Aug 12

Work More or Work Smart?

I remember going to the chiropractor at the ripe old age of 34 when I took the position of president at a consultancy company that provided business process improvement solutions to radiology practices. So much was going on with acquiring new customers and developing new solutions that I continually carried the stress in my upper back and shoulders. I have a feeling many of you reading this might know what I mean. At any rate, the chiropractor said to me, if you don’t let this stress go, you could get really sick in the future.  Because I was functioning with the “it’s-never-good-enough” mentality, I ignored that advice. Fast forward 12 years and I face the daily challenge of living with the two forms of arthritis I have developed. Consequently, my daily life is exactly what the doctor had forewarned. If I had let go and adjusted my own expectations, today, I may be in a different place.

All too often entrepreneurs allow “success” to drive them. In a capitalistic society where business leaders have a fiduciary responsibility to obtain an ROI for their investors, it is completely understandable. I lived that crazy world of long hours trying to achieve – all at the expense of my health and relationships. Instead, I should have enjoyed the journey! My stepdad used to say, ‘It is such a pity that youth is wasted on the young.” In my 20’s, his words fell on my deaf ears. Now in my mid-40’s, I get it. I have not figured it all out yet, but I work much smarter these days when starting a business. How do I work smarter?

1. I structured my business  based on my values as well as mentorship, mutuality and trust. By opening a benefit corporation,  I do not have to live by the dictates of only earning an ROI for the shareholders. I get to focus on what I really love to do: gifting people and mentoring entrepreneurs. I had a vision to run a retail store as a learning lab for entrepreneurs. The idea attracted supporters with open minds and a heartfelt ethic to facilitate the concept. I am taking the time to understand these people who want to work with Norfolk Fair Trade Company (stakeholders). For the people who work in the store, I give them the responsibilities that fit who they are and what best addresses their personal and professional goals. (NOTE: I did not say I hired for positions needed).

2. I allowed our mission and message to continually emerge in what we do. After opening,  NFTCo listened and responded to customer and employee needs.  I entrusted that each staff person would move their area of the company forward. Afterall, it is the people who make the company. By working together through problem-solving  and developing customer reaching strategies, we are building trust in each others’ judgment and choices.  And within the first month of opening, I felt comfortable to leave for 10 days .  Nothing blew up, nothing caught on fire. I will leave again in the not-so-distant future. If the leader can’t leave, you are doing something wrong.

3. I work normal hours.   I don’t waste time on ideas that don’t have a social purpose and revenue attached to them. I  make time for people who drop in. If we don’t get a revenue-generating social reward for Norfolk Fair Trade Company within 90 days, we move on. If I end up not having the time to converse with people, I re-arrange my schedule. I overheard somebody say that “(as the entrepreneur), you had to be the first one in and the last one to leave.” Ah, yes, I remember those days of beginning work at 5:30 a.m. and leaving for home at 8 p.m. I also remember that my body took a physical toll for working 14 hour days; I was exhausted and my daughter did not always see me for breakfast or dinner. The behavior I was modeling created unrealistic expectations of “productivity” and an impatient pace that excluded others – leaving everyone feeling disconnected. The key is to prioritize – which brings me to my net-net regarding business:

4. We focus on our core business: regarding people, and generating revenue to move our social purpose of advancing entrepreneurism forward.  We seek to create genuine relationships in the community, and actively look to create win-win opportunities for all involved to the best of our ability.

Interestingly, with this new start-up, I am finding that the same traction is being made without all those long, unrested, body-destroying hours. My motto now: Work smart!

Jul 03

Roll the Dice

Should I do it this way or that? Do I follow the checkbook or our purpose? You would think that after leading companies for 25 years, such daily decisions would be easy.  The difference is that they were for-profit companies, not a benefit corporation.  For weeks, I struggled with making decisions this way or that way—my heart would lead one hour, my brain the next. It left me exhausted. Most days, I thought rolling the dice would be more effective. Then, I realized it isn’t about the trade-offs, it is about blending the purpose WITH profit.  

Norfolk Fair Trade Company started off with a bang and we were generating revenue day one in our retail store. Concurrently, we were also working diligently on our social purpose of helping entrepreneurs start and grow their own businesses.   All was full steam ahead until entrepreneurs increased and revenue evened out. So, we went ahead and started on our next idea—selling gift baskets to other businesses. This worked, too, and we had the profit to cover the expenses of helping entrepreneurs. But, what I quickly found out, this was overwhelming and isn’t really how a “benepreneur”   (benefit corporation entrepreneur) should lead a benefit corporation!

After all, we aren’t a traditional for-profit where we make donations, such as giving $25 to the policeman’s ball. Instead, we try to live out our social purpose in all aspects of generating revenue. For example, we want to help drive capital into lots of entrepreneurs’ ventures. So, we like to deal directly with the maker or artisan, if possible. And, sometimes we do go through wholesale organizations to reach those craftspeople. In turn, we make a profit by selling to the customer. It meets our social purpose of advancing the knowledge of entrepreneurship as well as provides us with a profit margin. What a wake-up call!

Now, Norfolk Fair Trade Company (NFTCo) is viewed as a learning lab—not a retail store—by the entrepreneurs who work in it. They not only learn the components of entrepreneurship, but are expected to take an active part in building out NFTCo (living out the social purpose and generating revenue). For example, Donyata, who is opening up a Work At Home Agency, walked around downtown Norfolk passing out flyers for NFTCo. Why? She was practicing reflective listening as part of the customer interaction workshop. As Carrie says to the other entrepreneurs, “The more we sweat in here, the less we’ll bleed out there.” Another example is Janet, who is working on starting a company with a social purpose to help stop sex trafficking. Her lesson the other day was to better understand the root causes of sex trafficking to begin getting a grasp on how to eradicate it in the context of the product she is innovating. She took what she found and contributed it to NFTCo’s gallery—a place where the public can come in and learn about entrepreneurship and various social ills.

What have I learned leading a benefit corporation? Focus on creating social and intrinsic value in all that you do—some may have shorter payoffs and some a longer-tail. Regardless, there is no need to roll the dice.

Jun 18

In Leadership We Trust

We are living in a time when the perception of “running a business” may be synonymous with the scandals of Enron or the Lehman Brothers from the 2000s. People need leaders they can trust or misunderstandings and negative expectations will run rampant. Leaders of benefit corporations (social entrepreneurs) have the opportunity to re-store trust in the marketplace and to add depth to the producer-consumer-community relationship.

As Barbara Smith says, “It [trust] is the beginning place, the foundation upon which more can be built.”

In benefit corporations, the first essential step is to identify the purpose. Not always an easy task.

Allowing your values to lead will help identify that purpose as well as in the decision-making process. A strong values-based internal environment will guide you through external obstacles and allow you to take risks and make interactions opportunities to educate the marketplace and your community about your social purpose. This takes courage and an intelligent heart.

Regardless if it is in friendship, business, marriage, or around a financial transaction, trust is essential for those relationships and relationships are the backbone of business.  So, the only way to lead your business is with trust in yourself and trust in your purpose.

May 22

What Is the Destiny of Your Community?

Setting expectations is good! Expectations help to encourage certain behaviors in any social gathering, whether in a classroom, work environment or space of play, like a soccer match.  A community is made up of people and the reality is that everyone sets some sort of formal or informal expectations and creates a culture. Tapping into culture can bring people together to radically change the status quo.

Raising expectations is a hallmark of social entrepreneurship.  As a social entrepreneur,  your measurement of success goes beyond the amount of profit you generate. A social entrepreneur is accountable to help solve a social concern or crisis. For example, California-based Toms Shoes introduced the idea of “buy one, give one” to help address children in need. For every pair of shoes a customer buys, Toms Shoes provides a child in a developing country with their own pair of shoes.  

So when you’re creating expectations for your company, you are considering how operating your business will impact and improve your stakeholder and customer network, as well as the supply chain used to offer your product or service.  It is good to explore others’ perceptions and ideas. But what works in your community will depend on its unique dynamic.  As a social entrepreneur, you are accepting the charge of leading both your company and your community in a new direction, not just conforming to existing guidelines and economic development models.  Each of us is destined to make a difference in our corner of the world. What role do you want to play in your community’s destiny?

May 08

Passion Drives Social Entrepreneurship

Passion is what drives social entrepreneurship! Entrepreneurship empowers people to go out into the marketplace, solve community issues and better their current situation. Ultimately, social entrepreneurship can provide an equal opportunity for all. In choosing a social problem to help solve, a benefit corporation takes a leadership role in improving its community in a specific way.

Being a benefit corporation holds business to a different standard of operation. For example, Norfolk Fair Trade Company mentors entrepreneurial leaders in a learning-by-doing environment to give them the competency and confidence to go out and start their own benefit corporation. NFTCo’s hope is to educate the community about innovation and entrepreneurship, including how to serve others through business. But how do you go about figuring out what social problem to try and solve?

Consider what makes you angry or passionate. What behaviors disconcert or excite you? That gut instinct could be signaling a system of values that are misaligned or aligned with your own. Understanding the cause or causes that drive you can inspire a business that addresses: “What am I going to do about it?” The marketplace IS the environment to make real changes in your community.

After all, social entrepreneurs rock the status quo!




Jan 27

The Impact of Urbanization to Your Community

Have you ever thought what it would be like if the government continues to cut investment and discretionary income to communities? In the short-term, there would probably be an adjustment—perhaps higher taxes or decreased economic development. But, what happens as urbanization rises. Urbanization means millions of people moving to cities. In order to survive, cities and municipalities will be forced to optimize their resources and evolve into inter-connected networks to handle the population explosion. This is where an entrepreneur has an opportunity to make a difference by setting up a benefit corporation and its stakeholder network in their community.

Give Something Back sees itself as a type of fiduciary agent—a stakeholder—in certain communities where the company gives back. In an interview I had with President Mike Hannigan, he said when starting the company, they believed a bigger impact could be made by earning money and then giving back, instead of just making a one-time contribution to a local non-profit. They were right. Working with their customers, the company uses a balloting process to choose the community organizations that will receive donations. Those donations are based on profit the company has made through earned sales. As Mike says, “We still focus on daily demands of customer needs. We continuously look for ways to draw the balance between social giving, dialogue for innovation, and doing a good job.”

Give Something Back is a benefit corporation.


Jan 20

Indie Capitalism

On, Bruce Nussbaum is writing about what he coins “Indie Capitalism.”

He says:

1. Indie capitalism is local, not global, and cares about the community and jobs – it’s about sustainability.
2. Indie capitalism is socially, not transactionally, based – it’s about sharing.
3. Indie capitalism is a maker system of economics based on creating new value, not trading old value – it’s about simplicity and making great things.
4. Indie capitalism is a heightened meaning embedded in materials and products – it’s about authenticity.

Is this the beginning of a “Barnabas Effect?”

Jan 11

Revitalizing a Neighborhood

I was inspired the other day. I met a contractor who had agreed to revitalize a historic area for the city of Portsmouth, Virginia. Through his construction projects, he has renovated several nice homes and is selling them at a reasonable price, including finding out how the new homeowner can get a tax advantage. His entrepreneurial activity transformed the area from housing drug-dealers to your average American neighbor. His goal is to finish buying or renovating several of the properties and move on. His purpose – to give back to a community that needs help.

He has the “Barnabas Effect” that makes a difference.