The rush to be ‘social’ shouldn’t compromise or limit your profitability, but rather help make you more successful!

Business of all types and sizes are increasingly expected (and becoming) more ‘social’ and ‘ethical’ for a variety of reasons:

• Changing legislation (various Acts from the Environment Agency, Companies House, and in relation to Public Services)

• Consumer preferences for ‘#BuyLocal’ and ‘#BuySocial’ (national campaigns around both of these have emerged over the last few years)

• New generations of employees wanting to see their prospective employers upholding standards and behaviours that they would be proud to be associated with.

And alongside these, there are also increasing swathes of evidenced business cases that show a direct relationship between how responsible a business is, and the prospect of its future success. Indeed, the UN’s creation of the Global Sustainable Development Goals has also inspired and spawned a global movement of local independent businesses realising the contribution and role that they can play in this agenda: #GlobalGoalsLocalBusiness.

But how should we as enterprises best respond and think how we engage with this? There are membership bodies and quality management out there that we can apply to (such as The Organisation for Responsible Businesses, and the Bright Ethics certification to name but two), but these cost money which we might find a little tight and hard to justify in the current wider economic climate… What that in mind, I’d like to share the story of how I’ve been approaching this as a freelancer/self-employed consultant: I’m aware that my business model has always been ‘a bit unusual’ in my trying to reflect my personal values in how I work, and as part of this, I openly publish a ‘social impact’ report on myself.

A bit like a financial accounts statement, but rather than showing monetary returns or profitability, highlighting the extent to which I’ve achieved against themes of environmental impact, supporting local communities, and contributed to the wider economy. And rather than adopt an existing reporting template to do this with (and there are quite a lot of them out there!), I decided instead to create my own sets of KPIs that relate to my own priorities: after all, its my enterprise, so I should be identifying performance data that helps me manage it better on my own terms rather than someone else’s?

However, my reporting on my impacts and ‘social value’ in this way hasn’t always shown me in the best light: some years it seems that the benefit of training I deliver has fallen considerably, and that I’ve started to leech money out of my local economy rather than be a contributor to building it further. But this can actually be a good thing – because just like financial accounts have notes to them to help explain what might otherwise appear to be causes for concern, so impact reports should also contain additional commentary that help make sense of what might have been happening to explain these otherwise negative findings.

And if we chose to hide things about our business practices, then that would surely only lead to mistrust and problems in our relationships with customers, suppliers, and others? Interested in reading the full report then head to: