Starting an ethical business is one of the most rewarding things you can do. But it’s also one of the hardest.
Starting an ethical business isn’t an easy path, and when you’re trying to make a positive impact with what you do, it can feel overwhelming at times. If you’re thinking about starting an ethical business, there’s a few things you need to know before you hit the ground running…
1. Not everyone will care as much as you do
When you’re starting a business based on your ethical values it’s a hard truth to accept – but not everyone will care as much as you do. This applies to both your principles and your business.
To make a start-up business work, you have to invest a lot of time and energy, and not everyone will get it. Just as when you decide to make more ethical life choices – not everyone is always on board.
The secret to success is to accept this and move forward anyway. The important thing is that you’re passionate about your values and your business, and you’re dedicated to making it work.
2. Your ethical values are not enough
One big trap that many people starting an ethical business fall into is marketing themselves and building their brand completely on their ethical values.
The reality is most people won’t buy your product or service just because it’s ethical.
Although there is a shift happening as consumers become more concerned with ethical issues – people will still only purchase a product that meets their needs, solves their problem and is high quality and good value.
Ethical products are naturally more expensive, so you’re probably going to have a tougher time getting the sale.
There will be an ethical audience who share your values and choose your product because of that, but to reach a wider audience you’ll need to sell the benefits of your product on its own merit too.
3. Everyone is never your customer!
Just as ethical businesses can fall into the trap of only marketing to ethical customers, it’s just as easy to try and be everything to everyone.
But everyone is never your customer!
You might have several different customer profiles, and target them in different ways, but if you try and catch everyone with your marketing messaging you’ll end up catching nobody.
When you’re starting an ethical business, you need to learn to niche down on who your audience is, what they care about and what problem you solve for them. Don’t be afraid to get specific and targeted – people think they will miss out on business if they do this, but the truth is it will actually bring you more of the right customers who are ready to buy.
4. Focus on the quickest ways to grow
When you’re starting an ethical business there will be ups and downs. Some days you’ll feel like a total fraud who’s never going to make it work. Other days you’ll have a million and one ideas and not enough hours in the day!
It can be hard to reign in your creativity and resist the urge to do everything all at once. If you do that, you’ll burn out really quickly. Instead, narrow down on what will grow your business, make you money and achieve the impact you want to make as quickly, easily and cost effectively as possible.
Write down all your good ideas so you can come back to them later and stay focused! The more you grow, the more opportunities you will create to put your other amazing ideas into action.
5. It takes time to make things work
Most business owners will tell you, it takes a lot longer than you think to make things really work.
Building an online audience can take 2 years to get any real traction.
Starting an ethical business isn’t just about making money either. You’ve got a positive impact in mind and that’s what’s really driving your business forward. But it can take a while for that to start making a real difference.
Don’t let this get you down, but make sure you’re prepared for it – financially and emotionally. You’ll need financial reserves to tide you over until things take off, and you’ll probably need more than you think. You might also need a back up plan.
It can also be down-heartening if you put your product or service out there and don’t get much attention to begin with. You’ll need to be persistent and resilient to stop this from knocking your confidence, but you’ll also need to be able to identify when things aren’t working and quickly find a way to adapt and turn it all around.
6. Test your idea before you commit
If you’re launching something new, you need to test it first.
This might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people assume they know what their audience wants and gets it wrong – which can be an expensive mistake.
Get to know your audience – join Facebook groups or Twitter chats where you can chat to them and find out what they really want.
Try to find low-cost, low-commitment ways to test your ideas and get feedback as you go along – it’ll make your launches much more successful and bring in more sales.
7. Spend money wisely (and learn to manage it!)
Starting an ethical business can be really expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. One of the biggest mistakes people make is rushing in and spending a small fortune.
The ‘lean start-up’ model of business teaches us to identify the quickest way to grow and make a profit with the least amount of initial investment.
spend money wiselyWhether you’re crowdfunding, seeking external investment, borrowing money or investing your own cold hard cash, you’ll need to and get the most from it when you’re starting out.
It’s also really important to learn how to manage your money. Get a good piece of accounting software (I use Wave, and it’s free!), make sure you know what records you need to keep, and if finances aren’t your strong point save yourself some stress and get an accountant.
8. You’ll need a support network
Having a good mentor on your side and a supportive community who have got your back is essential.
Family and friends might be supportive, but they don’t always get the “ins and outs” of what running a business is really like. It can be a lonely road, so you need to find a support network.
A good support network will be on hand with advice, constructive criticism and emotional support whenever you need it. They’ll understand your journey because they’re doing it too.
If you’re looking for a support network full of like-minded ethical business owners, join our FREE Facebook community here!
9. You’ll probably fail (and that’s ok)
One of the biggest things that puts aspiring business owners off is all the terrifying statistics about how many businesses fail in their first year.
Starting and running a business isn’t easy, and the reality is that a lot of businesses do fail.
So you have to decide, right now, that that won’t be you. Decide it and stick to it.
Decide that your business won’t fail, but accept that some projects might. Being resilient is an essential skill if you’re going to run an ethical business, and you need to be able to bounce back. Set backs will happen – it’s how you handle them that counts.
10. Work/life balance is more important than ever
As a business owner, the weight of the world is often on your shoulders. At the beginning you’re doing everything in your business – and you might still be working another job and balancing family life too.
It’s really easy to neglect your health and well-being when you’re starting a business – the to do list never ends and it’s hard to know when to take a break. But you still need to prioritise yourself – because if you’re not 100%, your business won’t be either.
What’s your advice for anyone thinking of starting an ethical business? What do you wish you’d known sooner?