Monthly Archives: March 2014

Words to cut waste

Words to cut wasteLast Thursday I was asked to comment on local radio about the report that we throw away the same weight as 90,000 elephants [makes a change from double-decker buses and football pitches, I suppose] of perfectly good items every year.

I thought I was going to talk about re-use and instead I was asked to talk about repair – a subtle but important difference. I managed to gather my thoughts for a 5-minute plug for our Royston Repair Cafe but it meant my notes about re-use became redundant. So I’m re-recycling them (geddit?) now.

It got me thinking about the need to learn a new lexicon to change attitudes to consumption and waste. Normally I’d advise against anything that smacks of jargon but I’m making an exception here because the goal – a healthier planet – is worth it (not to mention helping people to save money in hard times).

My marketing background has long advocated using ‘affordable’ or ‘good-value’ instead of ‘cheap’ when you’re selling. Even £1 shop customers don’t want to be regarded as cheapskates.

So what words can nudge people to reduce waste if used carefully?

An earlier guest blog talks about ‘repair’ as the forgotten ‘r’ alongside the ‘reduce, re-use, recycle’ trinity, so I won’t dwell on those words. Enough to say you should recycle as a last resort – because it reduces our carbon footprint the least of the three.

Just one more ‘r word’ to include here – restore – which I like because it could equally be applied to our health as well as inanimate objects, showing how the wellbeing of people, products and planet are inextricably linked.

Here’s your homework for today. Learn to re-use the following ten words/phrases in your everyday conversation and together we can cut waste.

Recycling centre – instead of local tip. Our’s changed its image almost overnight (and sounded less smelly) by changing its name.

Pre-loved – instead of second-hand or cast-off. Quite a number of furniture re-use schemes/projects/facilities having been using this term for some years. And while we’re on the subject of furniture…

Shabby chic – makes a fashion statement by being old and…er… well worn. In an earlier blog I mentioned my appreciation of the Magpie Co-op’s cleverly-named re-use facility in Brighton – Shabitat

Austerity chic – 60’s and 70’s money-saving gadgets (Sodastream – DIY fizzy drinks, and Hostess trolley – for entertaining at home etc) making a comeback – harking back to the good-old-bad-old-days.

Retro-chic – see the other ‘chics’ above – appeal to people’s nostalgia for a simpler past life. Think of my ten year old mobile that I can use for making phone calls but little else.

Antique – confers quality and value on something; both of which are so subjective you shouldn’t end up in court under the Trades Descriptions Act. My wife’s wedding ring was described as ‘antique’ – sounds better than ‘second-hand’ (which it literally was!) and, to continue the bodily associations, it cost me an arm and a leg.

Vintage – see ‘antique’ but I tend to associate it with clothing (and Wayne Hemingway – one of my heroes)

Thrift – making a virtue out of getting or making something at no/low-cost. Even Kirstie Allsopp is at it (and ‘respect’ to the wonderful Max McMurdo  @maxreestore). And talking of Wayne Hemingway, did you know that 25,000 people visited ‘his’ free Festival of Thrift in Darlington last year? Look out for the 2014 Festival on 27-28 September.

Up-cycle – a somewhat ugly word for something much more attractive. The textbook example is turning a man’s shirt into a woman’s skirt, but my favourite is turning old jeans into an apron (suitable for woodworkers – Men’s Sheds rule) but it doesn’t have to be clothing.

My champion up-cyclers are your final ‘r’ word for today…

Recover – I keep banging on about these folk in Welwyn Garden City so I’ll just refer you to my earlier ‘experts by experience’ blog about them

Other references….

Royston Repair Cafe

Local Government Association waste

The forgotten ‘r’

Festival of Thrift

Enterprise essential – Sell the ‘why’

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” says marketing consultant Simon Sinek. When you want to get people on board at an early stage in developing your business, it’s more important to ‘sell the vision’ as people’s feelings about the enterprise are likely to influence their behaviour much more than the details (which come later).


Slowing the spin about social enterprise  

Before Christmas I wrote about resisting the temptation to sanctify social entrepreneurs and I think the same goes for over-selling social enterprise.

IMG_3712As a social enterprise supporter of the past 15 years or so, I’m naturally delighted when the sector gets a positive profile-raising plug, but I’m equally dismayed when someone goes over the top about what social enterprise has achieved. And the praise is usually coupled with a side-swipe at mainstream business.

It’s all too easy to cast the private sector as the villain and social enterprises – assuming that implies the business is ‘not-for-private-profit’ – as the answer we’ve all been waiting for to treat society’s ills. Reality, of course, is much more complex – there are good and bad private sector and social enterprise businesses, and both may have social impact (ref David Floyd’s social enterprise myth-buster).

I also think scale is relevant. Big isn’t automatically better, but until social enterprises (individually or collectively) make enough difference to enough people’s lives, I believe they won’t offer a realistic alternative to mainstream business models – holding the moral high ground will never be enough.  This isn’t to knock small scale, community-rooted enterprise – it can demonstrate a better way of doing business – but we shouldn’t pretend it’s going to change the world until it’s more ubiquitous and until many more people benefit.

In an imperfect world, I’m happy to credit a large scale solution to a social problem rather than condemn it outright for being big and motivated by making a profit for shareholders. What I’m not happy about is mainstream contractors (they all seem to have numbers in their names these days) providing public services badly and passing themselves off as social businesses. We know who they are…

There’s a well-worn saying in customer care – ‘under-promise and over-provide’. In other words, say you’ll deliver an order within a week and have it with your customer the next day, not the other way around.  The same should go for social enterprise which has a rich heritage that goes back at least 165 years to the Rochdale Pioneers – founding fathers of the co-operative movement.

Recent difficulties for the Co-op Bank show how easily reputations for ‘better business’ can be shaken, so it’s more important than ever to manage expectations about what social enterprise can achieve. If we get carried away with our own publicity and hold it up as the solution to all economic, social and environmental ills, and it’s then found wanting, we could see customers taking their business back to mainstream suppliers – condemning social enterprise as ‘all mouth and no trousers’.


Slowing the spin about social entrepreneurs

David Floyd social enterprise mythbuster

A shorter version of this blog first appeared on the Social Enterprise East of England blog site

Enterprise essential – Ideas into action

True entrepreneurs not only have the ideas and the vision, but take the next steps to make them a reality with tasks, timeframes and team responsibilities. If you’re still ‘talking about a business idea’ six months after first having it, you probably need to re-visit your credentials as an entrepreneur. 

Fast food for hungry learners

Experts by Experience: Profiles of entrepreneurs at different stages on their journeys, identifying and sharing some universal truths along the way. 

We’re sitting in a busy coffee shop in central Cambridge [declared interest – my daughter works there, but no free drinks I’m sorry to say]. I resist the temptation to devour the rest of my chocolate chip cookie sitting enticingly in front of me as I learn about healthy eating, and much more, from Amanda Keel.

fullspoon2bAmanda has cooked up FullSpoon – an enterprise which aims to show different, mostly vulnerable, groups across Cambridgeshire how to prepare healthy low-cost meals for themselves and their families. Two groups with whom Amanda is currently sharing her expertise are young families and adults with learning difficulties and disabilities.

The parents are involved with their under-fives – the children learn where food comes from and the parents learn to cook. Amanda explains that some of the young mums come out of school with just basic domestic science. “They may not even know how to peel a potato – but they’re keen to learn.” I innocently ask if dads are welcome…“Some get involved, but they tend to take over!”

We talk about the role of cafes in providing work experience for adults with learning difficulties. “All the adults I work with would be capable of working in cafes” says Amanda. “They like being involved with other people – so often they’re isolated, and it makes them visible.” It’s then Amanda alludes to FullSpoon’s ‘unique selling point’.

“The learners really get involved and like being part of the group. This is the important thing about FullSpoon – it’s not just about cooking skills, healthy eating, health and hygiene, and budgeting, it’s also about sitting down as a group and eating together.”

I say this reminds me of the slow food movement which originated in Italy – growing, preparing and eating slowly to savour the flavour and increase the pleasure. Amanda is quick to point out that time is one thing she doesn’t have. “Which means many of my recipes are like healthy take-aways!”

Amanda Keel looks on

Recipe for success – Amanda Keel looks on

While food is a part of childhood for all of us, for Amanda is was even more ever-present. “I grew up surrounded by food because my dad was a chef. We lived in hotels and restaurants and pubs – they were my earliest memories. I now see food as a springboard – it’s easy, everyone loves it, gets passionate about it. It’s a starting point, from cooking and eating to other learning – English [Amanda is trained as an English language teacher] Maths, Science.”

Thinking of her own experience, Amanda’s advice to others starting a business is to stick with it. “You’ll have a huge idea at the start, with blurred surroundings so you can’t see how to get to destination. But be guided by your achievements and successes.”

Amanda assures me she has a destination and a map (her business plan) – but there’s so much need and work to be done and so little time to digest all the ideas [including ‘helpful suggestions’ from people like me] it can be daunting.

She tells me there are lots of other groups she’d like be working with, including older people. I mention my personal interest in the wellbeing of older men (a focus for my own enterprise development) and I’m delighted to hear that Amanda has classes for men who have lost their wives and know relatively little about cooking.

We finish by talking about food waste and so, as Amanda leaves to fight her way out of Cambridge, I sneak the remainder of the chocolate chip cookie into my mouth. I hope no one is watching and promise myself a run later that evening.

To find out more about FullSpoon, contact Amanda at, or call her on 01223 926221

Amanda is in the 2013-14 cohort of learners with the School for Social Entrepreneurs on
the Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Programme at the Eastern Enterprise Hub in

Enterprise essential – Form follows function

People get hung up on choosing the right legal structure early – this is a mistake. There are half a dozen possible structures for a social enterprise, but if you decide first what you want to do, and how you want to do it, those options are reduced. For more on legal structures see

Enterprise essential – Establish your credibility

People – investors, staff, volunteers, and customers – want to be reassured about your credentials for starting the business. Clearly a new business can’t point to a track record, but the individuals involved in setting up the enterprise can point to their past individual achievements – reasons why they are worth backing.

Enterprise essential – Have the right building blocks

Business commentators suggest that there are three essential building blocks for a sustainable business: Pounds – having enough money; People – having the right skills and experience, and Productivity – effective use of time. All three are inter-related, need constant attention, and should be harnessed towards achieving a forth ’p’ – Purpose.

Enterprise essential – Take care of your customers

Good marketing is about the efforts you make to go that extra mile to meet your customers’ needs. People remember the little things – the ‘thank you’ card, the offer of a cup of tea – they might cost a little time, but not a lot of money. The freshly pressed apple juice at a training venue is still talked about long after the training!

Ten ways to stand out from the rest

We are increasingly bombarded with information – coming at us from all directions 24 hours a day (if we allow it).  In the face of this onslaught, the social entrepreneur might be inclined to give up trying to promote their enterprise or the campaigner their cause – particularly if metaphorically shouting louder and louder is just not their style.

Standing out lBut there are more subtle and equally effective ways to get your voice heard above the din; to differentiate yourself from competitors and keep your customers for longer. In doing and studying not-for-profit marketing for 35 years, I have identified many low/no cost ways to stand out from the rest – here are some.

Stress success: People (customers, paid and unpaid staff, financial backers, and other supporters) want to be associated with success. Use every opportunity to demonstrate the positive difference you’re making. Make good use of endorsements and good press coverage of achievements. Be specific about your success and back it up with evidence – this is not about spin.

Under promise and over provide: Don’t make inflated claims to attract business or other kinds of support. You undermine your organisation and the sector as a whole. Be positive but precise about what you can and can’t do. If I promise to send your order within a week and you get it the next day you’re impressed. If I do the opposite, I may lose your trust for ever.

Know your purpose: There’s a temptation for organisations to try to be all things to all people – avoid it! If you know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how well you’re doing it – and you can communicate this clearly inside and outside your organisation – you’ll be doing well. Every opportunity to develop the business should be assessed against your core purpose – will it take you closer to your next destination?

Take Care: Good marketing is about the efforts you make to go that extra mile to meet your customers’ needs. Think of the Friday phone call that, handled well, resulted in a £1M legacy for a Scottish medical charity. Ironically, it’s the little things that can leave more of a lasting impression (bad as well as good, so beware!) than grand gestures. And it’s not about how much money you throw at a problem.

Listen and respond: Make sure you handle complaints carefully. Done well it can turn that person into a regular customer and even an advocate. More generally, solicit and use both good and bad feedback. Always start with them – listen to what people are saying (and not saying) If you say you take feedback seriously prove it.

Everything communicates: Don’t think that promotion can be left to one member of staff or a marketing team.  Whether you like it or not, everything you and your colleagues do and don’t do sends out messages. So, by design or default, all enterprises have a brand/ image even if they don’t know what it is! Make sure that you control those outgoing messages as much as you can – consistency in your publicity materials is one way of doing this.

Connect with hearts and heads: A good mix of personal stories with facts and figures make a powerful combination. Stories will connect with people at the heart, facts and figures will connect at the head. (Facts and figures also help control the wild claims). Build up your stock of photos of real people – happy customers, busy staff, interesting events – ways to make your business come alive.

Aim to surprise: And make sure the surprise is a pleasant one! The supermarket chain Aldi led the way in changing stock (and offers) in shops every week to create a sense of anticipation and surprise. Other supermarket chains have since followed suit. You don’t have to change so often, but always think how you can develop and improve your service. Small surprises (a card to thank your customer for their purchase?) can also have a big effect.

Develop and use your USP [unique selling point]: Find out why the people who use your services think you’re special. When a choir asked its members this question a consensus came up around the high standard achieved (with no auditions) and that the choir attracted local people. This was developed into a strap line “fine music, made locally”.

Don’t take loyalty for granted: People are only loyal until someone comes along and offers something better. You take the loyalty of your supporters (customers, paid and unpaid staff, members and subscribers) for granted at your peril!