Four traits you'll need to set up a social enterprise

Shannon Houde explores the top four values, skills and traits you need to kick-start an innovative business that makes a difference to the world.

What other traits do you think you need to set up a social enterprise?

Social enterprise is big business these days, and it's having a big impact on society too. By using business principles to organise, create and manage a venture, more and more social entrepreneurs are yielding positive returns to both society and the bottom line.

So how do they do it? And can you do it too? In today's blog, we're exploring the top four values, skills and traits you'll need to kick-start an innovative business that makes a difference to the world - with a little help from some of the most dynamic society-conscious company Directors in the market. Thanks to Felipe Zalamea of www.sumak-travel.org and www.sustainable-pangea.org, Jamie Grainger-Smith of www.thinkeatdrink.co.uk and Maggie De Pree of www.imaginals.net for their invaluable insights.

1) Vision

As every entrepreneur quickly discovers, you need a robust and diverse skillset to run your own business - and a social enterprise is no different. The professional dexterity needed to switch between marketing, finance and legal issues in the course of one afternoon can be exhausting, but what will get you through is a strong, clear vision of what you're trying to achieve. This vision is the message you'll communicate to your partners, your team and your clients. It's also the message that your internal monologue will need to turn up the volume on when times get tough. It is your passion, your manifesto, your raison-d’etre.

2) Commitment

What does it take to see a project through to the finish line? It's likely that your passion to find sustainable solutions to the social issue you're tackling is what caused you to get into this game in the first place. So nurture that passion and bind it to a sense of determination that manifests in a dogged commitment to achieving your goals.

Support yourself by building a strong professional network so that you have someone to call on if your focus starts to wane - we all need mentors who can inspire us to keep going. Make sure to keep work life balance in check though as this can easily get you off track. Also try to cluster your time into chunks so you stay productive.

3) Be willing to learn

While you will need that all-round skillset we talked about in the first point, you won't get far by bluffing. Take a positive approach to the learning curve and bridge those knowledge gaps once and for all by making like a sponge and absorbing everything possible, asking questions and bringing in expertise from elsewhere when you need it. Keep that ego checked too so that it doesn’t get in your way from being open to failure, welcome to criticism. These are what make a true entrepreneur and leader.

4) Stay true to yourself

As one wise social entrepreneur put it, "If your background is in journalism, don’t try to set up a restaurant". Stick to what you know and don't hamper the success of your social enterprise by landing yourself in the middle of an alien industry. Instead, work from your strengths, be realistic and keep the business model solid. But make sure you are starting a product/service that is needed, not just one you want to do.

Test the market first. You’ll be competing against conventional businesses and the consumer won’t compromise on quality for the sake of a social conscience. Be realistic and ensure that your social agenda only adds value - it's never a substitute for a good product. Good luck turning your passion for social change into reality!

Shannon Houde, MBA, is founder of Walk of Life Consulting, the first international career coaching business focused solely on the environmental, sustainability and Corporate Responsibility (CR) fields. Follow her on Twitter @walkoflifecoach