Purpose-driven companies are all around us, replacing profit with a greater good. Tesla setting a standard for clean energy in transportation, Pela making common goods compostable or Love Your Melon using hat sales to fight cancer are just a few examples of companies that have determined that making a buck doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference.
And, as it turns out, purpose-driven companies make for good businesses. Their crystal-clear mission and purpose extend throughout the rest of the company, resulting in sound strategy, increased productivity and more satisfied workforces to grow three times faster than their competitors.
A few years ago, I decided to act on an idea I had tried really hard to ignore for years. The idea of starting a school just wouldn’t leave me alone (thank goodness), and since I began allowing it to come to life, I haven’t looked back. I had been laser-focused on building a career in design, which introduced me to a variety of experiences in urban and community design, user experience, health care, education and social justice, but after I gave birth to my son, my north star began to shift. My free time was spent learning about parenting styles, holistic care and meditation — topics I always found interesting but never made the time to pursue. As my son got older and I started looking into schooling information, I felt the pull to turn my attention to the intersection of children, connection, education and holistic living. Fast-forward to today and The Oak School has officially launched and is now enrolling for the Fall 2022 school year.
Intrigued, inspired, itching to bring your purpose to the world? Below are the three actionable steps I took to turn my passion into a business.
Turn your purpose into a clear vision for the future (aka, your business plan).
Business plans can be intimidating, but they’re essential, especially if your startup will need outside funding to get off the ground. Start writing or record a voice memo, but organize your thoughts to answer these questions:
What is our mission and what impact will this business have? (Executive summary & mission)
Is there fierce competition and who is a prime competitor? (Market analysis)
What do they do best? How are we different?
How will our teams be structured? (Organizational management)
Who is the ideal customer and how do we reach them? (Marketing plan and sales strategy)
What is projected revenue and how much are operational costs? (Financial projections)
Where will we be in five years and how can we get there?
After answering these questions, you’ll find you have most of the information needed to build a robust business plan that can be shared with investors and prospective hires. Each section can and should be built out for each section of the business — operations, leadership, systems & processes, hiring, marketing, etc. Everyone’s business plan will look different. For me, I had so much to share that I ended up writing an entire book (literally) called “The Whole Environment Education Philosophy.” I used this philosophy to create a business plan and carried the messaging over into marketing material, and used it to guide interviews with teachers and speak with prospective students’ families.
Once the initial business plan is drafted, it’s time to immediately plot out growth. How you launch and operate your business right out of the gate will be a determining factor to how quickly you may expand. A growth-focused mindset will help streamline processes and package operations in a way new hires can use to immediately hit the ground running. That same growth mindset will also serve you in staying flexible, curious and excited as things come up or pivots are needed. Growth should be the goal from Day 1, so take the time to envision and create a 5-year and 10-year plan. And, you may be surprised at how these long-term plans alter (for the better!) from your initial business plan. When changes happen, it means something better is coming your way!
Apply your passion to a proven business model.
A business with heart likely has a better chance of surviving because the do-whatever-it-takes mindset is rooted in passion. However, purpose-driven entrepreneurs must learn early on how to walk that middle path of doing good and getting paid. Luckily, examples of well-run businesses are all around us, so return to your business plan and dig deeper into the competitor analysis to look for a business model to replicate.
Research how competitors structure their team, their salaries, how they send their products (order one for yourself to get the brand experience), how they handle customer service (give them a call!) or what their website and social pages look like. When you find a business model you’d like to adopt, a great way to implement that structure is to hire team members with similar working experience. Seek out vendor partners that specialize in your field, like an accountant or attorney that regularly works for schools, for instance. While your mission and purpose is the solid foundation, these elements are the framework — the scaffolding — that allow you to continue to build.
For example, The Oak School is run operationally like many other schools, but there are small changes that allow us to stay most true to our mission. We have smaller class sizes, our educators are required to have a master’s degree (even if they’re preschool teachers) and we’re committed to giving teachers autonomy in their classrooms (no mandated lesson plans). Take inspiration from competitors, but get creative and make it your own, differentiating yourself along the way.
Prioritize community outreach, seek out partnerships and network like crazy.
I cannot stress this enough: The connections you make with people — whether it’s the individuals you hire, clients or vendor partners you gain along the way — are what make a business successful.
Community outreach, collaborative peer partnerships and networking are absolutely vital. Community outreach looks like getting people involved in your business by hosting an event, being present at local events (farmers markets to free concerts in the parks) or even sponsoring an area sports team. Collaborative peer partnerships can happen locally or across state lines, but would look like a retail partnership (buy something here, get XX% off there) or a charitable partner. Networking will not only help with brand awareness, but can help you refine your business operations if you’re meeting with like-minded entrepreneurs.
You’ll also want to consider your online presence, which is critical to building credibility and driving awareness and traffic that you gain while making these important connections. An appealing, fast-loading website coupled with active social media pages that share relevant content can be the difference maker between someone choosing to do business with you or not. Becoming an authority in your field or with your type of product is critical and makes you shareable, helping to drive brand awareness and business opportunities. Now, many tech-savvy business owners build their own initial web presence, which is a great way to start with low overhead. And once you get some momentum going, you can always pull in a digital marketing specialist to help.
Launching a profitable purpose-driven startup is possible, but entrepreneurs will need to build from the lens of sustainable operations. The world needs more purpose-driven businesses to drive the economy while benefiting humanity, but in order to make a lasting impact, startups need to be launched like a business, not a charity. Business can do good. But it’s up to those in charge of the business to keep things running in a way that benefits the many, instead of the few. People will remember how you made them feel, which will create devoted customers and employees both.
Convert your purpose into a business by building out a solid plan, adopt a proven business model and build credibility via networking. Remember, the ripple effect. While your impact may start small, it will grow wider. It’s time to go after your dream.
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