Social Business – 9 Tips to Writing a Rock Star Social – Green Business Plan

So you’re thinking about starting a social business (i.e. a business that helps a social or environmental cause in some way), or adding a social business element to your existing business? Awesome! And congratulations. If you take action on that intention, you’re well on your way to financial freedom and making a positive impact on the world.

Writing a business plan is one of the first tasks on your list. Well the, what makes a great social business plan? It’s both an art and a science, and there are hundreds of books, websites, and other resources on business plans in general. Here are nine great tips specific to writing social business plans, tips that you won’t find in any traditional business plan how-to.

1. Tell your story. How will your company benefit a social or environmental cause? Why start this particular business, why now, and why you? Do this in the synopsis and subtly throughout the whole plan. As a social business, this story is where you can really shine.

2. Keep it brief. No one wants to read a 50 page business plan, and in fact, no one probably ever will, no matter how special or amazing your cause is. Ideally, keep your plan to ten pages, and most certainly under 20.

3. Continually update it. A business plan is a living document that must be reviewed and adjusted on at least a monthly basis. As your company and your cause grow and change, your business plan should evolve in lockstep.

4. Include a brief Envisioned Future section. What will your company look like in 20 or 100 years? How will the world have benefited from its existence? Your business is an organization with a good cause, so spell out your vision. It will help you keep your eyes on the prize in hard times, and the visual will also help sell the idea to investors, bankers, donors, employees, customers, and everyone else.

5. Show how and why you will be competitive and profitable in a market that doesn’t really care whether your products are made of recycled materials or if you’re empowering poor women beekeepers in Africa. If everything else is equal (i.e. price, brand recognition, quality, shelf location), you might have a slight edge because of your cause. But probably not. You’re providing a product or service to the world, and you must make a profit doing so. Use your plan to legitimately prove that you will. Remember: you can’t help anyone if you go bankrupt.

6. Don’t get too crazy with the use of words like sustainability, green, social business, good cause, fair trade, and so on. Unfortunately, many traditional business people have negative connotations for all those words, left over from extreme environmentalists of the 70s (think off-the-grid communes and lack of deodorant). Unfair images, but we all still have to deal with that for the time being. Use those words when you must, but keep it to a minimum. If you can, use words like “efficiency,” “improved safety standards,” and “increased profit” instead.

7. Do ample research. As a social business, your company will likely undergo more scrutiny from everyone involved than a traditional business model would, which is unfair but true. Back up everything you say with piles of credible research, some of which you may even include in the Appendices to your plan, where appropriate.

8. When compiling your financial projections, make sure to include a Social Return on Investment, or SROI. Explain how you plan to quantify, measure, and analyze your SROI. Quantification is how you will show the world the good things you’ve done, and how you can decide what your biggest and best levers for change are.

9. Use a template business plan to get started. No need to reinvent the wheel. There are lots of free or cheap business plans out there that can help you write your own amazing plan. Granted most of them are not specifically geared to social businesses, so you may have to improvise a bit.