We brought together a group of women activist-entrepreneurs at the Business & IP Centre Brighton & Hove at the Jubilee Library in 2021. BIPC Brighton & Hove is part of the National Network of BIPCs led by the British Library.
Our aim was to exchange ideas and learn from one another about how to run an ethical creative business and balance purpose with profit. Watch our short film of the day and be inspired!
Video editing by Let’s Talk Video Production
Solidarity economics: The Business of Women’s Words project tips for how to combine profit with purpose
1. Be clear about your ethical purpose.
Think about how activism can be your spur to action. Your business reflects you, so cherish integrity and authenticity. Be true to yourself, and keep reminding yourself why you do it.
2. Remember that being an independent business in the world of corporate capitalism can itself be progressive.
Be bold! Reframe the dialogue and narrative. Be a disruptor, but in a way that’s authentic and gets you taken seriously across business-activist communities. Break the rules when they need to be broken.
3. Align your purpose with your management practices.
Embody good practice in the workplace regarding terms & conditions. Don’t run a business on the backs of poorly paid employees, or the unpaid labour of interns.
4. Broaden your understanding of value, and your measures of success.
Value the experience of socially-tuned enterprise and how good this makes you feel. Think about, even measure, the value inherent in treating each other decently, in being holistic and sustainable, and in promoting accessibility and representation. Never confuse the price of something with its value.
5. Accept your principles will come under pressure as you try to maintain and grow your business.
Seek support for the extra burdens that operating with ethical purpose will bring. Some outsiders will like what you do, others might not. Be open to new ideas, and ‘own’ your compromises.
6. Grow your business – or not!
Business management skills are important. Understand things like costs and cashflow, and keep good books. Create your trade calendar to recognise activist as well as business highpoints and significant dates in the year. But decide when you want to stop. Small is beautiful.
7. A business plan and business training is recommended but …
… don’t be afraid to say ‘Oh, let’s just try it, let’s just see. If it goes wrong, we’ll fix it.’ Learn on the job, and through experience, and the experience of others. Ask loads of questions. Listen to the answers.
8. Find or build networks – women, business, activist, community, global.
Recognise and manage the dangers of loneliness and isolation. Find strength in common ground, solidarity, partnership and collaboration. Share the workload. But accept that working cooperatively can be hard and can even reproduce the tensions and inequities it overtly rejects.
9. Think creatively about sources of funding and capital.
You might be self-funding, or draw upon public funding, crowdfunding, investors, subscribers, even angels. Mixed business models with multiple revenue streams are very common in the creative industries. But be clear about the nature of the exchange. Where the money comes from has political implications.
10. Grow your customer base.
Find your market and audience. Understand what drives and motivates people. But while you satisfy your market, challenge it as well. Think beyond the boundaries: how do you push the dream, and the dreams of others? Social media brings opportunities to understand and nurture your customer base and drive the narrative. Remember: marketing is political.
11. Know your value chain
Identify the process from creator to customer, and look for other ethical and justice-oriented businesswomen for each link of the chain. Don’t underestimate the importance of friendships in strengthening those links.
12. Be prepared to think about competition favourably. Discover co-opetition.
Take pleasure in others’ successes – even if they are your competitors. Be prepared to share your insights and skills. Two independents can bring critical mass to an area and can do ‘co-opetitive deals’ when circumstances are right.
13. Understand your intellectual property and keep it safe.
Protect your IP. Refer to the Business & IP Centre for advice and free resources.
14. Know your history!
Take courage from those who’ve gone before.
15. Change the world!
Someone’s got to: why not you?
These insights have been distilled from interviews and conversations with owners and employees in social movement inspired enterprises and organisations including:
Feminist Book Fortnight/Five Leaves Books
With thanks and respect from the BOWW team.