. To do so, start your practice with your third and fourth client in mind before you think of your first. Ask yourself, who are the companies you would like to be consulting for? Are they pioneers in the world of social entrepreneurship? Would they understand your mission and values, and might you consider merging your services with theirs? This mindset allows you to engage in more sustainable business practices, as you begin to understand who your typical client is, what is it that they want and how to have repeat business with them.
How did you break into social entrepreneurship? Tell us your story in the comments section below.
Paula Thorby has over five years of experience in the field of human resources, both in private and public-sector companies. She recently decided to help advance various social causes, by starting Nonprofit-Concepts, an HR consulting and outsourcing practice that helps nonprofit entities in the New York area recruit and retain their workforce, faster and at lower costs.