What’s Your Story? A New Way To Do The Business Model Canvas
The current business model canvas has been designed with the only thing capitalism is focused on - profit. Yet, as more people become socially conscious and begin to question why certain aspects of our society operate in the ways that they currently do, more people are going to begin seeking ways to become community-focused and self-sufficient. Part of this transformation can be done through a new way of looking at entrepreneurship.
Once a trendy term for trust-funds-kids testing out new ideas with their parent’s money, could now be a prime site for people from historically underpaid and deeply underrepresented communities to grow. Through developing an entrepreneurial canvas model that allows small and medium-sized locally-based companies to put their values and mission at the same priority as turning profits, we can help more people leave corporate structures that do not align with their values or needs and help them refocus their energy towards a profitable and fulfilling business for themselves and their communities.
In this essay, I will introduce a more inclusive approach to developing a business model canvas, one that is based on becoming financially sustainable in addition to having an equally clear internal and external priority for being socially sustainable as well.
To do this, I will begin by offering an analysis of the traditional canvas model which will be helpful in identifying the ways in which the current canvas focuses on profits over the mission of a business. From there I will propose my changes to the current canvas, highlighting the areas that need reform as well as proposing a few additions to the current canvas. I will conclude by detailing why my approach to the canvas model can help us move towards more self-sustainable and interconnected communities while bringing new people into entrepreneurship from communities that are traditionally underrepresented in the field.
The Current BMC
The current model has nine main sections as follows:
The canvas is typically understood to have the nine pieces broken down into four major categories: “infrastructure, offering, customers, and finances”. Each of these segments are considered to be important as they work collaboratively across categories to help potential customers and investors, along with your own team, to know how you - the founder, see the business and what you want it to become over time.
Starting with infrastructure, which includes everything you need to run your business, the segments are: key partners, key activities, and key resources. This category is totally focused on the what and who it will take to get your venture off the ground and bringing customers in.
While activities are what you need to do as a company to make the resources work, resources and partners can be a bit of an overlap. For this model, partnerships is anyone who is “on board to see your business succeed” while resources is what you will need to be “able to perform your key activities”.
The next category is the offering which is entirely focused on the value proposition. The value proposition is the you segment where there should be as much detail as possible as to why you are not only different from competitors, but also why your customers should want to work with you; it should be directed and written for the customers, not investors.
The following category of focus is the customers which highlights the customer relationship, segments, and channels. Like the prior category, this is similarly written to help better understand these connections between the value you offer and the people you hope to have as customers; and like other areas of the canvas, these all play into each other as well.
While customer relationships details the kind of relationship you seek to have, i.e. “transactional, personal, automated, self-service, community oriented” customer segments are to detail who your various “types” of customers will be, and most importantly, which segment will be the first you focus on when starting your business, and why. The last part of this category is channels, which is where you detail the ways you will be gathering leads for the customer segment section.
The final category is finances, which covers the cost structure along with revenue streams. This section is rather self explanatory, but it is worth nothing that again, this section is directly linked into the type of relationship you seek to have with your customers. The structure details the costs and expenses associated with running your business while the revenue structure is the way you will be creating income, these can include direct sales, subscription services, or a freemium platform.
Going through these categories and their affiliated segments it becomes clear that there are some major missing considerations that should be made if we hope to lower the gatekeeping to entrepreneurship and make it a field with ample opportunity for those with the most barriers to creating a self sustaining and community focused business.
The Social/Personal Business Model Canvas
As a former community organizer, and a leader that uses disability justice frameworks to help me navigate the entrepreneurial landscape in my own attempts to launch a consulting firm, I ground my work in first knowing where I come from and why I am personally invested in the work I am doing.
A key tenet of disability justice is “nothing about us, without us”, and this should be at the heart of inclusive entrepreneurship overall.
There is little room for savior complexes in the new world order many young people, myself included, are rightfully pushing for; instead we want to have more leaders that are in touch with the communities they serve. It should be no different in entrepreneurship, and this is the foundation from which my revised canvas model begins.
Part 1: Story of Self
I propose that there be a fifth category to the model, which is a focus on the self. In doing this step, we begin to push back against the traditional entrepreneurial norms that dictate if you can sell it, you should. That is not that case under this model.
This is not a place for ego to come alive, rather this is a place to be humble and recognize that as an entrepreneur in a global community, we must first know who we are and why we are the best choice to offer our services or products to the customer.
Similar to the other categories of the traditional BMC, this new section will also be important to consider in relation to the other categories, however, it needs to be completed first, before the rest of the canvas.
The category has three sections: personal narrative, business/community relationship, and mission/values statement. I believe that in order to have a business that is not solely focused on profits, there needs to be a deeper connection to not only the things for sale, but also to the community you hope to sell the goods or services to and how your values and mission are related to that. Each section helps to highlight this deeper connection.
A personal narrative is where the entrepreneur will detail the reasons why they are personally the right fit to be offering their product or service. Through understanding one’s own personal and intimate connection with the work, it can help everyone who gets involved in the work to know the authenticity of the relationship they are developing with the business.
Community connection is similar to other areas of the canva, like key partners and customer segments, however, this is a space for the entrepreneur to dig more into the personal narrative aspect of the canvas and further explain their connection to the community they hope to interact with; an example of this is how in the opening paragraph of the Introducing: The Social/Personal Business Model Canvas part of this essay, I explained how storytelling is inherently part of my upbringing in community organizing spaces, that is from where I draw my knowledge and expertise. If I were to share my personal narrative, the importance of those spaces for my life trajectory up to this point would quickly become clear.
The final part of the Story of Self section of my canvas model is where entrepreneurs can highlight their intentions for giving back to their communities, employees, or other non-profit making stakeholders. This can include how the company intends to be ecologically sustainable or provide community benefits. This is also where the values in which the entrepreneur personally holds and is holding at the heart of their business should be explicitly detailed.
Part 2: Infrastructure
This section was not changed from the original Business Model Canvas. It has entrepreneurs consider key partners, key resources, and key activities as detailed in the above section The Current BMC and in the provided graphic.
Part 3: Offerings
This part of my Social/Personal Business Model Canvas also does not deviate much from the original BMC, however, it does strongly encourage entrepreneurs to refer back to Part 1: Story of Self for the personal narrative as well as the values and mission statements.
Part 4: Customers
Here, entrepreneurs will again find a similar set up to the original Business Model Canvas in terms of establishing their customer relationships, customer segments, and channels for marketing. However, the Social/Personal Business Model highlights the strategy of social media marketing strategies as well as where the entrepreneur is encouraged to connect their personal narrative once again into their marketing strategies.
Part 5: Finances
In the final section for both this new canvas model as well as the original model is for the consideration of financial structures. In the Social/Personal Model however, I ask entrepreneurs to consider how both their cost and revenue will be working in tandem with supporting their mission and uplifting their values. In revenue streams I offer a pay-what-you can, sliding scale, or donation based revenue model to be considered. Some entrepreneurs may find it helpful to use a combination of these revenue models to be able to support and uplift their larger mission.
In addition to creating a new category for entrepreneurs to consider that interplays among other parts of the original Business Model Canvas, I also decided that the physical canvas needed an update. These changes were made to increase the accessibility to entrepreneurship with fun and easy to understand social graphics that were aesthetically more approachable for those without a background in business. The original graphics in their full form are formatted to be shared on Instagram and other social platforms.
To achieve this I broke down the canvas into digestible parts which can be self-paced as well as re-designing each part in a way that could be easily shared on social media. I also made the choice to update the original canvas from using short bullet point descriptions to offering complete and easy to understand directions for each segment of the canvas.
Finally, I also took the time to find correlating symbols for each segment to further help people who are more visually or shape oriented to better connect with what is being described in each segment as well as color coding each category.
Why Use The Social/Personal Business Model Canvas
In my approach to developing the Social/Personal Business Model Canvas, I wanted to help people who were interested in creating self-sustaining, community based, and deeply personal businesses that can serve a higher purpose for their larger networks and not be focused solely on increasing stakeholder profits. While the original Business Model Canvas can provide a strong foundation for understanding the more nitty gritty “business” pieces of a company, it lacks the heart for which many individuals look toward entrepreneurship as offering.
In choosing to use the Social/Personal Business Model Canvas, entrepreneurs are setting themselves up for success; through being able to not only define how their business will be able to make a profit, which is the focus of the BMC, but to also be able to state their personal stake in the work and community they are interacting and engaging with daily, an important piece that when left unchecked can quickly lead to cultural appropriation or misrepresentation.
Authenticity is at the heart of the SPBMC, and through harnessing this approach entrepreneurs will be able to set themselves apart from other competitors, quickly gain credibility, and develop a loyal customer base that is also invested in seeing the company thrive.
We live in a deeply connected and complex world, and while there are plenty of benefits and ample opportunities for mutual cultural appreciation and understanding embedded into this interconnection, there should still be an emphasis on reconnecting locally with entrepreneurs that want to help invest back into their communities as well.
Cousins, John. “Business Model Canvas.” Medium. Medium, August 7, 2018. https://johncousins-68418.medium.com/business-model-canvas-8fdcc1fc1a2f.
Johnson, Jonathan. “The Business Model Canvas: A Quick How-To Guide.” BMC Blogs, May 27, 2020. https://www.bmc.com/blogs/business-model-canvas/.