As the founder of a business ingrained with a social impact mission, many people come to me with an idea for a social impact business. They want to build this app, or they want to start this event series— often times because they experience a problem and have determined a solution they think will make a difference.
My first question to them is: Why?
Why do you want to launch this idea? Why is this going to help you create the impact you are looking to make? And what is the bigger picture you are working towards?
The last is the kicker. Coming up with an idea is an important step, but knowing what your larger goal is is often what stumps people. Here’s the thing: your larger goal will guide you as your benchmark for measuring the social impact that your business is making. It is easy to measure how many downloads an app got, but if it’s not leading the change on society and the planet that you were aiming for with your idea, then you’re not really achieving what you set out to.
And that’s not the only benefit of determining your “why.” You also need to know your larger vision in order to collect information about how to best tailor your offering to the people who need it and create the best, most efficient and effective solution.
And thirdly, defining your goal also sets you on a larger path than just your idea. If you aren’t working towards a larger goal, then you have nothing if your idea “fails” on any level. Your idea didn’t work, time to move on. But if you have a vision for the world that your idea is helping you move towards, if you fail, you just took one step towards figuring out how not to get to that larger vision. Failure can actually help you, depending on your perspective.
Take my business, for example. I launched IMBY with the larger goal of making ethical fashion and conscious consumerism accessible to the masses. That’s my “why.” My “what” is a retail concept that curates the best of ethical fashion around— I came up with it after understanding the needs of my customers. Should my store fail, I can move on to ramping up a blog, filming a documentary, creating an advocacy movement, an app helping guide people to the most responsible fashion, or more. Or I could work as a consultant to help independent designers launch lines responsibly and affordably. I could go on and on. If I didn’t have a larger goal I was working towards and my store failed, I’d have nothing. Zilch. And I use my vision to ensure that I am making a dent in the fashion world— if people were buying my clothes to wear once and throw away, then I would be doing something wrong. It would be time to pivot towards something more impactful.
Here are three easy steps you can take today to start defining your “why” for your business idea:
Distill value from your current idea
You came up with your idea for a reason— what was at the root of why you cared about this idea in the first place? Since you are launching a business on a mission to do good, what are you hoping to achieve in the world? This can be a big, lofty goal for now, like “solving homelessness,” or “decelerating the speed of global warming.” Just focus on getting to the root cause of why this idea excites you.
Narrow your focus
Once you know the big, lofty goal you are working towards, start to narrow it down. Is there a specific demographic you are looking to reach in terms of age, location, socioeconomic status? Is there a specific segment of your problem you’d like to solve? For example, with solving homelessness, are you focused on street homelessness? The shelter system? Or perhaps destigmatizing the community?
You’ve identified and narrowed in on the details of the problem you are trying to solve. Now, consolidate it into one focused, specific message that you can articulate as your vision for the world with your idea in it. Make sure it’s broad enough to have multiple solutions but still narrow enough that you are able to focus your work and impact.
This message will be your guide for all the work that you do, and you may refine it over time as you refine your idea.
Starting with your larger goal is not only a best practice, but it is essential when you are building a business on a mission to do good. By starting with these three steps you will be well on your way to having a clearly defined vision statement.