The 7 Sins & 7 Virtues Of Social Enterprise Start-Up: The Delicate Balance Between Economic Goals & Ethical Vision

Keeping the equilibrium between work & life, stress & drive, zen & chaos, cake & salad....you get the drift. To add another balancing act to the list, economy & ethics are two fields social entrepreneurs frantically run between, making sure that each focus is equally measured & equally rewarding.

A finance & debt advice based company like ours has a heightened sense of responsibility to winning this challenge, particularly when bearing in mind the vulnerable nature of our clients. What we do is fraught with complexity & the potential for misunderstanding & distrust. Anyone working in the finance sector knows we are not the most popular people at a wine & cheese party!

To stay focused on maintaining the balance, I use the concepts of sins & virtues to learn & develop as an active champion of my own social firm & the field I work in. Keeping these two areas at the forefront of my mind when I am planning, facilitating & engaging with partners & stakeholders is a useful tool i’d like to share.

The 7 Heavenly Virtues of Social Enterprise

Faith: Have faith that your idea is brilliant. If you believe in your brand and in yourself as its representative, others are far more likely to.

Hope: Have hope that you will achieve success & that you will be helping & benefiting others throughout your arc of success. Use negative experiences as learning curves. You won’t make the same mistake twice.

Charity: Work with charities: they might not always appreciate the profit making element of your enterprise but in time the third sector will be more positive & embracing of profit making, focused organisations like yours. Appreciate that much of the work you do in the early days, will be voluntary & at best very low in profit. You may not be a charity but somehow you end up behaving like one!

Fortitude: In a time of economic crisis & austerity, having a steely will & robust survival instinct will stand you in good stead. A brass neck & a thick skin may not be visually pleasing to the eye! but theoretically they are crucial personal attributes for any budding entrepreneur's CV.

Justice: Believe & focus on your enterprise in promoting justice, equality & fairness. The social enterprise sector is driven by community champions who want to change the world for the better & create opportunities to those less fortunate than themselves.

Temperence: Avoid the common trap of going for the low lying fruit & quick fixes promised by partnerships & funding from sources less ethical & caring than yourself.

Be careful to play your cards close to your chest with apparently interested parties. You may be keen to push yourself & grow quicker than is required, BUT do, do, do protect your concept, your model, plan & your clients as though they were your children.

Prudence: Use free marketing techniques, social media, word of mouth, online networking & gratis advertising  (such as editorial or case studies) wherever you can.

Consider your salary: do you need to earn now what you want to earn later? Aim re-invest some of your projected salary into your enterprise if possible. Can you work part-time & volunteer the rest of the time, can you use volunteers rather than paid staff at first?

Essentially, don’t be too free & easy with your budget. Have at least 3 months running expenses ring-fenced for security as soon as possible. It’s handy for times of enforced frugality.

Plan ahead: At PlanB Advice our income generating work in December 2011 is funding our free activity in February 2012 for example.

The 7 Deadly Sins of Social Enterprise

Pride: Your idea is great but try not to be too smug! The world of business ( within any sector) is built on thin layers of swollen, tender egos.  It’s like your grand-ma’s baclava out there!

Everyone you meet thinks their own organisation is the best. Claiming yours is better won’t do you any favours. Aim to point out why & how it’s different & use this platform to discuss ways you can support each other & work together for a more efficient, collaborative union.

Envy: Professional jealousy is rife in all business sectors. Stomping about claiming to have “made the break” from being employed to being “self employed” will only win you enemies. Be discreetly proud after successes.(Do remember to pat yourself on the back when no-one else is looking!)

Gluttony: Avoid the trappings of ambition. Being too focused on the next big thing means you take your eye off projects that are on your desk here & now.

Aim for stars you can reach. Reserve energy & resources so you don’t over-stretch yourself & your resources. Let your enterprise grow naturally: don’t force it to grow too fast or too soon.

Lust: Try not to see more successful entrepreneurs & enterprises as your bench-mark for success. What you do is probably unique so there is no bench mark until you have set it.

You may lust after a contract someone else has achieved & you may desire that office space or IT suite but don’t let this allow you to feel as though you have failed. You are on an upward climb & you have a way to go before those costly aims are achievable.

As a social entrepreneur you must stay focused on what your clients & partners want.

Anger: Ok, so you failed in the application for that funding award or a fellow social enterprise has pipped you to the post with a referral contract. Don’t get angry: get clever. Seek out a new, better suited opportunity that will fit your ethos & your service users better. Be pragmatic and see it as just another day in business.

My wise mother-in-law has a wonderful Scottish saying “what goes by you, wasn’t for you” and it comforts me a lot after less successful days at work.

Greed: Greed has no place in any business or charity sector. It is a pure, unadulterated sin to get greedy with any element of your life, personal or professional. The recent economic crisis fell down around super-bankers as we waded through the rubble of their specific brand of greed & lust for money & personal success. Greed is unforgiveable. It risks your integrity & the welfare of the people you represent & support.

Sloth: It is tempting to take a break from work, sit back on successes from the past & rest a little longer than you would if you were employed by contract. Social Entrepreneurs are fortunate as they gain an income & social outcomes for their work. Both are so rewarding that sloth is simply not common in the sector. I love my work & care about the people I support. If I could work 24/7: I would.

I wish my fellow entrepreneurs economic success, professional enjoyment & good health for 2012!

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