7 Deadly Sins of Social Enterprise

There are a few phrases I hear all the time from social entrepreneurs, nonprofit staff and other change makers... and they make me cringe. Not only cringe, but get me fired up! These phrases are so detrimental to the success of your social enterprise, I'm calling these phrases the 7 deadly sins of social enterprise. These are the phrases that kill the progress, profitability, efficiency and success of your social enterprise business.

If you're guilty of saying any of these, it's not too late. You can change your mindset. I've included a "what to say instead" option with each of the sinful phrases below.

7 Deadly Sins of Social Enterprise

1 | "This is the way we've always done it."

I swear, I've heard this one more than any of the others. Just because you've always done it one way does not mean it still makes sense to do now. The world is changing, your industry is changing, technology is changing... and being able to adapt to those changes is CRUCIAL to making progress toward the results you want to achieve.

What to say instead: "I'm open to understanding new ways of doing what we've done before. I'm interested in learning and growing personally, to help the social enterprise achieve the social mission."

2 | "People will buy our product/service just because of the social mission/cause."

Nope. They won't. Your product or service has to be competitive on price, value, availability... all the same things that every other business competes on. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you'll find a customer who chooses to buy your product because ALL OTHER THINGS BEING EQUAL, the social mission tips their purchase decision in your favor. But you CANNOT RELY ON SOMEONE BUYING YOUR PRODUCT OR SERVICE ON THE SOCIAL MISSION ALONE. Depending on the industry, you may find that even a few cents difference in price can change the consumer's mind to purchase the competitor's product versus your social enterprise product.

What to say instead: "People will buy our social enterprise product/service because it's competitively priced, a great value, quality product/service... AND it's mission is to help people or the planet."

3 | "I don't like numbers."

Too bad. Numbers are your friend. They are reliable. They are facts. If you don't know how to read financial statements, hire someone to help you. But just ignoring them or not paying attention to numbers is not an option. 

What to say instead: "I'm not comfortable with numbers but I'm willing to invest in someone that can help me understand what I need to know, in order to become comfortable."

4 | "I'm too busy."

If you say you're too busy, it means you're spending too much time doing the wrong things. Everyone is busy. Everyone has a lot on their plates. Everyone is managing family needs, with grocery shopping, with cleaning bathrooms, with multiple deadlines, with social events, with... you get the idea. We're all busy. You're not special. What can you do if you find yourself saying this? Do a time study of how you actually spend your time. What can you stop doing? What can you delegate to someone else? 

What to say instead: "I've been busy doing the wrong things in the past and will change my priorities to be in line with the best use of my time going forward."

5 | "I don't know anything about the industry, but I'm going to start a social enterprise in that industry anyway."

Fail. If someone wouldn't hire you for the job, why would you be qualified to start a business in that industry? This is a big problem for social enterprise. There are LOTS of people who have huge hearts and really want to do the right thing - make the world a better place. But if you don't understand the industry, the business model, trends, challenges... you'll find yourself frustrated, broke and not achieving the social or environmental mission you wanted to create in the first place. 

What to say instead: "Because I'm not yet familiar with the industry I want to start a social enterprise in, I will first learn about that industry through research and will work in that industry to truly understand what it takes to be successful."

6 | "We'll just get a grant for that."

Grants can be helpful to supplement or support your nonprofit's mission, but grants can often be a distraction from your core mission and processes. The time to research and apply for grants, let alone site visits and grant reports, is a full time job. So, go after the grants that make sense for YOUR organization, mission, values and needs. Don't chase dollars just because they are available.

What to say instead: "We will apply for grants that directly benefit the people we serve and align with our values and programs."

7 | "The intern will just do that." / "We can just get an intern to handle that."

Don't pile that stuff on your unpaid intern. Internships, and staff roles, are a reciprocal relationship. Your intern wants the same respect, personal/professional development opportunities, and challenges as anyone else. Give them the opportunity to do that. Don't pile all the crap you don't want to do (filing, social media, data entry) on the intern. 

What to say instead: "We will value all staff and interns, treat them with respect, and provide opportunities to learn and advance in their careers."

What other phrases do you hear at your social enterprise - either good or bad? How do these phrases shape the culture and success of your social enterprise? Let me know in the comments below!