How can a solopreneur become more of a social entrepreneur?

Q & A by C.J. HaydenMany solopreneurs would like to incorporate more of a social benefit focus into their business. Being more socially responsible is a worthwhile goal for any size business, of course, but what if you want to go beyond basic social responsibility? Is it possible for a microbusiness owner to work on behalf of social causes and still earn a living?

There are many ways of incorporating causes and social issues you are passionate about into your existing business enterprise. For example:

1. Offering your professional services to nonprofit organizations pro bono, at a reduced fee (paid in part by the sponsoring agency but free or low cost to the recipients), or at full fee (paid for by a corporate or foundation grant to the sponsoring agency). For example, a therapist could offer her services to people recovering from trauma after a war or disaster. If she were not being paid, her volunteer service could still provide her with a PR benefit or useful contacts for paid work in the future. If she needed to get paid, she could assist the nonprofit in finding potential sponsors.

2. Speaking or writing about the issues that concern you, either on a paid basis or in return for promotional opportunities for you and your business. You can educate or advocate about social issues and promote your business at the same time to those who read your articles or hear you speak. For example, my blog How to Become a Hero allows me to write about social issues while receiving promotional benefit by gaining more visibility with new readers.

3. Starting a project to help others that emphasizes your professional skills and gains visibility for your business. Often this can involve partnering with an existing nonprofit or business who can provide some funding. Author/consultant Steven Van Yoder used this approach to launch his Global Initiative to Advance Entrepreneurship.

4. Using workshops, teleclasses, or events sponsored by your business as fundraisers to benefit a cause that concerns you. You can designate as much or as little of the profits to your chosen cause as you like.

5. Offering surplus resources your business has available to social benefit groups who need them, for example, meeting space in your office or website space on your hosting account.

6. Concentrating on making your business more profitable with the specific goal of being able to donate more of your time and money to social causes.

It’s also quite possible for a solopreneur to operate a business with a social mission at its core rather than a sideline activity. For example:

1. As a consultant, coach, or other independent professional, you can focus on serving a market niche related to the causes you care about. A consultant could choose to serve only nonprofits, a coach could decide to work with political leaders, or a graphic designer could opt to target socially responsible businesses. You might be surprised to discover how many social benefit organizations have the ability to pay your usual fees.

2. You could operate a microbusiness that advances a social cause through its products and services and still turns a reasonable profit. See Amy Belanger’s Idealist Gifts, or Jon Biel’s Make the Difference Network, for example. Social benefit businesses like these are becoming increasingly profitable.

3. You could work as a professional activist/educator, making your entire living from writing, speaking, and teaching about social issues. Many journalists and authors fit this model.

These are just a few ideas about how you can begin incorporating your social concerns into your solo business. For lots more ideas about what you can do, check out organizations like Ashoka, Echoing Green, Social Enterprise Alliance, Social Edge, and the International Network of Social Entrepreneurs. You’ll find a wealth of examples there of social benefit enterprises operated by just one person.

It really is possible to make a good living and make a valuable contribution to the world at the same time.

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