How to Make Your Social Enterprise Mighty Successful With Storytelling
Choose your partners wisely and craft your passion into valuable content
Social enterprises are launched by people who have a passion. Big passion! Some of them only learn how to be an entrepreneur while the company is taking shape. No problem, you’ll learn!
Whenever I write about my old profession as a marketer, I do it for people like you! Passionate entrepreneurs who want to make a difference in the world. In my own sustainability projects, I mostly work with regenerative businesses.
We need them desperately — the businesses that restore ecosystems, create clean water, clean air, and healthy soil while at the same time making a product that meets demand. A product that fulfills basic needs in creative ways.
One of the young entrepreneurs asked me a question. And it triggered this story. She asked:
“I received a phone call from a bank asking me for a meeting. They say they like my story. But I don’t want a loan, do I?”
At that point in time, she didn’t need a loan. She needed income streams, and she needed her target groups to recognize her value.
So we sat down with a cuppa and talked. This is what I told her.
Another Company Is a Vehicle You Can Collaborate With
Every company consists of much more than just its product. In this example, a bank is not just giving out loans. It’s a company with employees, who might become your customers. It’s a company with clients, who can be your audience.
The bank has a reputation to uphold. And in their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report, they tell their customers what they are doing exactly to deserve their trust.
So this is where you come in. They like your story, so go talk to them and see what they like about it. See if your values match, see if you want to be associated with this company. And if it’s a match, produce high-value content they want to pay for.
Unleash your storytelling. You have the passion, you know what you’re talking about. You can get all these people in and around this big bank to think differently and tune into your passion.
Always Look for the Win-Win-Win in Collaboration
Collaboration is about trust. So it’s important to choose who you want to collaborate with. Do their and your values match? Do you trust the employees you’re dealing with? Do you trust the company as a whole?
And then, if you have a good feeling about it, look at it more rationally.
What do you want out of this collaboration? New customers? An audience to tell your story to? And who is this audience? Their customers? Their employees?
What do they want out of this collaboration? Do they want to stand on your shoulders to empower their greenwashing? Say no. Do they want an honest collaboration in which you gain an audience and an income stream and they gain respect? Consider it carefully.
That’s two wins. What’s the third? Always think about what you give back to Nature. We need regenerative business models that create awareness, produce clean water, clean air, healthy soil. See how to fit giving back to nature into the collaboration and you have achieved your third win.
Think Carefully About the Right Match
In this case, the bank came to the entrepreneur. But you can also actively look for good matching companies to collaborate with. When you do, choose wisely.
Have a look at:
The target groups you both sell to. The best matches are often the ones that create different products for the same target groups.
An example from Dycle in Berlin. Within communities of parents, they create fully compostable diapers to make fertile soil with and plant fruit trees on.
They can easily collaborate with an ethical toy manufacturer. Or a tree grower that needs healthy soil. Or a chain of childcare centers. Or a municipality that is dedicated to healthy inhabitants and environment.
Synergy of your products. The best matches are often found with companies that can create some kind of synergy with your own product.
An example from Blue City in Rotterdam. They operate a city lab and network of entrepreneurs that use each others’ waste streams. And create value upon value upon value.
“BlueCity is where start-ups create new waves, and where corporates can catch the tide” — Blue City
Startups collaborate within a former tropical swimming pool at the edge of Rotterdam City. For example, beer brewer Vet and Lazy has carbon dioxide as a waste stream. This is used as a resource for the spirulina producer Spireaux.
So, all the companies within Blue City are in it together. And they create synergy with their products. If one product goes well, there will be more waste stream to use.
The same goes for exposure. If one company attracts attention, the others will benefit as well. They aren’t competitors, they are collaborators…
However, they are all startups within Blue City. So they don’t have much money to spare for others within the network. That’s why Blue City as a whole is attracting corporates to their community.
As mentioned in the quote, the corporates can catch the tide. And pay for the waves created by the startups.
Be Wary of Greenwashing
It’s a thin line the greenwashing monster is walking on. Many corporates are still on the path of profit maximization instead of value optimization. They only want to profit from the startups that have great stories to tell.
Don’t fall for that. Have a true conversation with your potential partners. Listen carefully to their motivations and speak your own truths.
You are a social entrepreneur! You have a passion for purpose! You want to add value to the society and the environment and the lives of all species.
In my opinion, this doesn’t mean the bigger company you collaborate with has to be perfect. But it has to be on a road to do better. To become aware. And to walk their talk.
As I said, it’s a thin line and only you can judge if you trust your potential partner. Maybe this article will give you some insights you can use when having true conversations with bigger companies.
Storytelling as a Product
So, by now you might have found your partner. What is it you can sell that will help you finance your social enterprise? I already said it in the beginning, it’s storytelling. But how can you make storytelling into a product that provides you with an income stream?
- Content for CSR reports. Ethical companies will make reports to show their efforts and results in other aspects than moneymaking. You can create valuable content for their report
- Content for employees and clients. Ethical companies want to inspire their employees and the people in their communities. You can translate your passion into content that inspires them to do better in the workplace or at home. They can use that content in their newsletters in different formats
- Content other than words on paper. You might do a duo interview (CEO and you) for a podcast or a YouTube story. You might tell your story featured in a company film. The possibilities are endless. Work together with the communications department of your chosen partner and come up with outrageous ideas that will enhance the company’s exposure and yours.
- Passionate presentation. Corporates have to inform their employees regularly and might use presentations for that. Imagine the CEO telling a story full of figures and strategies. And then you take center stage, telling passionate stories that link back to the strategies she just talked about. Create links to society as a whole or to the environment or to whatever passion drives you
- Employee outings. Many companies organize outings. You can offer them a workshop. Or you can collaborate with a coaching company and offer them teambuilding activities, purposeful stories included
Payment for your content might vary. You can choose to be paid per story or you can offer them commitment and a subscription. The latter will give you a steady income stream and a loyal partner to help build your enterprise.
Your partner wants added value. You have to craft your stories in such a way that the chosen audience of your partner also recognizes what you say.
Ask specific questions from the marketers and communications people that want your stories. What’s the target group? What message do they want to spread? And with what message and passionate tone can you contribute to this goal?
Get the approval to experiment and discuss the results with them afterward. Next time, make your stories even more fitting.
And by fitting, I don’t mean pleasing your partner uncritically. You are not in this game to please. You are in this to create a win-win-win for companies, people and the planet.
So next time a bank calls and asks for a meeting, say yes. Have a true conversation about values and expectations. Feel the lay of the land. See if there is a win-win-win and if you can find common ground. You can do it. Go for it!