Interviews

Engaging and inspiring people plays a big part in the success of a business

7 min read

22 August 2016

Social enterprises are businesses that exist to tackle social problems and protect the environment. And while many may suggest embracing the dualism required to both do good and make money isn’t easy, the number of small social enterprises in the UK suggest otherwise.

Image: Shutterstock

Increasing awareness around corporate scandals and murky supply chains has led to a rise in what is known as conscious consumption – a term used to describe when concerns about the origins of products affect the ways consumers shop.

It’s no surprise then that customers across all markets respond well to social enterprise (SE). And according to Peter Holbrook, chief executive of Social Enterprise UK: “Such a business model is inherently efficient.”

He said: “This way of running a business resonates with generations both young and old and so we are observing significant startup activity. This is where high-percentage growth is most achievable. Good product, price, people, accompanied with an effective route to market should normally bring success. Being able to communicate concisely what your social impact is all about is the cherry on the SE cake.”

Read more about social entrepreneurship and sustainability:

This may be easier said than done given that SEs are judged on far more than the average firm – we’re entering a “prove to me” era and consumer expectations are boundless. But after speaking to leaders in the sector, we unveil a few tips that could help your business.

For Hill Holt Wood CEO Steven Donagain success is the combination of multiple small achievements and income streams.

“Should conditions change in one aspect, another area of the business can grow and support it,” he explained. “You need a strong leadership with keen imagination and a bold streak to identify and commit to these new income streams, with a talented and enthusiastic workforce to turn ideas into reality.”

The Linconshire-based charity’s net assets are worth £1.1m, with the company being held accountable to the community via a volunteer board. And every year it creates a self-assessment report to ensure it is working in accordance to its aims and objectives.

“This performance is critical to our reputation,” Donagain said. “We need to be making a strong surplus just as traditional businesses need to make profit, yet our credibility and the goodwill we enjoy from our customers and funding is reliant on how we use our surplus.”

Continue reading to find out how simply doing the right thing can take you far.

Likewise, Sophi Tranchell, the CEO of Divine, put an emphasis on clearly defining the company’s vision, which in turn increases staff engagement and loyalty.

“We pride ourselves on doing business differently and putting farmers at the heart of everything we do,” Tranchell claimed. “We are saying and doing something that engages and inspires people and also makes them happy, which has a big part to play in the success of the business. People want to feel rewarded and satisfied by where they work – somewhere where people are at the heart of it. Working for a social enterprise is an attractive proposition, which in turn helps drive the success of Divine as a business.

“The main challenge is budget, as we are competing with giants. Our competitors are global players with multimillion-dollar marketing budgets, but being a social enterprise has definitely been an asset as people can see the real impact that Divine is making to the farmers. This gives us a really unique point of difference in the market and is also very motivating for the people working with us. Social enterprise companies have a real advantage in that they have more to say and an interesting story that engages people beyond just the product.”

Simply doing the right thing can take you far

According to Holbrook, the simple tenant of doing the right thing by your staff, customers, environment and community is a business advantage – not a burden. “It’s a powerful and resilient business model, not just a moral one,” he said, adding that by showing goodwill firms were more likely to attract top talent.

This concept was further highlighted by Donagain, who claimed consumers and staff alike were more likely to buy into your business as it gave them a good feeling knowing they were contributing in some way.

“This adds to brand loyalty as our customers begin to feel ownership,” he said. “Put simply, do something for the community – and do it well – and your customers will take up the torch with you.”

It’s not something businesses should shy away from, least of all not because it might damage goals to do do with gaining money. Tranchell suggested that Divine focused on the same principles of success that any firm in the food business did, from selling more in supermarkets to increasing distribution. It’s the way in which the firm measures its success that’s different.

“It’s about sharing success with the cocoa farmers who own the company, which is what makes us different to other companies,” she explained. “Our success is shared between the many, not the few.”

Similarly, Elvis & Kresse co-founder Kresse Wesling suggested more business leaders should focus on the impact of what they achieve.

“We have reclaimed over 300 tonnes of waste so far; this is the true impact of our business,” she explained. “This is what matters, our impact – this is what we should celebrate. By celebrating turnover, businesses are reducing themselves to the least of what they do… What you achieve for society, for the environment – this is so much more important.”

Meanwhile, find out how companies are now expected (by politicians, customers and, above all, employees) to demonstrate social value. Merely creating jobs and making profits is no longer enough.