When starting a business, many entrepreneurs want to have a positive social impact. But how do you deal with investors who are only interested in making a profit? Richard Branson has some advice…
“The best way to address people’s biases and preconceived notions is head-on, reframing the debate,” the Virgin Founder says in a recent blog. “In this day and age, if some entrepreneurs and business leaders still consider the benefits of making a positive social impact to be difficult to qualify or impossible to quantify, or see that goal as an unwanted distraction from turning a profit, I beg to differ!”
He says that it’s important that you are confident when talking about your concept. “You have an advantage over many of your competitors: the excitement and goodwill of customers who will support your ideas.”
Here are three points Richard says it’s important to emphasise when approaching investors:
Profit and a positive impact are connected
“I’ve always felt that social impact and profitability are two sides of the same coin. The most successful businesses are prosperous because they offer products and services that make tangible, positive differences in people’s lives (without destroying the planet or causing more harm to others, of course),” Richard says. “Viewed through this lens, social impact is a powerful selling proposition.”
There are huge opportunities to make money through a business that has a positive impact – think about the opportunities expanding mobile telecommunications and mobile payment systems have created for entrepreneurs in the developing world.
Richard Branson smiling
Social impact can be measured
It’s difficult to prove cause and effect, and often it’s years of collective action by a number of businesses and organisations that bring about a positive change, like improving gender equality, ending LGBT discrimination, or reducing poverty. But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t keep track of the impact that your business is having.
Oxfam International and the UN Global Compact launched Poverty Footprint, which helps businesses asses how they help alleviate poverty – or how they may exacerbate it. There are other tools too, like MadeInAFreeWorld.com, which helps businesses and consumers to better asses whether slave labour is being employed in their supply chains.
“I’ve seen big brands suffer terribly after taking action far too late when things turned sour,” Richard says. “Going the easy route comes back to haunt you. Your business, on the other hand, has the goal of making the world a better place.”
Richard Branson looking over Cairo, Egypt
Your business addresses the hard questions from day one
“A new company must consider the social impact implications throughout its entire value chain,” Richard says. “Anyone who is trying to persuade me to invest in an enterprise needs to tell me about the social impact. It’s as important to my decision as factors like the innovativeness of the idea and the financial returns.”
If you’re not dealing with the hard questions from the off, you may need to revise your business plan, he advises. But most importantly, he says that conversations with investors shouldn’t be segmented between social impact and profits. Investors should understand that social impact is an indispensable driver of success.
Richard adds: “At the end of the day, every business and start-up has a social footprint, and knowing what yours will look like puts you at the head of the pack.”