Social Entrepreneur Index Nominee: Reward Agency
UMi sat down with Mitchel White, Managing Director of Reward Agency one of our nominees for the Social Entrepreneur Index 2020 who's advice is "Don’t spend years thinking about it. A lot of entrepreneurs wait for the right time, when in reality there isn’t one. Get started today."
What does your social enterprise do?
Reward is a sustainable branding & marketing agency working with ethical brands to unlock sustainable growth with branding, marketing and digital design.
We work with two types of brands; those who are already doing great stuff for the planet with a view to helping them reach more of their audience and grow sustainably, and organisations who might be new to sustainability and want to become more sustainable and reposition themselves in the marketplace.
What made you start your business up?
As a marketing agency, we have an influence on our clients and their industries. Our campaigns can have a negative or positive impact on people and the planet. We launched Reward as a way to help more brands do more good in response to a personal annoyance at the behaviour of brands and other agencies over the years.
We recognised that action needed to be taken to tackle the many environmental issues emerging and felt that as creatives and business strategists we were well-positioned to do so.
We also wanted to be able to use our success as a brand to give back. We donate 10% of our working month with volunteering and skills to social enterprises and charities to support those doing good. During COVID we’ve increased our time donation to 25%.
We’re also part of the Buy One, Give One scheme through our sister firm Copy Generators, which will see us donate 10% of our revenue to children’s charity, Save the Children.
How do you measure your impact?
We measure our impact through client results, campaign metrics and the good achieved through the additional growth we generate for our clients. We also monitor negative news and align our mission with the suggestions made by experts on what brands can be doing to make a positive impact.
One of our plans for the next 12 months is to improve the reporting of our impact. It’s something a lot of brands struggle with and we’re no different. Through collecting more data and asking more questions of our clients, we’re on our way to being able to deliver an even more positive impact.
What help did you have to start your social enterprise?
We have had some funding over the years, namely in the form of a startup loan with a major high street bank in 2014/15. Since then, we’ve grown organically and have continued to grow by reinvesting our profits into marketing, training and business development.
We have also had some support from the Growth Accelerator in Manchester via mentoring and coaching, our coach had a lot of experience which helped us gain a better understanding of the challenges that lay ahead when growing a brand.
How did you decide on what legal form would work best for your business?
Having freelanced for a number of years beforehand and as a business for profit, we decided on a limited company status. We believe generating a profit ethically gives us more opportunity to do more good.
What’s the best thing about being a social entrepreneur?
It might sound cliche, but knowing the positive impact you’re having is the biggest motivator. We feel like we’re a part of something much bigger than ourselves, we’re working with talented people who care about the planet and people to drive positive social change. By using our skills and knowledge we’re able to bring about change.
What have been the three biggest challenges that you have overcome (or that you’re still working on)?
Having started the agency in 2014, sustainability wasn’t a hot topic back then, pushing a message for a more conscious version of business was tough when nobody was listening. However, it has become a lot easier in recent years as the sustainable movement picks up pace and has become pretty hard to ignore.
Growing a team comes with its own challenges. As a small business owner you have to learn new skills quickly. Managing and enabling a team of passionate creatives and marketers is fun and challenging at the same time when you haven't grown a team before.
Finally, reporting on social impact has been a challenge for us, in 2020 we launched our Sustainable Development Goals Plan as part of our commitment to the UN SDG’s which has helped us hone in our important metrics and where we can improve on our impact.
What advice would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs?
Get started. Don’t spend years thinking about it. A lot of entrepreneurs wait for the right time, when in reality there isn’t one. Get started today. Start researching the space and your idea and start with small steps to realising your ambition. The world needs more social entrepreneurs.
Keep costs low in the early days, it’s easy to get excited when you’re launching a new brand. Don’t overspend and keep an eye on costs to make sure every penny you spend is working hard to achieve your goals.
Connect with other social entrepreneurs. The social enterprise and sustainability communities are open and love sharing their knowledge. Don’t be afraid to ask people in the space questions, they have overcome challenges to get to where they have - learn from them.
Know your audience and their pain points; this is what will help you grow as you begin your journey.
Why do you think social enterprise is important?
Everyone can have an impact, it’s our responsibility to act. We must all do our bit to ensure we have a thriving planet and communities. We all have personal passions and most can align to big problems in the world, whether it’s a lack of opportunity for those from developing countries or a frustration that more isn’t being done to tackle the wealth divide across the world. Whatever our passion, we can work towards creating change with social enterprise and business.
We can’t rely on governments and big business to do the right thing - we all have a duty to act and do what we believe is right for the planet and people.
What’s been your most rewarding experience as a social entrepreneur?
I mentioned above the cliche answer of seeing the impacts we deliver, but this has to be the biggest thrill of my job. Being able to help others to achieve growth for their businesses and charities whilst knowing that growth is going to do so much more than add profit to shareholders accounts.
Beyond that, helping consumers and brands understand the business and environmental benefits of being socially responsible is really rewarding. We can use our voice as an agency and mine as an entrepreneur to push for more positive change in business and consumer behaviour.
What information sources would you recommend (books, websites, organisations?) to help someone just starting their social enterprise journey?
I can’t not mention my best selling book here. Serve, is a book for ethical brands looking to grow sustainably with branding and marketing. It’s a really accessible book and one you can dip in and out of.
Apart from that, the Sustainable Development Goals website and edie.net are great sites to visit to read up on the latest news in the space.
What’s been the most surprising thing about creating a social enterprise?
I was surprised and still get taken aback sometimes at how helpful others in the space are. The willingness to share value and knowledge is amazing. I’ve had many 5 minute conversations with other social entrepreneurs where I’ve come away having learnt so much. The collaboration across organisations is something that puts a smile on my face too.
What are your plans for the next 2-5 years?
Our mission is to enable every organisation to have a more positive impact on the planet and people. We have a clear roadmap of where we want the business to be and plan to grow the team and agency over the next 5 years.
In recent weeks we also launched a new unlimited copywriting service for SMES and startups called Copy Generators which is part of our growth plan.
What is the biggest change you would like to see in the world?
I’d love to see a more conscious awareness and action around the climate crisis as well as a more compassionate way of life.
What have been your three proudest moments as a social entrepreneur?
- Ribble Packaging success story: We helped a sustainable packaging organisation reduce CO2 emissions for large national retailers by taking lorries off the road with a perfect sized box solution whilst generating £6.5m in additional revenue. A positive impact across different stakeholders from our client, to the supply chain, the environment and the consumer.
- Introducing a Buy1, Give1 model & giving initiatives: Everytime we work with a client we give to a giving project through Buy1, Give1 - we’re able to tie our growth to giving and make sure we’re having a positive impact.
- Being in the position to donate our time to nurture new creative talent: I’m a big believer in education and opportunity, we’re fortunate to be able to give back to our community by donating our time and skills.
What would you say to encourage more entrepreneurs to consider the social impact of their businesses?
Organisations that don’t consider their impact won’t exist in 10-15 years with changing consumer expectations and empowerment - if you don’t consider your impact, you will be left behind. We all have a responsibility as entrepreneurs to have as positive an impact on people and the environment as possible.
The UK Social Entrepreneur Index is a celebration of social entrepreneurship across the UK.
Open to social entrepreneurs tackling a social or environmental issue at any scale, entrants will act as beacons of inspiration for others to encompass positive social impact.
For more information visit www.socialentsindex.co.uk