Interested to find out what it means to work with purpose-driven businesses? "What even is a purpose-driven business" I hear you calling out from behind your screens - surely every business has a purpose?

In this edition of the Ethical Marketer I spoke with Maria Soleil of Soleil Marketing, a marketing consultant based in London. I wanted to hear her thoughts on transitioning to work with businesses that "do good" to people or the environment, and to get her thoughts on a range of other business and environmental issues, knowing first-hand how passionate Maria is about vital issues like climate change 🌍.

Maria kindly took the time out of her busy schedule - between witnessing the historic re-introduction of Bison to the Kent landscape, to applying to become a certified B Corp business, to answer these questions for me below 👇.

Interview with Marketing Consultant Maria Soleil

Matt:  I love that you are focused on helping purpose-driven businesses with their marketing activities. Was there anything in particular that led you to make this transition, and how have you found it compared to helping “normal” businesses? Does it feel more rewarding, or just like work as normal?

Maria: In 2020, after being made redundant from my job in travel marketing, I was fortunate to have some time to think and plan my next steps. I decided to go self-employed and mapped out who my ideal clients were, alongside my personal and professional values. I wanted to do work which was about solving problems, and creating positive impact for people and the planet. This is what purpose-driven businesses are all about.

It does feel more rewarding, for sure. I get to work with people who are as passionate as I am about making change, for the better.

Matt: Do you think that we’ve begun to see more business and entrepreneurialism off the back of the climate crisis and issues surrounding the environment, in a way trying to raise awareness of key issues whilst also running a profitable business? If so, do you think we’ll continue seeing more businesses setup in this mould? Is there a risk they aim to capitalise on what is going on?

Maria: Yes. It is a high growth area for business, because of the climate emergency and increasing socio-economic inequality we’re seeing, even in developed nations. What’s interesting is that being purpose-driven has been traditionally seen as an area for charities or social enterprises, but many traditional, more ‘commercial’ businesses have shown that it’s more profitable to work to solve a problem that is bigger than themselves. Patagonia was one of the brands at the vanguard of this type of business model.

I don’t see it as a risk if more businesses try to capitalise on this. Ultimately, we need more businesses to work collectively on solving societal and environmental problems, not just selling products for their own benefit. 

Matt: Have you ever struggled with businesses approaching you that don’t necessarily fit the type of business you hope to work with? Is there ever any difficulty or awkwardness in rejecting the chance to work with them?

Maria: This does happen and it does make me pause for thought. I tend to see it as an opportunity to educate more business owners about things like the UN Sustainable Development Goals, how to avoid greenwashing and similar topics.

There are businesses I wouldn’t want to work with, such as those who are causing significant environmental or social harm.

Matt: Do you think that all marketing specialists could make the kind of transition you have made, so the likes of SEO consultants, social media specialists, web designers, etc, or do you think that as a marketing strategist you’re better suited for this type of role?

Maria: Good question! I think it’s an opportunity for everyone in marketing, whatever their skillset. We all need to understand what we can do to reduce carbon emissions and regenerate the planet, personally and professionally.

It works well as a strategist because I generally get a birds-eye view of all the marketing activity in a business. That means that I can influence all tactics, including the ones you’ve mentioned. I can also join the dots from marketing, to operations, finance, product etc.

Matt: You’ve recently announced and began to document the transition to becoming a certified B-Corp (congratulations!) - was there any specific motivation for this, and how did you find the process in general? 

Maria: Thank you. Ever since I came across B Corp and B Lab in 2020 I wanted to be a part of it. To me, it is one of the best movements out there for representing what purpose-driven business is. It’s not perfect, and they’ve made some questionable decisions recently in terms of who they’ve certified, but no organisation is without flaws. I think it is a sensible business decision for me at the moment.

B Corp certification taken from Maria's blog post on her B corp application process

Matt: Are there any particular purpose-driven businesses that you’d really love to help with their marketing? If you could list a few dream clients or projects, what would they look like?

Maria: There are lots. I want to help as many purpose-driven businesses as is humanly possible! In particular, I admire the work of The Wildlife Trusts, The Shaw Trust and the Samaritans. Also Cook Kitchen, who are local to me in Kent. I’d like to work with more clients in the renewable energy space.

Matt: Having studied journalism and worked as a freelance journalist, do you think that gives you a nice grounding and sense for what makes a good story? I can imagine it’s very helpful when it comes to copywriting or advising on tone of voice for the businesses you come to work with.

Maria: Yes, I think so. I am naturally curious (which is why I went into journalism in the first place), but the core skills I learnt in identifying a story, interviewing, writing and editing have been invaluable. 

Matt: What do you find the most challenging thing when working with “for purpose” businesses? Are there any common/recurring themes working with them vs other generic businesses?

Maria: Probably not knowing their personal limitations in terms of the impact they can create. Being passionate and driven about solving problems can push people to overwork and burnout. I’m a big proponent of donning the oxygen mask before helping others with theirs, because if you prioritise your own well being first, you’re in a stronger position to help others.

Matt: And on the flipside - what’s the best thing about working with “for purpose” businesses? 

Maria: Due to shared values, there is a natural tendency for founders, CEOs and employees to be kind, patient, and human. Also knowing that I’m increasing their positive impact as a business by improving their marketing. Because more brand awareness or sales for a purpose-driven company results in higher ability to solve socio-environmental problems. 

Matt: Do you ever struggle with the nuance of what a “for purpose” business might be? For example - some business sectors might imagine they’re fitting the bill solely if they are providing a vital service - eg a business in the mental health space, or a psychologist. Do you have a specific definition or guidelines that you follow when deciding who you’d want to work with?

Maria: I always refer to Professor Colin Mayer’s definition of purpose-driven business to guide my business philosophy. He says a purpose-driven business is one that aspires “to produce profitable solutions to the problems of people and planet, and not to profit from producing problems for people or planet.” So essentially, a business needs to make money from solving socio-environmental problems, and not make money from creating them. That applies to a whole host of businesses. I wrote about it here

It’s the best definition yet that I’ve come across, but it’s a growing, evolving space, with lots of almost interchangeable terminology (e.g. ethical, sustainable). The BSI standard for purpose-driven organisations was also recently released, which is a useful reference point.

Matt: From your own marketing perspective have you found it easier to find clients and generate work since making the transition? What do you think is the most successful channel for generating your own new client leads?

Maria: I have only ever worked in this space since setting up my own business, but it’s been very successful so far. LinkedIn, online communities and referrals have been most useful for generating leads and building relationships.

Matt: You’re also a member of the Digital Marketing Union like myself. What led you to discover the DMU, and what is it that you enjoy the most? 

Maria: I discovered it back in autumn 2020, and haven’t looked back since. I like the fact it’s a fairly small, tight knit community, with people who really know their stuff, in both digital marketing and running a successful small business. It helps keep me up to date with the latest trends and developments in SEO, PPC, analytics (looking at you, GA4) and more.

Matt: You’ve been running your own interview series over on your blog whereby you speak to leaders of other for-purpose businesses. How’s that gone so far - has it been well received? There are some lovely sounding businesses on there!

Maria: I haven’t been as consistent with it as I would like, but it’s been quite well received. Thank you for the compliment! 

Matt: I recently heard that you were lucky enough to see Bison being introduced to the wild in the UK for the first time ever! How was it to witness such a huge event, and how did you first get involved with the Kent Wildlife Trust?

Maria: I reached out to them a few months back because I wanted to support a local environmental charity with pro-bono time. 

Seeing the bison released was incredible. It was definitely one for the memory bank. It’s a huge project for the trust, with international media interest, and I hope it sets a precedent for more similar rewilding projects in the UK.

Matt: For anyone reading along out there that also works in the field of marketing but whom might not feel their work is very rewarding - do you think switching to work with businesses that do good, or have a purpose, might be one for them to consider too? 

Maria: One hundred per cent. If something is not sitting right with you when it comes to work, you have to explore why. If that means transitioning to clients who are solving wider problems, I can assure you that your skills are needed.

Maria Soleil - helping purpose-driven businesses increase turnover, brand awareness and positive socio-environmental impact.

👏 Thanks to Maria for sharing her thoughts with me!

Hopefully you enjoyed reading this glimpse into the working life of Maria Soleil.

Maria's website
Maria on Twitter
Maria on LinkedIn

If you fancy having a chat about issues around purpose-driven businesses, or anything else that might fall under the ethical marketing category, please don't hesitate to reach out.