05/05/2011 05:49 pm ET Updated Jul 05, 2011

How to Launch a Social Enterprise

Every day it seems I am asked the same questions: How did you start your social enterprise? What advice can you give to others who want to get something started?

The questions usually leave me dumbfounded. I never feel like I have a good answer. My social enterprise, ThinkImpact, has gone through many changes and iterations over the years and would better be described as having evolved.

However, that explanation is vague and unsatisfying to the aspiring social entrepreneur. Fact of the matter is, at some point in time, ThinkImpact did get started. How does one start?

The answer is to pick an idea (not the perfect idea) and run with it. Here is how I would describe the process.

An idea is born and you begin having conversations with friends about it. You feel good sometimes and bad sometimes because the feedback you get is so mixed. There are literally hundreds of reasons NOT to pursue the idea. At this point, many give up. Not you. You are determined. So you set out to make it a reality.

You call someone who has done it before and ask, "How did you start your social enterprise?" You think they will tell you something specific, concrete and useful. They don't. Every story is different and the order by which we social entrepreneurs kick off our enterprises is often different and chaotic. Lawyers, accountants, insurance, staffing up, getting office space, finding a board, raising cash, building a brand, speaking at conferences, building human resources policies, writing a blog, building a website, testing your product, measuring your impact... you soon feel like there is no logic to anything. How anyone runs one of these organizations begins to feel overwhelming.

You take a deep breath. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day, and you have some time.

Then you revert back, what's next? And people refer you to speak with more "experienced folks". Real estate tycoons, techies, social entrepreneurs, bankers, non-profit leaders. You are wondering what this is really all about. There don't seem to be answers anywhere, just more questions.

Well, the determined do the following:

1. They pick a moment and decide to prototype their idea and put it in the market

2. They build a pitch deck to explain their product/service and business model

3. They build a simple brand format (logo, color scheme) so that they can make business cards, letterheads and a website

4. They bootstrap in a tiny office in their apartment with some self-financing

5. They read about financial management and systems

6. They get feedback on their product/service, push hard and do it all over again until someone believes in the idea enough to give them resources to build and expand the initiative

Eventually the pressure of the daily cash flow eases, the product/service gains a following of sorts, and the systems formalize. For those out there who want to get started, read The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki.

Then read something on financials like Financial Intelligence.

What are some of your startup stories? Where are you getting stuck in the process? Any great resources for building out your social enterprise?

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