How to Sell Photos Online: For Both Amateur and Pro Photographers

How to Sell Photos Online: For Both Amateur and Pro Photographers

Making money as a photographer, like a YouTuber or Instagrammer, is all about harnessing that same creativity at the heart of your work and applying it to the monetization of your talents.

It can seem hard to make it when anyone with the newest iPhone can call themselves a “photographer.” But success, for most creators who turn to entrepreneurship, comes down to three things:

  1. Finding your niche.
  2. Building an audience.
  3. Creating several streams of income.

This guide will explore some of the things you should know about selling photos online with resources to help you make your photography-based business a reality.

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How to sell photos online: two essential steps

1. Define your niche

Every successful photographer has a consistent style or theme that runs through their work. Whether your thing is travel, fashion, cityscapes, nature, food, etc., consistency is key.

People follow other people online to see more of whatever it is that interested them in the first place. People unfollow other people when those expectations aren’t met.

Finding your niche if you want to sell pictures online is typically something you feel your way into as you see which styles and photos resonate with your audience. But you can also evaluate the demand for certain topics using keyword research to analyze the search volume for terms related to your photographs.

Keywords Everywhere is a browser extension that shows you the search volume right below your Google search, making it easy to find and experiment with in-demand subjects and angles to see what you can cater to with your photographs.

As a suggestion, anything above 1,000 average monthly searches is sthe ignificant volume to consider capitalizing on.

Photographers, just like bloggers, YouTubers, and artists of any kind, should also invest in building their audiences because that’s ultimately what helps them build their business and sell photography online.

Whether you’re freelancing or selling photography online as prints, you’ll need to build and leverage your network to expand your reach and credibility.

Visual social platforms like Instagram and Tumblr with built-in audiences can help you reach a wide audience, but there are also photo-sharing sites that can connect you with other photographers where you can build a following and, depending on the platform, sell licenses to use your photos (more on that later).

Linking your various accounts makes it easier to manage your photo-sharing across several platforms, which is good for visibility of your photographs, especially important when you’re trying to figure out how to sell your photography. On Instagram, for example, you can go to Options > Settings > Linked Accounts to connect Tumblr, Facebook, and more to publish in more than one place with a single post.

IFTTT is a free tool that can help you create other useful integrations between apps that don’t usually integrate, like Instagram and Dropbox.

On Instagram, you can also use Hashtagify to discover relevant, active hashtags to increase the visibility of your photographs on the platform to get more likes, comments, and engagement.

2. Integrate ecommerce into your portfolio

Most photographers have a main portfolio site to showcase their work and let clients hire them. But by adding ecommerce to it, including the ability to accept payments, you can open several more doors to monetization, like selling courses, physical products, and services.

Matt Suess (below), for example, has a store that showcases his work, lets others purchase da igital and print version of his shots, and buy his courses.

Source: Matt Suess

You can build your portfolio or store on Shopify, install the relevant apps to customize it to your needs and monetization strategies, and start sharing and selling your photography in different forms: online or even offline through POS.

 

You might also want to consider installing apps to add more functionality like Digital Downloads (free), an Instagram gallery, and more.

There are a lot of reasons your own ecommerce site can be a best place to sell photos online, many of which we’ll explore below.

Best place to sell photos online: 20 stock photography sites to license your photography

Here are 20 stock photography sites to sell photos online:

  1. Getty Images
  2. Shutterstock
  3. iStock
  4. 500px
  5. Stocksy
  6. Can Stock Photo
  7. FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  8. Adobe Stock
  9. Fotolia
  10. PhotoDune
  11. Alamy
  12. Twenty20
  13. Depositphotos
  14. Dreamstime
  15. GL Stock Images
  16. EyeEm
  17. Image Vortex
  18. Crestock
  19. 123RF
  20. Foap

Licensing is one of the most popular ways to “sell” your photos online to brands, publishers and anyone who might have an interest in using your photos for their own purposes.

And that’s the key here. You need to work backwards and think about how your photos can used by a brand or a publisher — versatile photos that express ideas tend to be popular, especially when they feature human subjects.

There are a lot of stock photo sites to choose from, including:

1. Getty Images

On the higher end of stock photography sites, Getty Images attracts brands and publishers looking for high-quality or hard-to-find exclusive images to license. The standards for becoming a contributor are predictably higher than many other stock photo sites. For photos licensed via GettyImages.com, rates start at 20%.

2. Shutterstock

Shutterstock is a micro-stock site where photos are cheaper and non-exclusive, and the way to increase downloads is by contributing a large quantity of images that can be used as visual metaphors. Don’t expect to earn as much here, but it’s a good place if you’re just starting out. Payouts are based on your earnings over time and range from 20% to 30%. There’s also an affiliate program where you can earn additional money if you refer new photographers or customers.

3. iStock

iStock is the micro-stock offshoot owned by Getty Images. Commission ranges from 25% to 45% depending on whether the photos are exclusive or non-exclusive.

4. 500px

500px isn’t just a stock photo site; it’s a community-based platform for photographers. You can follow other photographers, list your photos in their marketplace, and participate in Photo Quest competitions for prizes. The community is full of stunning, creative shots with a 30% commission payout for non-exclusive photos and 60% for exclusive ones.

5. Stocksy

Stocksy is a popular mid-range stock photography site, especially among publishers. The standards to be accepted are higher, and Stocksy requires exclusive images, but it also pays out a generous 50–75% commission.

6. Can Stock Photo

More than 70,000 photographers sell photos on Can Stock Photo. There are various payout structures ranging from percentages to fixed amounts, and they’ll also give you $5 for every 50 photos your referral sells. When you sell photos on Can Stock Photo, they also list your photos for sale on Fotosearch, a stock photography agency.

7. FreeDigitalPhotos.net

FreeDigitalPhotos.net offers free photo downloads as well as images for users to purchase. When the small version of your photo is downloaded for free, attribution is required. While you won’t earn a cent, you will get credit. When their target market (professionals who need images for business use) purchase images, photographers earn 70% commission.

8. Adobe Stock

Adobe Stock is a best place to sell photos online because when you list photos for sale here, they’re also available on stock site Fotolia. You’ll earn 33% commission on the photos you sell through Adobe Stock.

9. Fotolia

Fotolia, which has been purchased by Adobe Stock, has two pricing models for users: Pay-As-You-Go and Subscription. Photos sold to Pay-As-You-Go customers earn 20–63% commission, while Subscription generates 33% commission but has a minimum guarantee.

10. PhotoDune

PhotoDune, part of Envato Market, is another best place to sell photos online. Payout structures vary. PhotoDune also has a referral program:Receive a 30% commission from your referral’s first cash deposit.

11. Alamy

Alamy pays contributors monthly and has a varied payment structure. Sales through www.alamy.com earn photographers 50%, Distributors earn 70%, Novel Use earns 50%. Payments are deposited monthly, as long as your Cleared Funds are $50 or more.

12. Twenty20

Twenty20 started as a tool for Instagram photographers to sell their images to brands. Now, it’s a robust stock photography site where you can sell photos online and connect with potential clients. You can earn money three ways: selling a photo, for you earn $2 per photo licensed, 100% cash prizes from photo challenges, and 100% commission from whatever brands hire you for scheduled shoots.

13. Depositphotos

Depositphotos has its commissions based on the contributor’s experience and status on the platform, as well as the resolution and license type. Commissions range are 34–42%.

14. Dreamstime

Dreamstime is a stock photo site with a generous payout for contributors. However, they require more commitment: You must have at least 70% of your portfolio on their site for at least six months. But, non-exclusive contributors earn 25–50%, and exclusive photos generate a 27.5–55% commission. There are also lots of ways to earn money for referrals, both on the contributor and the purchaser side.

15. GL Stock Images

On GL Stock Images, you have the choice of setting your own prices. And you’ll earn 40% commission on all sales.

16. EyeEm

EyeEm focuses more on advertising stock photography, making it a best place to sell photos online if you’re looking to be in the commercial photography space. They advertise a 50% commission on their site.

17. Image Vortex

Image Vortex doesn’t require exclusivity, so you can sell your photos on other sites as well. Commission rates are 70%, and you establish your own prices.

18. Crestock

Crestock pays contributors 20–40% commission rates based on the total number of downloads. They also have several affiliate programs through which you can earn money.

19. 123RF

This is another stock photo platform that pays contributors based on the number of downloads and purchases. Commissions range from 30% to 60%.

20. Foap

Foap offers contributors five ways to earn money from selling photos online: $5 for every photo sold, $100–$2,500 for Missions, $0.25/photo for album-specific photo sales, submitting photos to Getty Mission (payouts vary), and selling photos online via partner platforms, such as Adobe and Alamy.

How to sell photography prints, products, and photo books

  • How to sell photography prints and products
  • How to sell pictures as photo books

It’s not just brands and publishers who might want your work. Your fans might too.

And there are plenty of ways that they can potentially own it, whether it’s as a simple framed print or a pillow. Luckily, selling your own physical products is a lot simpler than you think.

How to sell photography prints and products

There are many sites and tools where you can upload your photographs and sell your pictures as photo prints on paper or physical products, such as mugs, T-shirts, and calendars.

You can work with a local photo lab that ships prints or use a print-on-demand service like Printful to dropship a wide range of products (prints, phone cases, pillows, and more) featuring your photos.

Be sure to order samples first to ensure that the quality of the products match the quality of your photos.

how to sell photography onlineImage via Burst

There are many other sites and tools you can use to print photos and products to sell.

How to sell pictures as photo books

You can also learn how to sell pictures by creating photo books with your photographs and selling those online.

Photo books are another physical photography-based product that can complement any coffee table. The more niche and consistent your photography is, the more likely you’ll be able to put together a stellar photo book based around a compelling theme.

You can use a service like BlurbYork Photo, or Shutterfly to create, print, and ship them on the demand.

While you won’t get the best margins with print-on-demand services, it’s a great risk-free way to test demand for your products before you decide to invest upfront.

How to sell your photography as a service

Whether you’re covering events, doing fashion shoots, or taking product photos, there’s ample opportunity to take advantage of the demand for professional photography. Here’s how to sell your photography as a service:

While you can list your services in freelance directories like Fiverr and Upwork, or apply to be an Expert, selling your photography as a service for decent pay usually involves networking locally since you need to be able to travel to meet clients in-person.

Here are some tips to build your network:

  • Always have business cards handy — you never know when you might meet a potential client
  • Tidy up your LinkedIn profile, showcase your work, and optimize it for the main photography service you provide (“Event Photographer”, for example).
  • Attend networking events where entrepreneurs and event organizers go — these folks will inevitably have a need for a professional photographer in the future.
  • Build a personal brand as a photographer so you’re top-of-mind when anyone in your network needs your camera and skills.

Since photographers, unlike other freelancers, must operate in strict time slots, it’s good to have a booking platform you can use to let prospective clients see your schedule and book you when you’re available.

Both Set More and Simply Book have free plans and features that work well for photographers. Or, if you’re using Shopify, you can install BookThatApp to schedule appointments directly from your site.

Now, let’s talk about usage rights and protecting your work.

A photographer’s legal primer to selling photos online

Figuring out how to sell your photography online can be overwhelming enough. And while rights and licenses related to selling photography may seem a foreign language, there are some terms and concepts you should know to help protect yourself from theft and infringing upon others’ rights when selling photos.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, or a substitute for actual legal advice (I’m not a lawyer), but it should offer you broad definitions that will help you navigate the world of usage rights.

Glossary of legal terms for selling photos online

  • Editorial use
  • Commercial use
  • Retail use
  • Exclusive
  • Non-exclusive
  • Public domain
  • Creative Commons
  • Royalty-free
  • Rights-managed
  • Right of publicity

Editorial use: Permission to use in blogs, newspapers, magazines and other publications.

Commercial use: Permission to use in marketing and advertising to promote a product or service.

Retail use: Permission to use in the creation of a physical product to be sold. This includes prints, posters, and products that feature the photo (pillows, mugs, etc.). Sometimes talked about in the same context as commercial use, but it should be considered separately.

Exclusive: Exclusive use means that the one who purchases the license from you is the only one who can use the photo.

Non-exclusive: Non-exclusive photo licenses can be purchased and used by anyone and usually cost less than exclusive ones.

Public domain: Holds no restrictions or copyright claim and can be used for commercial, editorial, and personal purposes. Works created by U.S federal government agencies (such as NASA) generally fall into this category unless otherwise stated.

Creative Commons: Conditional usage of your work is allowed as long as it’s in compliance with the stated restrictions. Attribution to credit the creator is sometimes required. Visit Creative Commons to generate a badge for this license for free.

Royalty-free: Others can buy a license and use the photo for an unlimited duration and unlimited number of times. This is the most common type of license purchased and on the cheaper end of the spectrum since these photos are usually non-exclusive.

Rights-managed: A one-time license can be purchased to use the photo with restrictions regarding distribution. Additional licenses must be purchases for additional use.

Right of publicity: The subjects in your photos are entitled to certain rights when it comes to their inclusion in your photography, especially when it comes to commercial use when you sell photos online. This is a separate concern from the copyright considerations above and you should seek a subject’s explicit permission first in order to be safe.

For more in-depth information about copyright laws and licensing in the U.S., check out Photo Secrets to understand the copyright laws that protect your work, or look at any major stock photo site to see how they define different types of licenses.

What to do if someone steals your photos

Theft is common when it comes to content, and many people do it unknowingly.

It’s common practice for photographers to watermark their images before selling them online to offer them at least some layer of protection against theft. If you’re going to sell or share your own photos, you can apply your own identifying mark in Photoshop or use a Watermark Generator.

A smaller watermark, often in the corner, still lets others enjoy your photo, while a larger tiled watermark with reduced opacity offers the most protection against theft.

But what do you do if someone decides to steal and use your photos anyway?

cease and desist request will usually work. Or you can send the culprit an invoice for using your photo. A combination of the two will likely be the most effective at persuading the perpetrator by offering them the choice to either pay you or take the photo down.

At the very least, you should always try to get others to credit you whenever they borrow your work, even if it’s just for editorial purposes. Remember that links back to your portfolio site are not only good for driving traffic back to your other work, but also good for search engine optimization and helping your standing in Google search results.

Turning your passion into profit

Whether photography is your hobby, your side gig, or full-time hustle, there are more avenues than ever before when it comes to how you sell photos online.

Your talent and your determination ultimately decide your earning potential, but the income you get from doing what you love and what you’re good at is some of the best cash you’ll ever earn.

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17 Best Online Photo Editor Softwares and Apps (Free and Paid)

17 Best Online Photo Editor Softwares and Apps (Free and Paid)

Good product photography enhances the perceived value of your products and increases the credibility of your store.

That’s why we have put together not only key tools and resources for beautiful DIY product photography but also a step-by-step guide to every aspect of the shoot.

This post focuses on one more crucial aspect of product photography: image editing. Because no matter how well you shoot your photos, there are always little things to fix and retouch afterward.

Here are free and paid tools—including software, services, and apps—that you can use to make your pictures more compelling.

Paid Photo Editing Tools

1. Photoshop Elements

1.  Photoshop Elements 12

The Photoshop suite is the ultimate in image editing. Elements offers every editing tool you need and then some. This is top-of-the-line software, which means that it’s not the cheapest item here.

Note: Consider also Photoshop CC, the latest edition of Photoshop that costs $9.99 every month.

2. Photoshop Lightroom

2.  Photoshop Lightroom

Elements offers huge functionality in editing individual pictures. Lightroom focuses on editing in batches. So it retains many of the features you’d find in Elements but is especially powerful at organizing and editing pictures at a large scale.

3. Camera+

4.  Camera+

Camera+ is an app that significantly enhances the capabilities of shooting pictures on your phone. You can change shooting modes, adjust touch exposure, and set up a grid to guide your shots. And, it’s only $1.99.

4. Fiverr

5.  Fiverr

Fiverr is a marketplace for small, inexpensive gigs. There are a lot of people who offer to edit photos, all with their own specialties. Too many people to look through? Rank them by “Recommended,” “High Rating,” and “Express Gigs.”

5. Shopify Experts

6.  Shopify Experts

Okay, maybe you’re willing to spend more than $5, and on more professional agents. Well head over to the Shopify Experts page. There are dozens of photography experts you can reach out to for photography services.

6. Tucia

7.  Tucia

If you don’t want to spend time hunting down the right person to send photos to, consider Tucia, an agency that has edited over 3.7 million photos. There are three tiers of services for different features. One cool service it offers for every tier: unlimited free revisions.

7. Portrait Professionals

8.  Portrait Professionals

If your products involve human models, take a look at Portrait Professionals. It’s a software tool that’s optimized for airbrushing portraits to fix blemishes and reshape the face.

8. Pixelz

Pixelz screenshot

For $1.45 per image, Pixelz uses proprietary software to strip your images of their backgrounds so that you can substitute something in its place (for example, pure white, or the right shade of blue). It promises a 24-hour turnaround.

9. Mister Clipping

10.  Mister Clipping

Mister Clipping makes paths by hand, not software, to remove the backgrounds of your photos. Its prices range from $0.95 to $9.95 per image, and a free trial is available.

10. KeyShot

11.  KeyShot

KeyShot is an image rendering piece of software that can create high-definition visuals and models. They can be made so high-def that they look like real photographs. In the right hands, KeyShot can do wonders, and is used sometimes by big companies to create their marketing materials. At $995, it’s the priciest item on this list, but there is a 14-day free trial for you to see if you could use it.

11. Digital Tutors

12.  Digital Tutors

We’ve given you some pretty sophisticated software tools for editing photos. We wanted to include Digital Tutors because it’s one of the best learning resources online. It has lessons on many aspects of using Photoshop, KeyShot, and design more generally.

Free Photo Editing Tools

Okay, those paid tools are great, but if you happen to be on a budget or don’t want to invest a lot of money, no worries. Take a look at the tools below. They may just get you to where you need to be.

12. GIMP

13.  GIMP

GIMP is the most sophisticated free image-editing tool. You can use it to retouch, edit, and draw. Just download the software and you’re ready to start editing.

13. Fotor

14.  Fotor

Want to edit online, directly on your browser? Take a look at Fotor. It offers editing and beauty retouching. Most cool is its High Dynamic Range feature: you can take three photos with different exposures to combine them into a single image, with the best light and tone from each of the separate photos.

14. PicMonkey

15.  PicMonkey

PicMonkey is another great online photo editor with a very cool feature: Collage. You can take various photos and arrange them together. If you have lots of products, you can collage them together as perhaps a banner image for your store or in an email newsletter.

15. Pixlr

16.  Pixlr

The Pixlr editor is one of the most widely used image editors online. It has three editions, all free: Pixlr Editor, Pixlr Express, and Pixlr O-Matic. The latter two can also be used as apps.

16. Photo Editor by Aviary

17.  Photo Editor by Aviary

This is a free app that you can use to edit images on your phone. Enhance with hi-def, fix red-eyes, and adjust various aspects of lighting.

17. Photoshop Express

18.  Photoshop Express

We’ve opened with a very expensive piece of Photoshop software, and we feel that it’s fitting to close with a free one. Photoshop Express is an app for your phone with slightly fewer functionalities than Photoshop Touch. It lets you crop, fix red-eye, share on social media, and more.

Conclusion

With recommendations of tools and resources for shooting, a step-by-step guide to using them, and tools to edit the pictures afterwards, you’re running out of excuses for poor-looking products. Take a look once more through our resources, and improve the way your products look today.

Do you have a favorite tool for editing your photos? Share it below.

Social Entrepreneurship: How to Harness Business to Make the World a Better Place

Social Entrepreneurship: How to Harness Business to Make the World a Better Place

Some people start businesses to improve the quality of their life, others seek to work for themselves, and some simply see an opportunity in the market that they can’t resist.

But sometimes the thing that tickles the entrepreneurial spirit in you is the desire to use business as a means of creating positive change.

This is called “social entrepreneurship”, and it’s an approach to business that’s gaining in popularity as globalization brings conversations about sustainability and international development to a global stage, and more people ask themselves, “What can I do for the world today?”

Social entrepreneurship involves starting mission-based social enterprises that dedicate some or even all of their profits toward furthering a cause—giving their customers a purpose behind every purchase.

What is a Social Enterprise?

what is a social enterprise

“Social entrepreneurship” has a very broad definition that can arguably include non-profit organizations like Doctors Without Borders, which rely almost exclusively on donations and grants, and even for-profit companies like Tesla that put their clean energy products front and center.

A social enterprise is a type of business where the bottom line and success metrics are measured in more than just profits. Instead, social enterprises typically measure success based on a triple bottom line:

  • People: The social impact of your business, and your ability to change lives and develop a community in a sustainable way.
  • Planet: Your environmental impact; how you contribute to a sustainable planet or reduce the carbon footprint (CO2 emissions) of your business and customers.
  • Profit: Like traditional businesses, they need to make make money in order to sustain themselves, pay workers and grow as an enterprise.

Social Entrepreneurship is about harnessing commerce for a cause.

of the challenges to succeeding in social entrepreneurship is that it’s easy to measure profit (did you make money, or did you not make money?), but it’s not as easy to measure your impact on people or the planet and communicate it to others.

Social entrepreneurs adopt a business model that puts their mission at the center, and are held accountable to their customers and stakeholders based on their proposed impact.

The Benefits of Building a Social Enterprise

For today’s consumers and businesses, social responsibility is a growing priority as concerns about climate change, international development, and supply chain ethics become a more prominent topic of international discussion.

In a survey by Social Enterprise UK, 1 in 3 people said they feel ashamed about buying from socially irresponsible businesses. In another study, 91% of global consumers expected companies to operate responsibly, and address social and environmental issues

This reflects a shift in consumer awareness about the impact of their purchase decisions. Not only are businesses being held to a higher standard, but many consumers are holding themselves to a higher standard as well.

So while social enterprises, by definition, must dedicate a portion of their profits to the impact they want to make, they do enjoy the following benefits that help them succeed:

  • Mission-based branding: A company story with a cause at its core makes consumers feel good about every purchase they make from you.
  • Partnership opportunities: A social enterprise, because of their mission-based motivations, can partner with other non-profit organizations and for-profit companies to leverage existing audiences and established reputations to create a presence in their market. “In kind” resources and discounts are not uncommon for social enterprises.
  • Press coverage: Publications and blogs love to cover social enterprises and their impact, helping them to evangelize their efforts and share their impact.
  • Certifications and support systems: Social enterprises can be eligible for grants, “impact investing” opportunities that focus on job creation and sustainability, and special certifications such as a Benefit Corporation status that make it easier to establish credibility, commit to transparency, and attract customers, employees, volunteers, and investors.

For the sake of this piece, we’ll look at what it takes to create a sustainable for-profit social enterprise. And that starts, as most businesses do, with figuring out what you want to sell.

Finding a Product to Sell and a Mission to Lead

The mission comes first for social entrepreneurs, but that doesn’t eclipse the importance of having a quality product to sell. After all, when all is said and done, a for-profit social enterprise needs to make money to survive just like any other business.

But there’s a pattern amongst successful social enterprises of establishing a good “product-cause fit” that aligns their mission with what they sell.

LSTN Sound Co. for example, sells premium headphones where a portion of profit goes toward the Starkey Hearing Foundation to restore hearing to people around the world.

LSTN social enterprise

Cotopaxi makes and sells outdoor gear for adventurers and travellers, dedicating 2% of total revenue to provide grants to specific non-profits that seek to alleviate poverty in different parts of the world.

cotopaxi social entrepreneurship

Love Your Melon sells beanies and hats and, on top of donating 50% of profits to pediatric cancer research and supporting patients, also has a Campus Crew Program that mobilizes students across the United States to help with their mission.

love your melon social entrepreneurship

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These are only a handful of many examples of ecommerce-based social enterprises that do a great job of not only tying a sense of purpose to their products, but using traditional business strategies, such as event marketing and giveaways, to promote their mission.

Defining Your Mission and Illustrating Your Impact

For social enterprises, their mission is a competitive advantage that can help them stand out in a crowded market—if they can communicate their motivation and the impact they can make.

Many social enterprises adopt a model where they donate a portion of profits to a cause, but that’s not the only way to position your company as a social enterprise.

It’s not just saying, ‘Hey, we have a social mission as an organization, and X percent of our sales goes to nonprofit X, Y,  and Z.’ I think it needs to be deeper and more authentic than that.

There are also social enterprises that focus on:

  • Creating jobs within the communities they care about, such as hiring local ex-convicts or ethically outsourcing production to communities in need of fair work and career development opportunities.
  • Reducing their carbon footprint by planting trees or going out of their way to reduce carbon emissions throughout their entire supply chain and educating customers about it.
  • Hosting workshops and “people development” initiatives to teach skills and empower people to build better lives for themselves and their communities.
  • Advocating for diversity and inclusion on behalf of underrepresented groups and becoming an engine of inspiration, such as Goldie Blox does by making toys to expose young girls to the joys of engineering.

Transparency and sustainable impact are essential for a successful social enterprise. And these things are easier to achieve if your cause is close to your heart and you choose an impact that you can measure.

“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching,” in the words of C.S Lewis.

Transparency is about visibly demonstrating your integrity and holding yourself accountable to your mission and the people who support it.

Depending on your mission, you can directly implement your plans for change as a social entrepreneur and expand your contributions as you grow. But if you choose to partner with non-profit organizations (NPOs) to help execute the “social” part of your social enterprise (as many do), be sure to do your homework before you reach out and ask questions like:

  • What am I ultimately giving back to?
  • How will my contributions actually be used and what are the organization’s operating costs?
  • How does the organization measure its success?
  • Is their impact sustainable, or will it only end up doing more harm in the long run?
  • Does this organization have an ethical history as a non-profit?

This is all part of your founding story—the tale of why you started your business—and will likely come up again and again in your elevator pitch, About Page, PR efforts and more. So refine it with your mission in mind and your action plan for creating change.

Funding Your Social Enterprise

Social enterprises are accountable to the cause that they support, and that means automatically setting aside a portion of future revenue to invest in their impact.

Social entrepreneurs often have to be creative with how they raise money, and that’s why crowdfunding is a popular option.

Crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter can not only help you raise the money you need to get your idea off the ground, but get your mission out there in a community that exists on the premise of supporting projects and causes they believe in. Learn more about running a successful crowdfunding campaign in The Ultimate Guide to Crowdfunding.

goldie blox cause-driven kickstarter
Goldie Blox’s Kickstarter campaign exceeded its funding goal by a landslide and helped launch the successful business that it is today.

There are also a growing number of grants that you can apply to for social enterprises that meet specific requirements, and a new trend of “impact investing“, where the return on investment expected isn’t just financial, but includes social and environmental impact as well.

Marketing Your Mission

What works when it comes to marketing can vary from business to business, but the need for transparency and the “for-benefit” position that social enterprises adopt make certain marketing strategies especially effective at generating awareness.

After all, you’re marketing your mission, not just your business.

Content Marketing

Digital media and the internet enable storytelling at a scale that wasn’t possible before.

From shooting videos to sharing photos on social media, social enterprises can leverage content to share real stories of the impact they’re making and provide proof that every customer’s purchase went toward doing some good in the world.

You can visit the affected community and film a documentary-style video. Or you can create an infographic for a data-based illustration of your impact or why your vision of change is needed.

There are ample opportunities for a social enterprise to spread its mission and tell its stories with content.

 

Events

Since NPOs often host events for fundraising and other initiatives, social enterprises can partner on or sponsor the causes that relate to their mission.

Whereas this would be deemed a marketing expense for traditional businesses, for a social enterprise it can double as an investment in their cause.

Le

With a feel-good story and a carefully crafted pitch, a social enterprise can win media mentions from bloggers and publications that are constantly on the lookout for something interesting to cover for their audiences.

Since there’s a purpose behind your company, there’s usually a lot more meat to the story by default than there might be for a traditional business.

 

Social Media

Purchasing isn’t the only way for people to support your mission. They can donate their voices online too.

According to an analysis by CoSchedule on why people share things online, 84% used social sharing as a way to support causes or issues they care about.

As long as you integrate your mission into your marketing, you can expect your audience to help you spread the word.

You can even amplify your message by starting a Thunderclap—setting a deadline to collect tweets, Facebook shares, and Tumblr posts that will go out all at once.

 

thunderclap social cause
Thunderclap offers a great way to mobilize your social media following to contribute to a cause or campaign you care about.

The Rise of For-Benefit Companies

Social entrepreneurship isn’t the only way a business can be for-benefit and not just for-profit.

Many companies are owning their social responsibility based on a growing belief that those with the power to do so can and should try to make the world a better place.

Our connected world has brought about a new era of awareness, where we can find problems to solve and lives to improve across the street or across the world if we choose.

People from all over are making the decision to make change in whatever way they can, whether it’s by being more conscious of what they buy as consumers, or building an engine for social and environmental good by becoming entrepreneurs.

Social Entrepreneurship: Harnessing Business to Make the World a Better Place

Some people start businesses to improve the quality of their life, others seek to work for themselves, and some simply see an opportunity in the market that they can’t resist.

But sometimes the thing that tickles the entrepreneurial spirit in you is the desire to use business as a means of creating positive change.

This is called “social entrepreneurship”, and it’s an approach to business that’s gaining in popularity as globalization brings conversations about sustainability and international development to a global stage, and more people ask themselves, “What can I do for the world today?”

Social entrepreneurship involves starting mission-based social enterprises that dedicate some or even all of their profits toward furthering a cause—giving their customers a purpose behind every purchase.

What is a Social Enterprise?

what is a social enterprise

“Social entrepreneurship” has a very broad definition that can arguably include non-profit organizations like Doctors Without Borders, which rely almost exclusively on donations and grants, and even for-profit companies like Tesla that put their clean energy products front and center.

A social enterprise is a type of business where the bottom line and success metrics are measured in more than just profits. Instead, social enterprises typically measure success based on a triple bottom line:

  • People: The social impact of your business, and your ability to change lives and develop a community in a sustainable way.
  • Planet: Your environmental impact; how you contribute to a sustainable planet or reduce the carbon footprint (CO2 emissions) of your business and customers.
  • Profit: Like traditional businesses, they need to make make money in order to sustain themselves, pay workers and grow as an enterprise.

Social Entrepreneurship is about harnessing commerce for a cause.

 

For this reason, one of the challenges to succeeding in social entrepreneurship is that it’s easy to measure profit (did you make money, or did you not make money?), but it’s not as easy to measure your impact on people or the planet and communicate it to others.

Social entrepreneurs adopt a business model that puts their mission at the center, and are held accountable to their customers and stakeholders based on their proposed impact.

The Benefits of Building a Social Enterprise

For today’s consumers and businesses, social responsibility is a growing priority as concerns about climate change, international development, and supply chain ethics become a more prominent topic of international discussion.

In a survey by Social Enterprise UK, 1 in 3 people said they feel ashamed about buying from socially irresponsible businesses. In another study, 91% of global consumers expected companies to operate responsibly, and address social and environmental issues

This reflects a shift in consumer awareness about the impact of their purchase decisions. Not only are businesses being held to a higher standard, but many consumers are holding themselves to a higher standard as well.

So while social enterprises, by definition, must dedicate a portion of their profits to the impact they want to make, they do enjoy the following benefits that help them succeed:

  • Mission-based branding: A company story with a cause at its core makes consumers feel good about every purchase they make from you.
  • Partnership opportunities: A social enterprise, because of their mission-based motivations, can partner with other non-profit organizations and for-profit companies to leverage existing audiences and established reputations to create a presence in their market. “In kind” resources and discounts are not uncommon for social enterprises.
  • Press coverage: Publications and blogs love to cover social enterprises and their impact, helping them to evangelize their efforts and share their impact.
  • Certifications and support systems: Social enterprises can be eligible for grants, “impact investing” opportunities that focus on job creation and sustainability, and special certifications such as a Benefit Corporation status that make it easier to establish credibility, commit to transparency, and attract customers, employees, volunteers, and investors.

For the sake of this piece, we’ll look at what it takes to create a sustainable for-profit social enterprise. And that starts, as most businesses do, with figuring out what you want to sell.

Finding a Product to Sell and a Mission to Lead

The mission comes first for social entrepreneurs, but that doesn’t eclipse the importance of having a quality product to sell. After all, when all is said and done, a for-profit social enterprise needs to make money to survive just like any other business.

But there’s a pattern amongst successful social enterprises of establishing a good “product-cause fit” that aligns their mission with what they sell.

LSTN Sound Co. for example, sells premium headphones where a portion of profit goes toward the Starkey Hearing Foundation to restore hearing to people around the world.

Cotopaxi makes and sells outdoor gear for adventurers and travellers, dedicating 2% of total revenue to provide grants to specific non-profits that seek to alleviate poverty in different parts of the world.

Love Your Melon sells beanies and hats and, on top of donating 50% of profits to pediatric cancer research and supporting patients, also has a Campus Crew Program that mobilizes students across the United States to help with their mission.

These are only a handful of many examples of ecommerce-based social enterprises that do a great job of not only tying a sense of purpose to their products, but using traditional business strategies, such as event marketing and giveaways, to promote their mission.

Defining Your Mission and Illustrating Your Impact

For social enterprises, their mission is a competitive advantage that can help them stand out in a crowded market—if they can communicate their motivation and the impact they can make.

Many social enterprises adopt a model where they donate a portion of profits to a cause, but that’s not the only way to position your company as a social enterprise.

It’s not just saying, ‘Hey, we have a social mission as an organization, and X percent of our sales goes to nonprofit X, Y,  and Z.’ I think it needs to be deeper and more authentic than that.

There are also social enterprises that focus on:

  • Creating jobs within the communities they care about, such as hiring local ex-convicts or ethically outsourcing production to communities in need of fair work and career development opportunities.
  • Reducing their carbon footprint by planting trees or going out of their way to reduce carbon emissions throughout their entire supply chain and educating customers about it.
  • Hosting workshops and “people development” initiatives to teach skills and empower people to build better lives for themselves and their communities.
  • Advocating for diversity and inclusion on behalf of underrepresented groups and becoming an engine of inspiration, such as Goldie Blox does by making toys to expose young girls to the joys of engineering.

Transparency and sustainable impact are essential for a successful social enterprise. And these things are easier to achieve if your cause is close to your heart and you choose an impact that you can measure.

“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching,” in the words of C.S Lewis.

Transparency is about visibly demonstrating your integrity and holding yourself accountable to your mission and the people who support it.

Depending on your mission, you can directly implement your plans for change as a social entrepreneur and expand your contributions as you grow. But if you choose to partner with non-profit organizations (NPOs) to help execute the “social” part of your social enterprise (as many do), be sure to do your homework before you reach out and ask questions like:

  • What am I ultimately giving back to?
  • How will my contributions actually be used and what are the organization’s operating costs?
  • How does the organization measure its success?
  • Is their impact sustainable, or will it only end up doing more harm in the long run?
  • Does this organization have an ethical history as a non-profit?

This is all part of your founding story—the tale of why you started your business—and will likely come up again and again in your elevator pitch, About Page, PR efforts and more. So refine it with your mission in mind and your action plan for creating change.

Funding Your Social Enterprise

Social enterprises are accountable to the cause that they support, and that means automatically setting aside a portion of future revenue to invest in their impact.

Social entrepreneurs often have to be creative with how they raise money, and that’s why crowdfunding is a popular option.

Crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter can not only help you raise the money you need to get your idea off the ground, but get your mission out there in a community that exists on the premise of supporting projects and causes they believe in. Learn more about running a successful crowdfunding campaign in The Ultimate Guide to Crowdfunding.

Goldie Blox’s Kickstarter campaign exceeded its funding goal by a landslide and helped launch the successful business that it is today.

There are also a growing number of grants that you can apply to for social enterprises that meet specific requirements, and a new trend of “impact investing“, where the return on investment expected isn’t just financial, but includes social and environmental impact as well.

Marketing Your Mission

What works when it comes to marketing can vary from business to business, but the need for transparency and the “for-benefit” position that social enterprises adopt make certain marketing strategies especially effective at generating awareness.

After all, you’re marketing your mission, not just your business.

Content Marketing

Digital media and the internet enable storytelling at a scale that wasn’t possible before.

From shooting videos to sharing photos on social media, social enterprises can leverage content to share real stories of the impact they’re making and provide proof that every customer’s purchase went toward doing some good in the world.

You can visit the affected community and film a documentary-style video. Or you can create an infographic for a data-based illustration of your impact or why your vision of change is needed.

There are ample opportunities for a social enterprise to spread its mission and tell its stories with content.

Learn more in The Beginner’s Guide to Content Marketing.

Events

Since NPOs often host events for fundraising and other initiatives, social enterprises can partner on or sponsor the causes that relate to their mission.

Whereas this would be deemed a marketing expense for traditional businesses, for a social enterprise it can double as an investment in their cause.

Learn more in How Cotopaxi Build Its Brand and Spreads Its Vision With In-Person Events.

PR

With a feel-good story and a carefully crafted pitch, a social enterprise can win media mentions from bloggers and publications that are constantly on the lookout for something interesting to cover for their audiences.

Since there’s a purpose behind your company, there’s usually a lot more meat to the story by default than there might be for a traditional business.

Learn more in How to Land Your Business in the Press.

Social Media

Purchasing isn’t the only way for people to support your mission. They can donate their voices online too.

According to an analysis by CoSchedule on why people share things online, 84% used social sharing as a way to support causes or issues they care about.

As long as you integrate your mission into your marketing, you can expect your audience to help you spread the word.

You can even amplify your message by starting a Thunderclap—setting a deadline to collect tweets, Facebook shares, and Tumblr posts that will go out all at once.

Learn more in How to Create a Social Media Content Calendar in 4 Simple Steps.

Thunderclap offers a great way to mobilize your social media following to contribute to a cause or campaign you care about.

The Rise of For-Benefit Companies

Social entrepreneurship isn’t the only way a business can be for-benefit and not just for-profit.

Many companies are owning their social responsibility based on a growing belief that those with the power to do so can and and should try to make the world a better place.

Our connected world has brought about a new era of awareness, where we can find problems to solve and lives to improve across the street or across the world if we choose.

People from all over are making the decision to make change in whatever way they can, whether it’s by being more conscious of what they buy as consumers, or building an engine for social and environmental good by becoming entrepreneurs.