Holly Howard runs Ask Holly How, a small business consulting company based out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn that works with a wide variety of businesses from restaurants to retail to art studios and pretty much everything in between. Her clients report increased income and profit, decreased expenses and a significantly better quality of life. Holly heads up the Small Business Book Club at McNally Jackson Books.
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I run a small jewelry line that is built around the idea of using sustainable materials. Like most of these crafty small businesses, I started it as a part time hobby while working a regular job. I found my daytime job completely unfulfilling and thought I should be doing something that helped the world on my spare time.
My jewelry became pretty popular and I took the leap about a year after I started. Now, I’m focused on running this jewelry business full time. My problem is I’m having a very hard time turning a profit while trying to stick to my ideals of using only sustainable materials. I’m constantly working and there’s no payoff, and quite frankly I’m feeling jaded about this whole idea of being a mission-driven business.
Any advice on what I can do to keep going without having to compromise my values? I’d like to do good in the world, but I’m not sure how to make the business model work. Where do I begin?
Missing the Mission
I think you’ve found yourself in a position that a lot of small business owners who are mission-driven find themselves. It’s hard to marry our values with a real economically viable plan. We tend to sacrifice the economic health of our business in order to fulfill the idea of what we think we are supposed to be doing if we want to contribute to the world in a positive way.
But here’s where most business owners get it wrong. If you’re business cannot make a profit and sustain that profit, it doesn’t matter how good your intentions are. Your business will never last. What good will that do the world?
There’s a lot of pressure in today’s marketplace and you need to find the formula that allows you work in a way that doesn’t compromise your values while turning a profit.
First, I would write out your core values and your mission. If you’re just operating based off an idea rather than really sitting down and writing out what it means to you and how it drives your business, it’s likely there’s a lot of fuzziness happing in your operations. Get clear on what your values are and how they play out in every aspect of your business.
Once you define your values, you can start to see where they can impact your business. Maybe not all of your materials can be sustainable but aren’t you still achieving a good result if 60 percent of your materials are sustainable? Create a few financial models and play around with the cost of sourcing different materials. You should be able to find a sustainability percentage that makes sense economically and still supports your values. I would say that a business that uses 60 percent sustainable materials and operates with a profit that sustains the lives of its employees and owners is far better for the world than a business that sources 100 percent sustainable materials but goes under in two years because it can’t turn a profit.
What’s more, in your long term plan, you can work to increase the amount of sustainable materials as your business grows and you have more buying power.
The bottom line is that you don’t need to be all or nothing. It’s far smarter to be clear on what your values are and create a long term plan to reach your ideal operation than sacrificing the business at the expense of trying to do it all at once. If you’re truly interested in sustainability, you’ll realize that you must spread that ideal across your entire business instead of focusing it just on your sourcing. An unsustainable economic model does nothing for the greater good of the world.
Good luck with these changes. Making these adjustments could save your entire business!