Monthly Archives: October 2013

Lesson 1 – roots, wings and balance

A somewhat cheesy but poetic bit of advice for parents suggests we should give our children ‘roots to grow and wings to fly’. Transpose that advice to the field of entrepreneurship and it teaches me my first lesson from my first two days on the Lloyds Bank and Bank of Scotland School for Social Entrepreneurs start-up course programme in Ipswich.

‘Balance’ is a word I come back to time and again when advising on planning, development and growth in both work and home life and I think it applies here.

On the one hand, would-be entrepreneurs need to be encouraged to believe they can harness their passion and energy to achieve beyond their expectations – the flying bit – like we’d encourage our children to aspire to do great things. On the other hand, it’s also important to instil a bit of realism into the business development journey from the start. At this stage, taking time to build firm foundations – the roots-growing bit – is probably as important as inspiring a (cliché alert) ‘can-do attitude’.

On the second day at the School for Social Entrepreneurs, I thought Olive Quinton from social enterprise Lofty Heights struck just about the right balance between the ‘ you can do it if you want it bad enough’ and the ‘don’t expect it to be easy’ lines. Four takeaway messages from Olive’s presentation:

–          You have to do it for yourself (but build up and use your support networks to fill your order book)

–          Be prepared to spend lots of time talking to people without getting anything out of it. [That said, I’m always surprised how a seemingly insignificant conversation can later have huge value]

–          Other people’s timescales will be different from your own, so be patient – others will have different priorities and won’t always see things from your point of view

–          Be agile in your thinking – listen, welcome criticism and challenges, and be willing to bend [but keep true to your principles and in control – avoid mission drift by learning to assess and filter all the exciting possibilities]

PS The first thing that attracted me to Lofty Heights (www.lofty-heights.org) was the name. But that’s the subject of another blog…

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Back to school

40 years after leaving secondary education with 2 ‘A’ levels (A for average in my case) I’m back at school – the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ipswich. After an application process which included a written outline of my social enterprise idea, followed by 2 and 5 minute pitches (2 weeks apart) I’ve been awarded a place on the (big breath…) 12-month Lloyds Bank and Bank of Scotland Social Entrepreneurs start-up course.

I’ve been advising others on social enterprise development (even got a qualification in it) for 14 years, so how will I feel being advised by others on how to turn my own social enterprise idea – The Repair Shed – into something more concrete and, hopefully, into a sustainable business?

East Herts busy hubI learn a lot from books and other written materials (and there’s lots of great stuff on social enterprise online) but I’m also a great believer in group learning and the value of peer support. And learning from others who’ve been there and done it already – the social enterprise sector in the East of England is great at sharing failures as well as successes.

So am I about to practise what I’ve been preaching for more than a decade? Probably not!

For example, I’ve always advised caution when planning a new enterprise. “Assume it will take twice as long as you think it will, cost twice as much, and generate half the income” I tell people. But even at this early stage, I already feel I may not take the softly, softly approach.

Like most deluded newbies, I have the unshakeable belief that my idea will work, and work well enough to be replicated after a ridiculously short time. It won’t turn out like that of course, but maybe the fact that I’m aware of my wild optimism is a good sign of a reflective attitude?

Over the come months I’ll be mapping my ups and down as I try to walk the talk. If you want to find out where The Repair Shed journey takes me, you can follow my blog here.