by Steve Light
This post is for budding social entrepreneurs out there who have always wanted to start a project to help the community and have some great ideas, but a) Don’t know what to do next or b) don’t have the confidence or feel credible enough to start the project…First, social entrepreneurs are not really different from any other entrepreneur – the difference is the community nature of their project.
We all procrastinate; however, it’s actually often easier to do something than not to do something because you fulfill a need when you take action. If you put off taking action you are holding onto that thought and feeling unfulfilled unconsciously.
So as a social entrepreneur, what I did was test my idea first (as I now know that’s part of the 5P’s of marketing), once you know that there is a need for a project then you will feel more motivated to pursue it and gain confidence and credibility. I’ll be honest and admit to you now that I really didn’t know at the time that I was testing my idea out, but because I had a lot of passion to help others with similar issues as myself, I started up a ‘pilot’ project and people came along.
How I started my project:
As I said before, I had the passion for the project due to my own personal experiences, and I’m sure if you’re reading this, you will feel passionate about your own social project. Don’t lose that passion as that will drive you on.
It took me a year of procrastination before I finally decided to take the plunge. I had excuse after excuse on why I wasn’t ready for this and that I didn’t know what to do. In the end it was easy – and all down to making a plan and then religiously implementing it. So what I did was 1) Book a community for one hour on a Tuesday evening 2) Created a basic web site 3) Shared the information on forums and chat rooms.
Sounds incredibly simple right? It is, it doesn’t have to be difficult and you don’t have to get everything right, you just need to prove that your project is viable in the simplest way possible getting people to come along and try your product or service.
Scared – you bet I was! I will tell you that I was very nervous on that first Tuesday night; I didn’t even have a plan about how the group session would go, no structure what so ever. Twelve people turned up for support that evening and I was open to them that I was nervous, that this was a new group and I wasn’t really sure what I was doing but I had the passion to help you all and can relate to where you have been. I also added that there was no pressure to talk in the group as I knew how terrifying it is for some people to be put on the spot.
The rest of the evening went really well, in fact it was incredible, people were sharing issues and others were relating to those issues and offering advice, people were helping each other and it worked so well, I knew at that moment that I was on to something.
Now I know a thing or two about confidence issues. In fact my first project was creating a self help group for people with social anxiety disorder, which I see as a label for someone who is acutely shy to the point where it interferes with their day to day life. Whether it be fear of meetings and presentations at work or simply avoiding social situations that most take for granted.
So now it’s your time to take action, I could give you many tips on how to get started but I will give you one:
Go and start your project by finding out if there is a need first. Test it out and before you spend lots of time and money. See how big the problem is and whether you can support it. Consider the long term implications of that support.
Go and run a no-frills, low-cost pilot project that will test your idea then you can expand on it afterwards. If this is not possible then get the feelers out there and do some research with your target audience, people forget that it’s all about the customer when providing a product or service, it’s not about what you think is right or ‘cool’. So don’t let your own ideas get in the way of what the customer wants or finds useful and always get feedback as you go along.
As social entrepreneurs we need to be more business-like by finding out what people want and creating a product or service that fulfills that need. It is basic economics, supply and demand – is there a willing buyer(s) at a price for which I am a willing supplier?
I recommend a great blog post by an innovative business on ‘starting up’, you’ll definitely find this useful http://www.mindfitltd.com/what-a-great-idea-or-maybe-not/
If you need help in starting just ask and please do let me know how it goes!
Steve is a Fellow of SSE and is the founder of Leading Light, which offers support and guidance to people suffering with social anxiety, depression and related self-esteem issues in London. He blogs at http://www.stevelight.org/