Start a business, whether you’re interested in social enterprise, green entrepreneurship, or sustainable self-employment. If you do it right, you have a chance to create change and make money.
by Wendy Priesnitz
Do you want to start a business? Do you have an idea for a business that you think could change the world? Join the club! Self-employment, entrepreneurship and social enterprise are hugely popular these days – among recent college grads wanting to make their mark, Baby Boomers looking for a more satisfying career change, moms and dads who want to stay at home with their children, and all sorts of people who want to deliver goods or services for a social purpose.
And many of these folks who plan to start a business have an eye on doing something that’s green: sustainability consulting, carbon offsets, home energy audits, bio-fuels, wind power, organic food, natural baby products or a vegetarian restaurant. No matter what sort of product or service you want to sell, and how big or small your ambition is for your enterprise, some common principles apply.
Your unique business idea
What is your unique idea or unique twist on an existing idea? And what makes it different from all the others? Is it better, cheaper, not available in your area, more fun, more reliable?
The benefit to your customers
Forget about the benefit to you (which will, we hope, be fame and fortune, or at least independence and satisfaction). Your eye should be on how other people or businesses will benefit from your new enterprise…and if those prospective customers will value what you are offering enough to pay what you have to charge. That information will provide you with your marketing focus and a way to measure your success.
You will need some basic business skills (or the ability to pay others who have them), money (at least enough to pay both your living and business expenses for at least a year if you’re jumping in full-time), knowledge of and passion for your business idea, some risk tolerance, the ability to sell (either yourself or your product/service), good health and physical stamina, the ability to learn quickly and on the fly, ability to deal with stress, determination, decision-making ability, and good time management and organizational skills. And it doesn’t hurt to have some contacts in your field. If you’re planning to work at home, you’ll need to be able to deal with issues like procrastination, isolation and the crossover between your business and personal lives. If this makes it sound like starting and running a business isn’t for the timid, you’re right!
Your business plan
Once you’ve thought about these things, do some hard-nosed research to be sure you’re operating from reality, rather than your dream. Create a business plan that confirms there is a need for your business, outlines its mission and goals, states how you will market the business, describes the advantages you’ll have over a few specific competitors, details expected costs and revenues on a quarterly or monthly basis, shows where money is going to come from to cover cash-flow gaps and provides information about you and any business partners.
Just do it
Many people dream about being their own boss but most never get past the dreaming and planning stages to actually start a business. So once you have put together a business plan that’s solid enough to convince a banker (even if you don’t plan to seek a business loan), believe in your research and in your idea, and go for it.
We all make mistakes; in fact, that’s how most of us learn. And that is true when you start a business. Pretending that you are invincible is a sure path to failure. Instead, seek help and support from others. Your banker or accountant, other entrepreneurs, seminars, and books can all be helpful.
The green bottom line
Whether or not you define your business as a social enterprise, you should consider delivering on environmental quality, social justice and economic security performance targets, something that is often referred to as the triple bottom line.
Good luck as you start a business…and possibly change the world!
Wendy Priesnitz is the editor of Natural Life Magazine. She helped pioneer the home business movement in the 1980s, taught and coached micro business owners for over 20 years, wrote a weekly small business column for 10 years and is the author of Bringing It Home: A Home Business Start-Up Guide for You and Your Family. Read more of her articles about home-based, small, and green business.