Social Enterprise Leaders: Here’s How to Do More of the Work You Love

Do you love your work?

If you’re like most social enterprise leaders, your answer is probably not an emphatic, unyielding YES. It might be something more like “Well, it really depends on the day,” or “It’s tough, but I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”

Sound familiar?

As lucky as we are to get to build mission-driven companies and use business as a tool for good in the world, launching, growing and scaling a social enterprise is hard work.

The way I see it, social entrepreneurship is a constant game of tug-of-war. On one end of the rope, there’s the work you love to do–the work that makes you feel energized, maximized and whole. For most social entrepreneurs I know, this is often the work that makes the most direct, meaningful impact on the causes and communities they set out to serve when they started their companies. 

On the other end of the rope, there’s the work you must do. The work that keeps the lights on and the ship moving full steam ahead. The work that makes it possible for you to establish and maintain a company where you can do the work you love and more importantly, a company that stays in business so you can continue driving change where it’s needed most. When you’re spending your time on one side of the rope, you’ll always feel the pull of the other.

With each hire you make and each opportunity you find to delegate, your freedom to spend time on the work you love grows, and so does your ability to innovate for the sake of your social enterprise’s impact. But are scaling and assigning really the only ways to spend more of your days doing the things you truly, deeply want to do, and the things that accelerate your impact most?

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research on the topic over the last year or so, as well as some experimentation of my own, and I’ve begun to believe that the most fulfilled and impactful social entrepreneurs have three key things in common. 

Here’s what they are:

The most fulfilled and impactful social entrepreneurs have three key things in common: Click To Tweet

A personal mission

Having a personal mission statement (a la Stephen Covey) is an crucial component of your quest to spend more time on the high impact work you love. What is your purpose, not just in business, but in life? What do you value? What truly matters to you most? Only once you’ve answered these important (and yes, admittedly quite deep) questions can you structure your business to address your personal priorities and drive change in the areas you care deeply about. If you haven’t drafted a personal mission statement yet, now is the time. This personal mission statement builder is a great place to start, and if you need inspiration, you can turn to the personal mission statements of 13 CEOs, from Oprah Winfrey to Richard Branson, here.

A long-game vision

The longer the view you’re able to take on the social or environmental problems your company aims to solve, the more fulfilled, successful and impactful you’re likely to be as a social entrepreneur. Truly innovative social enterprises must regularly experience short-term pain to achieve long-term gains of both growth and impact, and unless you have your eye on the (far away) future you’re aiming to create, this can make your work downright painful.

It might be hard to imagine this now, but in the mid-90s, Patagonia was struggling to turn a profit due to founder Yvone Chouinard’s decision to move to 100% organic cotton, which was extremely expensive and relatively unavailable. It would have been easy for Chouinard to make a compromise on cotton and commit to minimizing harm in other areas of his business where the barriers were less significant, but his focus on Patagonia’s long-game vision to make the best product, but do it with no unnecessary harm, and use business to implement solutions to the environmental crisis kept him fighting.

“Yvon’s answer was if we have to be in business using an evil product like traditionally grown cotton, we don’t deserve to be in business,” Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia’s vice-president of environmental initiatives explained. Chouinard has always said that when he makes the right environmental decision, it eventually ends up being the right business decision as well. His ability to keep his eye on that eventual outcome and his willingness to bet his business on doing the right thing have made Chouinard one of the most innovative and impactful social entrepreneurs of our time, and I bet it helps him sleep better at night, too.

A love for the word “no”

If you want to do more of the work you love and maximize your mission impact, you absolutely must get comfortable saying no. You need learn to say no  to every project, endeavor and opportunity that doesn’t align with your personal mission and business purpose. And you need to learn to say it even when (actually especially when) doing so makes you feel uncomfortable, nervous and unsafe. Only by cultivating a steadfast focus on the big picture of your personal and professional purpose and saying no to everything that doesn’t fit will you begin to carve out the time, mental energy and freedom to innovate for the sake of your company and the causes or communities you serve.

It might not be easy, but it will be worth it.

Are you ready to do more of the work you love and accelerate your social enterprise’s impact?


Communicate with impact - a guide for social enterprise leadersIf you’re passionate about what you do but you haven’t truly ingrained social impact into your company’s culture, poor communication could be to blame, and an internal communication strategy could be the answer.  Our new ebook, A Crash Course in Building a Results-Driven Marketing Program for Your Changemaking Organization is a great starting point for learning how to build an internal communication strategy as part of a larger marketing program for your social enterprise.

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Alyssa is the President and Co-Founder of Prosper Strategies, and is obsessed with helping impactful organizations achieve their goals through marketing.
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