12 Tips for the Budding Social Entrepreneur (or How to Avoid the Classic Pitfalls) - Part II

You have a great idea to save the world and you want to launch or have just launched your own organization to get this idea out into the world. You are a budding social entrepreneur (whether you know it or not). My two cents on how to avoid the biggest pitfalls and launching your organization in the right direction...

Part I can be found here. Part II below:

7. Money is still king

This is valid also for social impact professionals in general. As a social entrepreneur, you almost never have a secure or recurrent source of funding (unless you have an endowment but then again that is subject to market variations) and usually have to be applying continually for new grants or investments, securing new customers or sponsors. That may not be that different to being an entrepreneur in general. In social impact, new accelerators, impact investors, grant-making organizations are entering the space everyday so it's worth always being on the lookout for these new players on top of the traditional ones. Tips 8-10 should help on the money front as well.

8. Apply for all the relevant fellowships, awards, young leaders initiatives for which you qualify

It's always hardest to get your first foot in the door, and to secure your first $10,000 or $100,000. Given the sector is not transparent in terms of funding opportunities, getting your organization's name out there is important. There are a number of good fellowships, awards and young leaders' initiatives that not only can help you do this -- these can also often provide small grants (for your salary or your own leadership skills). Furthermore, the true value of these will often be mentorship and access to a great network. I am planning an article that gives a more comprehensive overview of the field, but to name a few good places for social entrepreneurs that are just beginning: Echoing Green Fellows (deadline Jan 5, 2015), Endeavor, GLG Social Impact Fellows, NationSwell All Stars, etc.

9. Surround yourself with brilliant people -- on your board, in your organization, and in your network

When you start, you have no real processes or systems -- the success of your organization rests entirely on the people who make it up. They need to be super motivated and work all hours for little money, and many partnerships and early employees may not survive the initial strains. You should also hire people who know a great deal more than you do on all your areas of weakness -- maybe that's sales, fundraising, IT, finance, or operations. You'll end up doing a lot, don't put yourself in the position of doing it all because you're the best. This may also mean that it's a false economy to pay people very poorly even if you're just starting out. A brilliant director of development will make all the difference (providing she or he is indeed brilliant). A great board will also help you secure funding, mentor you and help connect you with other organizations. You should aim for the most senior board you can get, providing they do have some time to devote to your enterprise.

10. If you are student, start now and use the liberty and time you have now to really get things started

Everyone says that you'll never get your student years back -- indeed you probably won't. It's an incredible time to learn, develop, party and hopefully figure out who you are. You may very well have more time to dedicate to your ventures, you'll meet potential great partners as you'll be concentrated with like-minded people, and there are a great number of funds, fellowships and accelerators out there specifically for students. Maybe your university has one -- e.g. Brown has a Social Innovation Fellowship which provides small grants and lots of support for their students over a summer. The Clinton Global Initiative University brings together every year over 1000 student change makers to learn, network, partner etc.

11. If you are working full-time, don't quit until you're really ready, but commit at least 10 percent a week to your venture

It's very risky and expensive to quit your job until you're sure your idea is sustainable enough to both cover a salary for you and more importantly grow towards impact, and I would not recommend devoting yourself full-time to an enterprise until you know it has at least some good legs. If you're not working 100 hours a week in investing banking, law or consulting, there should realistically be at least one day a week (Saturday or Sunday) you can devote to your venture and you should if you really want to get this off the ground. Or even better, think of it as a newborn child (well, yes, that is harder if you do have a newborn child) that you come home to every night.

12. No one is going to make your idea a success but you, but lean on all you can

In social impact, there is no obvious career path or route to success. The good news is there are many. The trick is that you -- and only you -- are going to make this happen. Networking like crazy, working all hours, traveling too much, failing a bunch, staying the course, and not forgetting your mission. It's not for everyone, and it's not easy, and I myself am not going it alone as a social entrepreneur, but I greatly admire, commend and support all of you who are setting out along this path. Best of luck, and go change our world for the better!