Being an entrepreneur, or a social entrepreneur, is like being in a serious romantic relationship. There’s passion, there’s commitment, it’s a roller-coaster ride, and you’ll inevitably face challenges. Fittingly, some of the same rules of the road apply.
- Keep re-discovering the passion. Babies, bill-paying, taking out the garbage—these things can put the kibosh on romance. Similarly for the day-to-day requirements of running a business—you can forget why you made the commitment in the first place. Who’s going to provide the inspiration, who’s going to do the remembering, if not you?
- Be the faith-keeper. When the going gets tough, it can be easy to lose heart. This attitude can be catching, especially if it comes down from the top. If you’ve got to fake it a bit, then fake away—and do it well. The time to hold the torch highest is when things are at their most dark.
- Empower your team. If you’re in a relationship with a controlaholic, you’re in for a bumpy ride. Similarly if you work for one. Treat your employees with respect as equal partners. Give them the respect they deserve—and enough rope to hang themselves with.
- Be on the lookout for weak signals. Whether you’re in an intimate relationship or running a business, it’s always better to address a problem before it’s a big deal. Is it better to treat a cancer when it’s an itty-bitty tumor or after it’s metastasized? This approach, which is obvious once you think about it, requires you to attend to anxieties on the periphery of your awareness.
- Know When to Quit. We know how it is when you’re in love. No matter how difficult things get, you want to hang in there; you don’t want to let go. Sometimes, though, there comes a point where it doesn’t make sense to keep trying. Similarly for social enterprise, though in this case you usually have a signal—no money. Occasionally, though, you can keep limping along, for instance by going deeper into debt, even when it serves no purpose. Social enterprise is a gamble: you’ll do better if you know when to fold ‘em.
[Excerpted from Your Good Business Guide: The Art of Social Enterprise, by Carl Frankel and Allen Bromberger. To be published in 2013 by New Society Publishers.]