Like many entrepreneurs, I’ve always had a strong urge to help other people, not just directly helping customers with my business, but in a broader social sense too.
Donating to charities is great, but I’ve never felt as excited about it as actually running a business. I’ve often contemplated how to merge these two ideas – helping people like a charity does so you get a real sense of meaning and purpose behind your business but also doing it for profit so you’re personally motivated financially (and can pay yourself well!).
For a long time, I kept these two ideas separate, like church and state. Yes, my business allows me to support charities, but the two projects were never closely linked.
That was until I met Lauren Shuttleworth, the subject of today’s EJ Podcast. Lauren introduced me to the world of “Social Enterprise”, which successfully merges the two worlds of business and charity, achieving the objectives I see as important to an entrepreneur – profit and social good.
Lauren’s business, Words With Heart, creates eco-friendly stationery with an ever-present focus on empowering women and girls. Every product sold funds a certain amount of education days for women and girls and this is delivered by the charity partners Lauren has teamed up with.
In Lauren’s case, her business runs as a for-profit enterprise. The business also helps to provide education to disadvantaged women and girls in the developing world whilst positively impacting the environment through using sustainable materials in its products and production methods.
How Lauren Became A Force For Good
Lauren began her journey as an entrepreneur in the online space in 2008 by selling jewellery to a wholesale market via three different group buying sites.
As you will hear in the interview, Lauren came across this opportunity at a great time. It quickly became a very successful and lucrative first business, bringing in sales between $3,000 and $10,000 per campaign.
However, eventually her jewellery business closed down as bigger retailers jumped on board once they realized the potential of the internet for online sales.
Lauren still didn’t know what her passion was and wasn’t quite sure what direction to go in. Life threw a curve ball at the end of 2011 when Lauren’s mother passed away very suddenly. She was left with the acute awareness that life is short and she needed to take time out just for herself. Thus began a life changing experience of overseas travel.
Lauren’s inner search began by working with rescued elephants in Thailand and from there moved on to Kenya to volunteer at a school. It was here she learned first-hand just how crucial it is for girls, in particular, to receive funding to continue their education.
Lauren specifically remembers a little girl called Esther who was very bright, loved school and wanted to become a doctor. Esther’s orphanage said they could not pay for her to continue school, so Lauren paid for that year of fees, but was left with questions…What about next year’s fees? What about all the other girls just like Esther?
Using Passion To Fuel A Profitable Business
Returning to Australia, Lauren knew she had found her passion and didn’t want to lose the valuable lessons she had learned from her time traveling.
She began researching charities and became acquainted with social enterprise, which is still a very new concept in Australia. She applied to the School of Social Entrepreneurs to learn all the ropes of how to successfully build her own social enterprise.
Whilst walking through an airport, Lauren saw a notebook for girls with a very uninspiring and disempowering message plastered across it. It was then that Lauren clicked on her idea for her social enterprise, Words With Heart.
She did some research and found that the stationery market is significant. There was also plenty of scope to make her passion for providing education to women and girls combine perfectly with an eco-friendly business. Another big bonus is that her products provide positive and empowering messages to the women and girls who purchase them.
Lauren sourced buyers and pre-sold the stationery before actually creating her first load of products. In order to make her products price competitive, she had to order very large quantities in bulk. This is because when it came to consumer choice, the prices had to be the same. Lauren’s products are more desirable because not only do they cost the same as the competition, they have the added benefits of doing so much good for people and the planet.
Lauren launched her business using a crowdfunding campaign platform called Start Some Good. The crowdfunding was also part of a grant for a corporate initiative with ING Direct who provided extra financial assistance. The Words With Heart crowdfunding campaign exceeded its target of $15,000 and made just under $20,000.
Today Lauren runs her business with the help of seven interns. Everyone in the team works remotely from their computers and meets every week or two in a co-working space. Now that the business is running smoothly post launch, Lauren devotes a lot of time to developing business relationships with charity partners and stationery suppliers.
How Social Enterprise Can Open Doors As Well As Hearts
Being a social entrepreneur, Lauren is constantly asking herself questions like…
Am I doing everything as ethically as possible? How can I maintain our core values and integrity in every aspect of this business?
Lauren’s advice to budding entrepreneurs is to be very certain of their passions and their direction because that is what will drive you when things become challenging. She also advises that you network and if you’re interested in the social entrepreneur space, then get amongst it!
Lauren wants to show aspiring entrepreneurs that you can combine making money with doing good for the world, the two things are not mutually exclusive.
In fact, you can make a much bigger impact faster specifically by combining these two things because doors will open more quickly when you are focussed on helping others. People are more open to you when they can see how passionate you are about making a positive difference in the lives of others using your business as a platform to create change.
Lauren’s story illustrates how the combination of being passionate about creating change for the good via a profitable business can turbo charge your success.
Enjoy the episode,