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4 ways to run a successful social impact business

by Ana Lopez
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One of the first lessons I learned as founder and CEO of Really free is that good intentions do not guarantee success. Years ago when we were a startup I had in mind that all I needed to be successful was an unwavering vision to make a positive social impact, a must-have product, not a nice-to-have product and an easy-to-use website. Reality quickly dispelled that idea.

Anyone new to e-commerce will quickly learn that having a website doesn’t mean website traffic just shows up. However, basic logistics forced us to rethink everything – the cost of shipping our natural detergent was as expensive as the product itself.

We went back to the beginning. This did not simply mean finding a solution to the immediate problem, although that was central to our efforts. We started with the core purpose of our company: to provide a safe product for families, especially children and people with specific allergic reactions from chemicals and harsh ingredients. As a result, we completely reimagined the modern laundry room and the way we did business.

Four key elements emerged as we scaled our business into a successful brand with social impact. These critical components required more than good intentions and a website, but the journey – and more importantly, the results generated positive social impact far beyond our original vision. Here are four ways social impact companies can strengthen their brand’s purpose and bottom line

Related: How to Know When to Give Up, When to Pivot, and When to Persevere

1. Make relationship building a core competency

For us, customers are family. This approach is more than just a way of thinking: it is the way we do business.

With every decision, we challenge ourselves to think if we would do this for our family. Would we want our family to use a product with these ingredients? Would this offer or price be reasonable and something we would recommend to our families?

Every detail counts. Attention to detail can be a worn out idea. But when customers actually witness the attention and energy put into every detail – from their experience on the website to the ingredient list on the product – they begin to see your company not only because of the products you make, but also because of the values ​​and mission that take you out into the world. These efforts result in authentic transparency and trust, the basis for a solid and long-lasting relationship.

For example, we put every ingredient on products so that our customers can do their own research. Based on customer feedback, it has been instrumental in creating the long-term relationships we want to build with them.

Building a relationship may be a one-sided initiative, but it goes a long way for every customer. We understand that transactions pay bills, but our experience proves that relationships build businesses.

2. Connect people to people

Our non-toxic fabric softener dryer sheets are handmade by women rescued from poverty and human trafficking. Our customers know this and resonate with it. Our clients also know that the money they spend with us is used to free women and children from human trafficking, shelter and feed orphans, and even a hearing-impaired village in Haiti.

We make it a priority for our customers to know the power of their purchase and how it positively impacts other people’s lives.

Transparency combined with purpose makes for good business. By strengthening the human element of your business right out of the gate, you can quickly convey your mission statement and strengthen your position as a social impact company.

3. Prioritize convenience

Everyone is busy. We don’t want any hassle, and neither do our customers. We may have the best of intentions, but people won’t subscribe to our offerings if it’s hard to do business with us.

Brands should always prioritize convenience in every customer interaction. For example, as an e-commerce, subscription-based company, we thrive on subscriptions. If brands can make a customer’s life easier by automating an offer, such as a subscribe and save model, then they should integrate that into their website, promotions and upsells. At the same time, we also recognize that after the initial brand interaction, a new customer may not be ready to make a recurring commitment. To ensure you present options that help potential new subscribers become familiar with the brand, businesses should provide a way to purchase single transactions at checkout and an attractive offer or bundle that will further entice them to try the plan and save with no strings attached.

At first, some brands may think that this model reduces subscriptions when it results in a “dating” opportunity, where a new customer can get to know the brand without making a total commitment beforehand. As a result, and if done correctly, your subscription base will likely continue to grow.

By prioritizing convenience in every customer interaction, you are able to reduce friction and ultimately meet the unique and situational needs of each existing and potential customer.

Related: 4 suggestions to improve convenience for consumers

4. Reimagine the business model

As noted at the beginning, logistics forced us to review our business model for the better. Shipping for detergent costs as much as the product itself. Our original plan was a surefire way to go out of business quickly.

What was the problem? Weight. What could be done about it? This question challenged us to approach detergent in a whole new way.

Water makes up the bulk of the detergent. Removing the water would solve the problem and help us fulfill our mission to eliminate millions of single-use plastics. This solution led us to develop a whole new vision of the residential cleaning and laundry room. Today we sell refills, not giant plastic bottles that end up in landfills.

Business does not have to be business as usual. Examining operational challenges opens up opportunities to completely rethink product development. And looking closely at the details can completely rethink the direction of your business for the better.

Related: 8 ways to spin your business to drive growth

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