The will of the people

In an earlier blog post I shared the observation that a street demonstration is a manifestation of a failed democratic process.

To me it certainly felt like something of a ‘last resort’ at the Peoples Vote march in London, where folk of all ages united in a cheerful, peaceful and, I thought, powerful expression of ‘the will of the people by an estimated one million marchers.

When all has been said (but not done) to bring the Brexit debate to a resolution that might unite rather than divide UK voters, I turn to pithy and humorous messages that typify most mass demonstrations for light relief and insight. As a lifelong lover of language, such placards and banners can capture and communicate in a short sharp way that no amount of bluster from MPs and commentators even can. Maybe the leave-remain debate should be decided by a showdown – placards at dawn?

What follows is a small selection of the placards at the Peoples Vote march. They’re broadly grouped under four headings – hasty handmade; pointing the finger; playing on words; using humour…

One placard – the first I saw – encapsulates all four elements (see right)…

The majority of placards were handmade – but it was the crude, handwritten and simplest ones had, for me, an added effectiveness – produced by real people speaking from the heart…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were prime targets for the strong feelings of the demonstrators; Theresa May and the members of the so-called European Research Group were, for obvious reasons, first in the firing line…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other placards went for a play on words – Brexit and breakfast, May the Prime Minister and May the month etc – some more contrived than others…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, there were ones of note for their subtle and not-so-subtle use of words to make people laugh. Humour is, of course, subjective but these are a couple of the other messages that made me giggle…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to fellow marchers (including my family) for sending me home thinking that maybe we’re not all, as Private Frazer from Dad’s Army would put it – doomed. Thinks – maybe Dad’s Army could have done a better job with sorting out the Brexit shambles. Captain Mainwaring for PM anyone?

For a flavour of the march https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=52&v=81eLXg21VSA

More signs of protest – from the NHS March in London in March 2017  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/03/11/nine-healthy-signs-nhs

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Thinking big

My dear old mum used to say that if all the money put into probation and prisons was invested in nurseries, after a generation prisons wouldn’t be needed. I was reminded of this when learning recently about a social enterprise that I think is simply brilliant.

70% of toddlers and infants aged up to four years in Brazil have no access to nurseries. A 27-year old entrepreneur has set out to change this by organising ‘community mothers’ to provide home-based daycare centres.  Like all the best social enterprises, Elisa Mansur’s initiative MOPI (The Movement for Education) is a simple idea that works at so many levels:

  • It trains community mothers of all ages in best-practice childhood education through play
  • It creates employment for those traditionally disadvantaged in the Brazilian jobs market
  • It provides accessible and affordable nursery places to free-up family members for additional purposeful activity
  • Above all, it gives the next generation the enriched start in life they deserve and need for a fulfilling future and for the wider benefit of society

Whenever I see what I think is a simply brilliant idea, I can’t resist imagining it being replicated in the UK. The need for accessible and affordable quality nursery spaces is real, as is the undeniable benefit of providing training and employment for people who might run them. But I’m afraid I can only see the heavy hand of bureaucracy spouting all sorts about safeguarding, quality assurance, and limited resources. But, given the reward of success, it doesn’t stop me speculating.

And my mother might well have been right about the long-term impact of investing in nurseries, but we’ll never know of course; politicians think they can only think-and-do short term – operating with five-year horizons. But we can dream, can’t we?

Here’s a short film about Elisa Mansur’s vision http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20190307-the-27-year-old-protecting-brazils-hidden-job-economy

What makes a great performer?

At one of the community breakfasts I attend on a regular basis (the promise of a Full English cooked by someone else can get me out early even on a wet and windy morning…) I was talking hospitals with someone who knows operating theatres from the inside. I commented on the use of the word ‘theatre’ in this context. “But it’s correct” she said “You should see that way some of the surgeons perform!”  The brief chat got me thinking…

A surgeon doesn’t have a very big audience – the most important member is usually unconscious and colleagues should be doing their various jobs rather than sitting back and admiring the performer’s handy-work – however skillful s/he may be.

At a folk concert on the other hand the performer is very much in the spotlight and is there to entertain and (not unfairly) will be judged. At a concert the night before our breakfast-time conversation there was, I thought, a considerable gulf between the support act and the ‘headliner’. When I go to hear someone sing/play music, I don’t want to sit worrying on their behalf – that something is about to go wrong – I want to relax and enjoy the experience (particularly when I’ve paid to be there!)

The main act that I was there to see – a solo artist – did not disappoint. He’d been playing and singing on his own and in bands for decades and, apart from the ravages of time that affected his waistline and (a little I thought) his vocal dexterity, his performance was masterful. He was in charge, he controlled the tempo of the set and the audience reaction with it. He also managed to appear vulnerable but you never doubted that if there were any mistakes they’d go unnoticed by most of the adoring and forgiving supporters.

And I think that vulnerability is important alongside the confidence and the expression of sheer talent – I don’t want my performers to be like well-drilled machines; I want humanity and feeling.

Which reminds me of a talk I attended many years ago. It was given by the head of a very large public sector body – responsible for a budget of many millions and the livelihoods of many millions of people. He was also the managing director of a successful family business so he wasn’t just a professional bureaucrat. It was only because I was on the second row that I could see his hand was shaking as he gave his well-rehearsed and fluent presentation. Great, I thought, despite all that status he’s as human as the rest of us!

Do you know about the Impostor Syndrome? https://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_cox_what_is_imposter_syndrome_and_how_can_you_combat_it?language=en

Wise words from StartUp 2019 

Last Saturday I was in London for StartUp 2019 – a wonderful diverse gathering of entrepreneurs at all stages in their business start-up journeys (it seems we all have to be on a ‘journey’ these days). I’d been so impressed by StartUp 2018 I just had to return; I wasn’t disappointed…  

On getting started

“You have to ask a lot of favours at the start. Talk to as many people as possible and you may get lucky.” Tugce Bulut @tugcebulut Streetbees

“Don’t start promoting your new business too early; people get bored. 6 – 8 weeks before you launch is enough time to build interest and excitement.”  Jo Tutchener-Sharp @scampanddudejo Scamp & Dude

 “At the start I was vomiting every day through stress. Stress is a function of uncertainty and when you start a business everything is uncertain. I didn’t understand all the elements [of starting a business] – all start-ups go through this at some stage.” Steve Moore @flightclubdarts Flight Club Social Darts

“ Startup is the hardest you’ll ever work; forget work-life balance. For success it will be all-consuming – it takes a lot, it’s not for the faint-hearted.“ Jo Tutchener-Sharp @scampanddudejo Scamp & Dude

“Don’t jump too soon [from your paid employment] … when you go fulltime so much more will happen. I took a sabbatical when our business started.”  Amber Fraser, @Bravefoods Brave Foods

 “There’s no point in turning up unless you’re going to do quality. It costs the same to do a bad job badly as a good job well.”  Mike Soutar @mikesoutar

“Hold off getting your first employee as long as possible. You’ll know when the time is right – for me it was starting to do a bad job, I was reducing my face-to-face contact [with clients and other stakeholders]” Amber Fraser, @Bravefoods Brave Foods

On funding your start-up

“Don’t raise money until you have to (and don’t listen to people that tell you otherwise)” Tugce Bulut @tugcebulut Streetbees

 “I told my first investors (43 friends) – ‘whatever you invest, expect to lose it’.” Steve Moore @flightclubdarts Flight Club Social Darts

“It was eight months before we got our first investment – through cold-calling but via connections… You need to be clear about your ambitions and risk tolerances. With money you can make mistakes but blowing your life-savings is best avoided!” Amber Fraser, @Bravefoods Brave Foods

On choosing an investor… “There’s a real difference between a ‘cash provider’ and a ‘passionate partner’… If you have the right partner it doesn’t feel like you’re giving away part of your business; more like you’re gaining.” Tugce Bulut @tugcebulut Streetbees

The importance of other people

“Employing the right people is almost the hardest part of any business – if you get it right everything else falls into place, bit it takes time and mistakes.” Tugce Bulut @tugcebulut Streetbees

“You can be a lone wolf, but if you want to scale your business you need to establish relationships you can trust early on. Draw on your past experience and contacts – you can’t be an expert at everything!” Ross Jones @brandfarmfilms Brand Farm Films

“Have a strong business partner or someone else you can share your bad days with.”

“Your support network is incredibly important. You need people around you to remind you it’s not good for your health to immerse yourself in your business.” Tugce Bulut @tugcebulut Streetbees

“Have someone to whom you’re ‘accountable’ – it could be someone in a different business.”

“When you’re feeling down, go back to your clients and users [why you’re in business] it will give you a lot of energy.” Tugce Bulut @tugcebulut Streetbees

Marketing – what works?

“It’s important you’ve got a point of difference. Imagine you’re opening a magazine of your choice – could it feature your product/ brand; is it newsworthy?   Jo Tutchener-Sharp @scampanddudejo Scamp & Dude

“Building credibility, trust, face-to-face relationships, and referrals” Tugce Bulut @tugcebulut Streetbees

 “Find influencers who believe in what you’re doing – not necessarily the people with the biggest following, it’s important they are the right sort of person’”  Jo Tutchener-Sharp @scampanddudejo Scamp & Dude

“Three mistakes with PR [press/public relations]: a fear of self-promotion; having no press hook [for your approach to media outlets]; going in cold [so do your research before approaching a journalist]” Amanda Ruiz @amandaruizuk

On PR on a budget… “Don’t ‘say and spray’ – personalise your message to journalists, get to know them, understand their work and interests. Get on their radar in a good way (don’t stalk them!) help them to help you. Pitch to the right editor in the right publication. Get into the head of the magazine’s readers (and the editor).” Amanda Ruiz @amandaruizuk

How to succeed

“I like the uncomfortable times, big challenges, building stuff, constructing a business.” Steve Moore @flightclubdarts Flight Club Social Darts

“Protecting my intellectual property was really important for me. I recommend you protect it and then stand up for yourself. I was supported by my online customers – whom I regard as friends more than followers – sharing [the infringements] and getting angry.” Jo Tutchener-Sharp @scampanddudejo Scamp & Dude

“If you go into a business with a plan to sell it, it’ll never work.” Steve Moore @flightclubdarts Flight Club Social Darts

“Ask yourself – will you still love what you’re doing in 5- 10 years? Your heart and soul should be in it when you start your business.”   Jo Tutchener-Sharp @scampanddudejo Scamp & Dude

“Base your price on the market, not your costs.” Steve Moore @flightclubdarts Flight Club Social Darts

“Not everyone is going to invent Facebook. Ideas are overrated – it’s the execution that matters.” Ross Jones @brandfarmfilms Brand Farm Films

“If you’re a good leader, it’s because you can make decisions, quickly, with limited data. Some will be good decisions, some bad…. Decision-making to a businessman is like clay to a sculptor.” Mike Soutar @mikesoutar

“We look at four areas of risk: financial (mainly cashflow); people (having good staff); operational (coping with growth, including space); change (limiting your ‘operational debt’).”  Steve Moore @flightclubdarts Flight Club Social Darts

On embracing change…

“Be brave, your business plan will change, go with it – be open to change, consider the implications of each new step.” Carly Menken, Head of SME Trading, Direct Line for Business

“Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know – find out, learn, it will get sorted.” Hayley McClelland, The Fairy Dogmothers

“Back yourself – talk to others in a similar position” Ross Jones @brandfarmfilms Brand Farm Films

“Be willing to accept change and reflect on making the most of it. Make time to step back from the day-to-day – let the thinking part of your brain take over from the execution part – to be strategic.” Amber Fraser, @Bravefoods Brave Foods

“Learn how to ‘chunk down’. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, so break down [your challenges] into parts, small milestones. Change your perspective – if you have a ‘freeze moment’ go away, re-think, take a chance, learn from failure.” Carly Menken, Head of SME Trading, Direct Line for Business

And finally…

A new word: Brexhaustion. Two new abbreviations: EIS – Enterprise Investment Scheme (‘like Giftaid for investors’) and UGC – User Generated Content. A career-change website with an emphasis on business start-up https://www.escapethecity.org A book recommendation: https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jamie-Waller/Unsexy-Business–How-12-entrepreneurs-in-ordinary-busines/22722516

What I learned at StartUp 2018  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2018/01/15/enterprise-essentials-21-tips-from-startup-2018 

The broken phone

The other day I was travelling to London by train minding my own business; in fact, I was literally minding my own business! I was on my way to StartUp 2019 – a brilliant day of inspiration for would-be entrepreneurs (the subject for a future blog post). I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between a daughter and her dad sitting directly in front of me.

What caught my attention – I don’t listen in to all conversations on trains, you know – was the daughter’s declaration, while looking despondently into the palm of her hand, Cheap phones break easily. It was a profound and articulate observation from someone I’d estimate to be 10-12 years old, and it particularly struck a chord with me as I’m preparing for our 20th community repair session at the Royston Repair Café in February.

There followed a discussion between the girl and her father along the lines of …

G: Will they be able to mend the crack dad?                                                                                                 F: No – they’ll replace the whole screen                                                                                                          G: Will it be the same colour around the edge?                                                                                           F: Probably not, but your case will cover that up                                                                                        G: Will they be able to mend it straight away?                                                                                            F: No – you’ll have to leave it with them for a while                                                                                   G: Oh dear…                                                                                                                                                      F: But we can take out your sim card to use in another phone. First, we should find out how much it will cost to repair – it might be cheaper to get a new one. How much did it cost?                                   G: £135                                                                                                                                                          F: I’ll check out some prices for new phones [says Dad as he looks online on his own phone]               G: [looking over dad’s shoulder] Wow! You can get same day delivery and a special colour with that one.

Despite being impressed by technical specifications which meant nothing to me but clearly made sense to this mature pre-teen (Isn’t 3-D meant to be bad for your eyes? she asked at one point) I was heartened by what she said next…

But I’d want to keep my old phone if my case doesn’t fit a new one – it’s special. By this time the previously attentive father seemed to be more interested in buying a new phone for his daughter than she was.

I’d like to report that the conversation continued as follows…

G: No dad – I’ve decided I want to hang on to this phone – I love it and it does me fine. Getting a new one would be a waste of money and, well… wasteful.                                      F: OK – let’s  get it repaired and [looking at his own phone] amazing – it says here you can take broken phones to a local Repair Café or Restart Party and fixes are free! Or we could go to a website called iFixit and try to repair it ourselves. And there’s even a guide here to repairing cracked phone screens using something called Sugru.

I made up that last bit because, sad to say, the two travellers arrived at their destination and got off the train before me, so I’ll never know what became of that broken phone. But we can all dream, can’t we? It may be all we have to sustain us!

Help make the dream come true – spread the word…

https://therestartproject.org

https://www.ifixit.com

https://sugru.com/tech-gadget/how-to-fix-a-cracked-phone-screen.html

https://repaircafe.org/en

www.facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe

Back to work

Last week I started a new job. For me that’s not so unusual – it’s not that I get sacked a lot; it’s just that for much of the past 20 years I’ve been working on time-limited projects lasting from one to three years.

What this means is that I’ve got a range of experiences of starting a new job; that exciting if a little scary introduction to your new employer and fellow employees. The learning is not all one-way of course – you and your new colleagues are both sniffing each other out (and are, presumably, both keen to make a good first impression).

I should say here and now that my new team (and yes – is does already feel like a team) have made me very welcome – the right balance of informal chat, hard information, and time to learn. I think this reflects well on the wider organisation which I’ve known for the past 15 years. What they’ve made of me is, of course, an unknown (and what they’ll make of me after a staff talent show at the end of this week is even more worrying…)

What may be more instructive is to focus on the best and worst introductions I’ve had to new employers and, particularly, that first apprehensive day. As we all know, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. To save their blushes, I’m not naming names here (maybe they know who they are?)

My worst first day was not as bad as the experience of two people I know who didn’t even make it to the end of the day – one of them even left his coat behind, so keen was he to escape after the lunch break. In fact, the day in question started well enough – on arrival I was presented with a folder to read with induction materials in it. I later discovered the organisation was jumping through an ‘Investors in People’ hoop and I was never referred to that file in the rest of the time I was with the organisation. But the most memorable moment was when the Chief Officer – my line manager – arrived and declared (without knowing I was in earshot) “Oh, I’d forgotten he was coming”. Not the most positive welcome and, in truth, the relationship never really recovered. Which isn’t to say I didn’t work with some great colleagues and enjoy my role, but first impressions do count. I don’t think it left a permanent scar – although here I am talking about it two decades later!

On my best first day I was introduced to one of the biggest and most friendly organisations with which I’ve worked. There was a bunch of flowers, a bowl of fruit, and a card waiting on my desk and when I was introduced to colleagues on two floors, I was amazed that everyone seemed to know about me and asked questions that conveyed real interest. I later discovered that the trick was pulled off by my line manager sending an internal e-mail around alerting staff to my arrival – simple but effective. That thoughtfulness and friendliness continued throughout my time in the organisation although, ironically, the job didn’t turn out as I had hoped it would.

So, what have I learnt about my various arrivals in new roles with employers in the not-for-private-profit sector?

  • First impressions count: It’s a cliché, but it’s very hard for employers to win back respect if they have sent out the wrong signals in the early days and weeks
  • It’s about culture not process: If the introduction and induction feel like management are going through the motions, they probably are; a reflection of organisational values which says more about the leadership than the staff team.
  • Flexibility in a framework: Marching new recruits through a rigid two-week induction process is not necessarily the answer – people have different learn styles – but ‘having a plan’ (however flexible) is reassuring for all concerned.
  • Seeing the situation from the other side: some staff members who have been in post for many years often forget what it is to be a ‘newbie’ – a bit of thoughtfulness can go a long way (it’s the little things…)
  • Balancing: Alongside being flexible is recognition that there’s no right or wrong way to do induction; it’s always going to be about balancing… formal and informal/ personal and professional/ rules and common sense
  • Pacing the introduction: My ‘best first day’ organisation’s induction lasted around three months! I wasn’t expected to get familiar with all part of the (large) organisation in the first few weeks.

A final thought… Joining organisations on a regular basis means I also have the experience of leaving them. I think there’s whole blog post to be written on this subject – in my experience a lot of well-meaning organisations take their eyes off the ball when it comes to looking after staff who are leaving, whatever the circumstances of that departure.

 

Investing in business success

In my work with young people wanting to set up their own enterprises, I take a particular interest in the insights of others similarly placed to provide support to business start-ups. In Milton Keynes, my meetings with young would-be entrepreneurs are held at the NatWest Accelerator Hub. Below I chat with two women who manage the Hub – Sharon Rai and Debbie Lewis – to find out more about them, their support roles, and their vision for the Accelerator Hub itself.

Sharon and Debbie are both steeped in business with combined experience in running a chain of hair and beauty salons, training, coaching, and other business development roles. Sharon grew up with family businesses around her – she describes her grandmother as a “serial hustler entrepreneur” so business is in her blood.

The role of ‘critical friend’ to entrepreneurs excited both women and it was the diversity and number of businesses being supported by the Accelerator Hub that attracted them – the scope for making a practical difference to the business development of over 120 would-be entrepreneurs each year.

“It’s about everyone in the Hub pulling in the same direction to achieve more than simply working 9 – 5 and getting an income; they want to make a difference and have a positive impact on the world around them.” Both also appreciate the freedom the backing of a major high street bank gives them to work out what’s best for the clients – without an agenda, hidden or otherwise.

I wonder how far Sharon and Debbie can stand back and put the emphasis on clients ‘doing it for themselves’? Both are clear about their role… “At the interview stage [for admission to the Hub] self-motivation is an important assessment criterion. It’s not our role to enthuse them; we’re there to pick them up when they are down, slow them down when their heads are in the clouds, and reflect back their comments when they need a dose of reality.”    

Support for Hub clients

There are two programmes on offer to would-be business owners; Debbie and Sharon makes the distinction between the two…

“The Pre-Accelerator Programme is for early-stage, or what may simply be ideas-stage businesses” explains Debbie “It’s an eight week predominantly digital [so arm’s length] offer to help with client discovery, validation of the business idea, and basic steps to assess whether the business has legs. After further reflection and work on the business idea (which might result in big changes to the original concept), entrepreneurs may then be able to apply for the Accelerator Programme.”

Sharon explains the sort of entrepreneurs coming on to the Accelerator Programme. “We may have people who are not yet trading, but may have secured investment, may have built a prototype or MVP [Minimum Viable Product], and have enough early interest to warrant the support the Hub can give them. In contrast, we may have businesses that have been trading for a number of years but want to make a step change. The critical element on the Accelerator Programme is that we’re looking at scaleable businesses. They have access to up to 18 months of support (reviewed every 6 months) but it may not be best for businesses stay for the full 18 months in one go. For some it’s a matter of getting out into the business world, or fixing a part of the business that’s not going well, and then coming back for the next step.”   

What’s in it for the bank?

The Hub in Milton Keynes occupies the second floor or a large building occupied on the ground and first floors by staff involved in commercial banking activities. It offers free facilities and programme support to Hub clients with a team led by Debbie and Sharon. I wonder about the commercial rationale behind this philanthropy and both are quick to answer…

While we’d obviously like clients to bank with NatWest there’s no obligation to do so. Indeed, if you looked at the cost per acquisition it would look like a very expensive way to get business customers! Ways in which the bank benefits from the Hub include an Entrepreneurial Development Academy where the Hub team are training ‘entrepreneurial thinking and doing’ in banking staff. Intrapreneurship is how they describe it. Fintech [technology specifically relevant to financial services] businesses and entrepreneurs may also be able to help the bank – through a healthy two-way exchange of ideas and insights.

A third potential benefit for NatWest is innovation, as Sharon explains “Being at the forefront of innovative technologies and solutions, we can feed that thinking and behaviour back into the bank.” And Debbie believes that the inter-change of ideas does effect change…

In the relatively short time I’ve been in post I’ve seen continual review and feedback and I haven’t found the frustrations of slow progress that other organisations experience. What we’ve reported gets considered, though obviously, it’s not always acted on.”

I learn that NatWest wants to be seen as the number one bank for entrepreneurs, so anything the Hub can do to turn clients into advocates must be good for business and brand. This also fits neatly with the vision for the Hub, which is to be a household name and first-choice provider when it comes to talk about ‘tools for entrepreneurs’ in and around Milton Keynes.

Defining success

I find it hard to believe that a business support facility backed by a major bank wouldn’t want some hard facts and figures to show the return on their investment. Sharon confirms that they’re working to certain Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to assess the productivity of the Accelerator Hub. “For me, the really important measurement is the percentage success rate, and our 87% success rate compares very favourably with the 50% success [or 50% failure rate] of unsupported businesses. We also measure investment attracted, jobs created, and number of entrepreneurs supported.”

Alongside these ‘hard outputs’ are the ‘soft outcomes’ that result from bringing entrepreneurs together under one roof. These include the connections being made – between entrepreneur and mentor, or at a peer-to-peer mutual support level – to create a local community and support ecosystem that is invaluable. “The stories behind the figures are what drives the magic – creating something that is sustainable, long lasting, and with a significant local impact.” 

Sharon also identifies what she describes as a ‘fluffier element’ when defining what success looks like. “At the Hub we talk a lot about having a growth mindset – this is about supporting and enabling people to take ownership of their decisions. Success is when those same entrepreneurs hire their team and use those same principles.

Another measure of success is our ability to get entrepreneurs out into schools to inspire the next generation, to give them a sense of purpose and the heightened sense of self-worth that comes from surviving the highs and lows of starting and running a business.”

Debbie continues… “For young people, having someone coming in to school as a non-parent and non-teacher, and showing interest in them can give them a real buzz and a sense of importance. And it can be particularly powerful when the entrepreneurs are of a similar age to the students.

Having a vision for the next generation seems appropriately forward-looking for a sector like banking and financial services that has been transformed in less than a generation, let alone between generations. As we finish, I reflect that ‘banking on the future’ summarises our conversation quite neatly.

For further information about the Milton Keynes Accelerator Hub, e-mail miltonkeynesaccelerator@natwest.com, go online at www.natwest.com/accelerator and you can book onto one of the Natwest Entrepreneur Milton Keynes events via www.eventbrite.co.uk