7 Ways to Balance Mission and Margin

April 26, 2009 at 11:52 am Leave a comment

The SVN spring gathering’s closing panel brought together two of our most experienced and admired social entrepmission-increneurs to share how the lessons from their recent SVN book, Mission Inc., are more relevant than ever given the current downturn.

Julius Walls Jr is the founder and CEO of Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, NY, one of the country’s most innovative and respected social enterprise businesses. Kevin Lynch runs Rebuild Resources Inc., a $2.2M social enterprise in St. Paul, MN that helps connect former convicts and addicts reach self-sufficiency through work and spiritual recovery. For more on their book check out the SVN website or the detailed summary on our publisher Berrett-Koehler Press.

Their discussion closed by connecting the lessons from the book to the challenges many mission driven entrepreneurs are facing today. Julius: “These are times of great and hard struggle. However this community has an opportunity to benefit from the downturn more than any other industry. We all know lean times, we all know how to make great things happen with so few resources compared to the big guys.” But they are still hard times, and it will take a lot of grace and grit to survive and thrive as “the herd is culled”.

Julius and Kevin offered a powerful list: 7 ways to survive the hard times with the mission and the business in tact:

  1. Protect the Core. Know your margins, know your core business, and survive by protecting this cormissione with all you have. Whatever you have to let go of or cut back on, don’t let it damage the core.
  2. Hire Extraordinary People. There is so much new talent on the marketplace now, and our businesses look increasingly attractive as the crash has closed “the gap” comparing our sector’s pay to market that used to have to be all made up by “mission”. Use this time to hire the best new people, plus shake up your existing make up to ensure it’s as optimized as it can be.
  3. Information is as Important as a Plan. Now, more than ever, you need your dashboard to manage the basics. Shorten the time scale, ie if you used to look at cashflow monthly, look weekly or even daily. But also analyze the massive market shifts and new opportunities that have opened up as a result of the recession
  4. Ca$h: it’s still king. You need full awareness of where your cashflow is at, tight management of it. Negotiate with vendors early and up front – before you need it. When you make cuts (ie to wages), start at the top, and show everyone how each cut helps the whole
  5. Drive Waste out of the System. This is the time to look at every expense, analyze how it impacts revenue now, and make hard decisions. Make them with harsh and direct action – from your mind – but implement them with your heart.
  6. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Internally and externally, be bold and honest. No surprises, they lead to even more uncertainty.
  7. Beware of Blood vs. Sweat Equity. We all invest buckets of sweat equity into our businesses, and many of us will be sweating it out more than usual. But don’t put the truly important things at risk – family life, your health, your relationships. No business is worth losing the things that matter most.

SVN’ers are lucky to have such generous, honest, and wise leaders among us. The energy in the room was both humble yet hopeful and energized for the challenges and opportunities ahead. With another successful SVN in the can, we’ll see you all again in October in La Jolla for the next SVN member gathering!

Entry filed under: Member Stories, SV Best Practices, Talks and Workshops.

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