Sustainable Business Models: What's Out There
Most examples of the sustainable business models that we've found on the net are lovely in theory but are absent in real business experience and practical application. Our goal in developing this model is to share something that is practical for small business, environmentally responsible, and actually useful.
Drawing inspiration from the generative metaphor of a flower, here are the graphics we designed:
Principles of a Sustainable Business
Before we get into the explanation of how to use the template [jump ahead], let's begin by covering a pragmatic definition of what makes a business sustainable.
1. Dedicated Long-Term Customer Relationships
Excellent customer service works both ways - appreciative clients will help a business to find new clients, provide critical long-term feedback, and even help organizations to survive market volatility (like the current recession).
2. Environmental Responsibility
A sustainable business will account for the triple bottom line and incorporate environmental principles into standard practice.
If your business is authentically 'green,' this can be great for long-term growth as well. For more information on the value of authenticity, check out the book Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want and our own post on wind-power web hosting.
3. Profit and Power Sharing
Businesses can significantly improve productivity and reduce troublesome 'office politics' by creating a healthy environment of mutual respect. For any successful business, that respect should be financial as well as personal.
This approach has worked wonderfully for UPS, W.L. Gore and Associates, and many others. In contrast, we can look at business-giants like Wal-Mart, whose lack of respect for their 'associates' has continually undermined consumer confidence and imperiled their operations.
A Botany-Based Business Plan
At CartaNova, we wanted our business model to use a 'generative' metaphor - that of sustainable long-term growth. We chose a flower. Each element of the flower's design reflects a natural process - for example 'services' (the roots) provide revenue (nutrition) to your business and its clients (petals) in order to establish mutual growth.
Building Solid Foundations
A flower with a weak foundation (low revenue), over sized petals (unwieldy client demands and expenditures), or poor nutrition (products) will not support itself nor will it appear particularly attractive to new customers. Our design is intended to reflect both a structural and natural metaphor for business operations.
A sound structure is particularly important to long-term business growth. Many businesses fail because they are built on weak foundations (venture capital), wishful thinking (start up cultures) or nothing much at all (see: recent recession). The structural metaphor also extends into marketing - a healthy, happy business is an attractive business to consumers.
We've arranged the design to include some visual hierarchy. The petals are 'customer types' on the left half of the design and 'revenue planning' to the right. Each set of petals are ordered with the top petal being the primary customer type and expenditure.
Clients: For long-term sustainability, employees will discover their best employee practice, customer service, and marketing strategy by engaging with their favorite customer types. For CartaNova, that's Renewable Energy Business.
Revenue: On the revenue side, long-term provisioning (savings) is critical to riding the unforeseen events and problems that all organizations encounter. We've made the top petal long-term revenue planning because it is especially important for small businesses (which encounter greater market volatility).
Lower Design Elements = How Things Grow
As the Sustainable Business Model descends visually, we also see more generative elements (the soil, the roots, products and services). The lowest petal is for the most creative of client types - new sole proprietors. If successful, these clients will have an enduring appreciation for your assistance in cultivating their small business - and will reward your own business with further work and contacts over time.
Note: If you cannot or do not wish to provide excellent service to a customer, politely decline their business and suggest a new option for them. By acknowledging that your business goals are not in sync with their own, both parties leave the conversation satisfied that they have made the right decision in not doing business with one another. This is far better than having a customer leave angry.
At the 'roots' of this business 'plant' we see the long tail. Just as cultivating small-size or small-order customers can lead to long-term business growth, so can providing long-tail services appropriate to the type of customers you want to have.
Connecting with niche-area clients can be accomplished though numerous marketing methods. For more information about marketing, please read our previous posts Online Marketing: What's Different and What Works and An Introduction to Marketing (with Purple Cows!).
Inspirations for this Sustainable Design Template
The design inspiration for the CartaNova Sustainable Business Model comes from many sources, including Robert Palmer's infamous U.S. Health Care Re-Design and these wonderful Victorian infographics from the David Rumsey Map Collection.
We hope this design is useful to you. Please share your comments and/or ideas below!