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5 Proven Steps for Testing a Social Enterprise Idea

Image credit: Allegra Parlavecchio

A pile of scribbled notes and dark circles underneath your eyes are evidence of your great social enterprise idea. You’ve lost sleep over thoughts of impact and have excitedly shared your idea with friends and family.

What’s next? Coming up with an idea for a social enterprise is one thing, but breaking through the ideation phase can end up being quite the challenge.

To help you move those ideas out of your head and into the real world, here are 5 proven steps for testing a social enterprise idea. 

Step 1: Define a Problem

What is your why? What is the problem that you are solving? Why is your social enterprise idea something that’s needed? Where does the problem exist and who does it affect? Is the problem something that exists within a small city or community, or is it something that’s experienced nationwide? The more clearly you’re able to identify the problem, who it impacts, and where it’s felt, the easier it will be to move onto the next steps and get on with successfully starting a social enterprise. Say for, for instance, you’ve become acutely aware of the problem of food insecurity. Now, you can use the problem to further narrow your idea so that it’s best received and so that you have the greatest potential for impact. 

Step 2: Talk to Potential Customers

Once you realise the problem, you can begin to assess the ways in which that problem can be solved. The best way to do this is to actually have communication with your target segment. You can do a market analysis on a focus group, send out a survey, contact people on social media, or even start a crowdfunding page to gauge reactions. To continue with the food insecurity problem, you can do some research to find that food insecurity is a prevalent issue faced by most communities in most areas of the world, but you’ve identified a specific food security problem in your local community. Begin speaking with your networks and community members to see how exactly food insecurity is impacting them. Is it something with an easy solution? Are there other organisations that have already emerged to solve the problem? Are people willing to receive your services? If you can’t come up with something that, from the beneficiary’s point of view, is a solution they’ll seek, you’ll likely waste your time. 

Step 3: Define a Solution to the Problem

Now that you know that there is a problem that is impacting a certain segment of the population, you can begin to work on providing a solution to that problem. The conversations you will have had with your target segment will allow you to formulate a solution that addresses specific needs and solve the problems in a way that beneficiaries will want to access. If a certain segment of a suburban community has higher-than-average rates of food insecurity, conversations with them may have alerted you to the fact that the closest supermarket is out of reach for a lot of people and requires a 45-minute journey on public transportation. Because you can’t magically bring a supermarket to these people, you need to work out a way you can provide access to healthy and nutritious food in a way that provides a more attractive alternative for the beneficiaries than simply eating fast-food. Based on conversations with the target segment, you may decide that a pop-up produce market or delivery service may be the best solution to their needs. 

Step 4: Validate the Solution

Now you have a solution, great. But exactly how practical is the solution? Are your dreams of a produce delivery scheme possible without a fleet of delivery trucks? Even if you do have the means for delivery, where will you source the produce from? How will you accommodate different socioeconomic statuses? What about consumer preferences and your needs for delivering a product in a profitable, repeatable way? If you are successful, how can you scale up? How can you produce a sustainable impact? This will require you to reach out to producers, manufacturers, community members, related organisations, and possible customers. What you’ll gain from this step is some clear insight into exactly what it’s going to take to transform your social enterprise ideas into reality. It’s much better to find out that you’re missing a crucial component in the testing stage, instead of after the launch.  

Step 5: Test the Solution

Now you can begin to put your ideas out into the world! Before fully launching your social enterprise, test it in the market. Present the solution to your target segment and ensure that people are interested in using it. Launch your website or start a social media page and gauge the responses you get. If you’re able to, launch a service/product trial and assess the feedback you receive. See if you can get a group of customers to sign up for a one-off produce delivery, and use the experience to make any adjustments for the full-fledged launch. Bear in mind that there’s no concrete way to fully determine if your social enterprise will be viable, and it’s likely that you’ll run into road bumps and have to make adjustments along the way. 

By using these five steps, and with a little passion, patience and perseverance, you’ll be well on your way to a social enterprise idea that sticks. Once you do, we encourage you to other Australian changemakers by becoming a Social Change Central member and getting access to Australia’s biggest database of social impact opportunities. 

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