Human Resources, Small Business & Startups, and Sustainability

How to build a purpose-led business

October 8, 2018
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Elissa Sangalli Hillary. Courtesy Local First

Purpose-led businesses are popping up all over Michigan. There are now 19 B Corps and about 100 businesses that have become Good for Michigan. Around the world, there are more than 2,600 B Corps that have incorporated their values into their businesses and made it their mission to make a positive impact on people and the environment.

For more than 10 years with our nonprofit, I have had the opportunity to talk to many amazing people who have a story and dreams of starting a business. And the story is changing. Many entrepreneurs say a key part of why they want to start their business is so they can help people, create equitable job opportunities, give back to their neighborhood or protect the environment. These are just a few examples of what it means to be a purpose-led business.

We can all agree that it takes a leap of faith to start a business. It’s even more powerful when a person decides to launch a business that’s dedicated to being used as a force for good. If you’ve been sitting on an idea for a business driven by purpose, or you’ve already launched your business but haven’t developed a plan yet (which happens!), here are some strategies for building your business in a meaningful and purpose-led way.

Start with your values

As an entrepreneur, you have an opportunity to start a business that’s founded on your values, morals and principles. Before you dive into your business plan, reflect on your core values and prioritize those you want as the foundation of your business. These values could be equity, sustainability, respect, openness or integrity, or they could be statements that describe the character of your business and how you want your customers, employees and partners to think of you.

But without action, your values are just going to be words hung on the wall. It’s important to find practical ways to integrate them into your business. For example, if sustainability is a core value, incorporate practices like paperless invoicing, recycling or even creating products made from repurposed materials. Remember, being a purpose-led business means making your values part of every aspect of your business.

Telling your customers and employees about your values and connecting them to your purpose is just as important as making values part of your business plan. Promote your values on your website, talk about them in your marketing materials and communications and highlight them in conversations with customers, employees, community members and other stakeholders.

Develop a mission statement

After you’ve identified your values, draft a mission statement to guide your business and describe your purpose beyond profit. Your mission can go on to describe what change you want to see in your community or even the world. Here are some examples of B Corp mission statements to inspire you:

Catalyst Partners: “We are committed to the creation of places where all species can flourish.”

Higher Grounds Coffee: “High quality coffee is sustainable only through a human-centric approach. It's a simple idea. And as we like to think of it, our secret recipe for the best cup of coffee in the world.”

Better Way Imports: “Better Way Imports seeks to bring dignity and hope to those who have become victims to the sex trafficking industry through the purchasing and reselling of products made by those who have been freed through the vessel of Freedom Parties. Our goal is to connect the ‘us’ with the ‘them’ in order to create a ‘we.’ Our emphasis is on dignity rather than charity.”

Patagonia: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

Create a living business plan

A business plan isn’t meant to sit on a shelf and collect dust. It’s a powerful tool for guiding your business for years to come. When you prioritize what matters most from the very beginning, it signals your values to your employees, customers and other key stakeholders and builds customer loyalty.

A great place to start with a developing a business plan is taking the Quick Impact Assessment. This tool asks you questions about your business that you may have never thought of, such as “How do your employees commute to work?” or “How many hours do your employees volunteer?” Taking this assessment will you develop meaningful goals that align with your values.

If you’re about to dig into your business plan, I encourage you to join me and other Good for Michigan businesses at Start Garden on Oct. 10 for our next Measure What Matters Workshop on The Social Justice Entrepreneur. This workshop is an opportunity to hear from entrepreneurs and their best practices for developing a meaningful business plan and leading a business with purpose.