Monthly Archives: May 2014

Enterprise essential – Two out of three

Printers say you can’t have speed, quality and low prices; you can have any two of those, but not all three. The same applies to many other businesses. Decide which two are the priorities for you when putting your offer together – offering all three is the road to ruin!

 

Enterprise essential – Make sure the figures add up

If you expect to spend someone else’s money when starting up an enterprise, the figures will need to convince them you have the potential to trade profitably. Solid research should help you present figures that will stand up to scrutiny (and save you a lot of time, money and stress in the long run!)

 

Enterprise essential – Balance the stories and figures

There’s a saying that you should never present figures without the story behind them, and never tell a story without figures. In a business plan for a social enterprise, the figures are more important than the narrative while, arguably, the reverse is true for a charity.

 

Winning workspace 

Welldone p2Poised as we are between the annual Eurovision songfest and that other talent show – the European elections – it’s seems fitting to be able to report that my social enterprise development journey has recently had a massive boost from winning a slightly different kind of competition.

I’ve entered competitions from an early age – the ones involving an element of skill; I have no time for lotteries. As a nipper, I used to spend hours in the library (remember, this was way before the internet) with my mother, researching what famous people did before they were famous, and other obscurities. I never won any big prizes, but I think the information-gathering was a great education and it was a lot of fun doing it with my mum who also entered competitions. I ended up winning more than she did (much to her annoyance).

Once infected, the ‘comping bug’ may lay dormant for years, but it never goes away. A year or so ago I won the competition to name the new community cinema where I live (the Royston Picture Palace since you ask). My ever-supportive wife said mine was probably the only entry (in fact, there were over 50) and there was equal scepticism from that quarter when I entered my most recent competition.

These days any competitions I enter have to really ‘hook me’ first. That was the case with one run by Wenta – the people behind the six business incubation centres in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire that are members of the ‘My Incubator’ family (see shameless plug below).

We were asked to tweet our business ideas – simple as that – the winner’s prize being a year’s free workspace and business support in an incubator of their choice. My background in marketing means I like the challenge of expressing ideas clearly and concisely, and you don’t get much more concise than a tweet.

So what’s my business idea? ‘The Repair Shed is a social enterprise run by/for older men at risk of loneliness – making, mending and learning’ [112 characters]

To cut a not-very-long story short, I’ve already tried out my hot desk in the Stevenage Business and Technology Centre and winning this competition could not have been better timed. As readers of a blog post on my second 100 days with the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ipswich will know, I’ve recently decided to get down to the serious business of developing my business after six months of playing at being an entrepreneur.

I live in one corner of Hertfordshire and The Repair Shed will be in the opposite corner – in Hemel Hempstead. Although I’ve had access to desk space at Community Action Dacorum in Hemel, working from home most of the week has been the logical thing to do to save travel time, petrol costs and, of course, the environment. But being at home has its downside, principally the distractions… from trips to the coffee shop and running across Therfield Heath, to polishing my shoes and repairing our storm-flattened garden fence. And, yes, entering competitions on Twitter…

Stevenage is about half way between home and The Repair Shed, but I suspect it will be much more than a stepping stone in developing the business. The new discipline of joining others working on their enterprises, with onsite business advice, should work wonders for my focus, productivity and learning. It’s also a smart place to work; on hearing the Stevenage My Incubator had a cafe and showers my wife suggested I move in and live there permanently.

So I may not have won Eurovision (although I do sing in a choir and had a beard for 25 years) but I do feel my own competition win could be just the ‘douze-points’ vote of confidence I need. Watch this (work)space and thank you judges for your wise decision.

For more about Wenta’s business incubators, go to www.myincubator.co.uk

Enterprise essential – Look at your publicity from a different angle

Think creatively about ways to spread your messages. The back of a large delivery lorry had the message ‘no Jaffa Cakes are stored in this vehicle overnight’ to amuse drivers stuck in traffic jams! Humour can also help communication when used well – as someone once said ‘a laugh is the shortest distance between two people’.

 

Enterprise essential – Perfect pitch

You think you know your business inside out, but can you sell it in 60 seconds to a potential customer? Develop an opening line to grab attention, tell them what they want to hear – not what you want to tell them. Spell out the benefits of what you have to offer, the features are less important. Practice until you’re fluent, but keep it fresh and up-to-date.

 

Enterprise essential – Stress success

People (customers, lenders, paid and unpaid staff, directors) want to be associated with a successful enterprise. Use every opportunity to demonstrate the positive difference you’re making. Make use of customer endorsements and good press coverage of your achievements. Be specific about your success and back it up with evidence.

 

Measure what matters

IMG_3872In a recent blog, marketing guru Seth Godin observed… “Without a doubt, the ability to connect the dots is rare, prized and valuable. Connecting dots, solving the problem that hasn’t been solved before, seeing the pattern before it is made obvious, is more essential than ever before.

Why then, do we spend so much time collecting dots instead? More facts, more tests, more need for data, even when we have no clue (and no practice) in doing anything with it. Their big bag of dots isn’t worth nearly as much as your handful of insight, is it?”

In a world which is increasingly focused on measurement of impact (social, financial and environmental in the world of social enterprise) it’s easy to get sucked in to following the crowd.

A recent publicity blurb for a 2-day course on measuring social impact makes the case for it succinctly… As well as making your organisation more attractive to funders, being able to measure your social impact will enable you to measure the effectiveness of your organisation, to benchmark with your competition and allow you to see where improvements can be made.

Yes – it’s important to demonstrate how well you’re fulfilling your declared purpose/ mission, particularly if you’re spending someone else’s money. But often the record-keeping is for the (questionable) benefit of others and this can tie you in knots and take you away from the activity you’re spending so much time measuring!

We know that most impact is qualitative rather than quantitative and not easily measured. There’s a whole industry around giving such measurement scientific weight eg through social audits and financial calculations that aim to put a figure on the social return on investment – SROI – in organisations. But the people I know who have had this done for their organisations have been disarmingly honest about the dubious reliability of the figures they fed into the process. As they say about computer analysis – ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’.

A wonderful ‘bubble-bursting’ piece by Jeremy Nicholls – a champion and authority on SROI – takes aim at the idea of measuring social impact. He says it assumes we make rational decisions based on evidence (whereas we base them more on preconceptions) and that we have a belief that a shared view is, by definition, correct. Then there are the limitations of predicting the future based on the past.

I bow to Nicholls’ knowledge about the science behind the SROI process (he’s Chief Executive of the SROI Network after all) but I’m not as confident that we don’t sometimes misplace our trust in science and wilfully or otherwise select so-called facts and figures to suit our narrative.

It’s easy to knock the whole process of measurement and counting – and many people do (I suspect because they consider it unnecessary extra work) – but it may not be a matter of all or nothing.

Squawkpoint blogger James Lawther advises caution when counting (mushy peas is his example) but, in a linked blog, he has suggestions for interpreting the figures once gathered. He recommends looking at the bigger picture – patterns and trends over time – and putting your energy into making sense of the biggest and smallest changes over a period.  And in a ‘seeing-wood-for-the-trees’ attempt at making sense of all the figures available – use the 80:20 rule to identify which numbers you really need to worry about.

Many years ago, the New Economics Foundation was influential in my thinking about appropriate measurement. They advocate that you decide what measurement is relevant, meaningful, and achievable in your particular community or organisation. So if dog poo in a public park is a measure of a community’s respect for public spaces, put flags in the poo each month and take photos and compare the numbers of flags over a year. That was in the days before hefty fines and public disapproval – an updated version of this measure might be the number of poo-filled bags left hanging on branches or the number of bags strewn around overflowing bins.

Returning to the ever insightful Seth Godin, he sums up for me the importance of cultivating a healthy scepticism, or at least a questioning attitude, towards measurement in another recent blog.

“We keep coming up with new things to measure (like processor speed, heat output, column inches) but it’s pretty rare that those measurements are actually a proxy for the impact or quality we care about. It takes a lot of guts to stop measuring things that are measurable, and even more guts to create things that don’t measure well by conventional means.”

When measuring to satisfy outside rather than internal interests, at least be bold enough to ask them why?

References:

Seth on dots  http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2014/04/connecting-dots-or-collecting-dots.html

Jeremy Nicholls takes aim at social impact measurement  www.pioneerspost.com/comment/20140404/the-wild-wild-west-of-social-impact

James Lawther on counting mushy peas www.squawkpoint.com/2014/01/operational- and the limits to counting www.squawkpoint.com/2013/06/management-information

Seth on ‘measuring nothing with great accuracy http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2014/01/measuring-nothing-with-great-accuracy.html

For an excellent ‘Prove and Improve’ toolkit from the New Economics Foundation, go to www.proveandimprove.org

Enterprise essential – Use AIDA to structure your offering

For posters, advertisements and sales letters, remember another mnemonic – AIDA – to help your creativity. A is attention (a headline photo or quote to make an impression in a matter of seconds) at the top of the page. This is followed by I -interest (a key benefit of your product or service) D – desire (reinforce your benefit with an endorsement or similar encouragement to buy) A – action (tell the reader what you want them to do next – phone, visit, go to a website etc.

 

Enterprise essential – Connect with hearts and heads

A good mix of personal stories with facts and figures make a powerful combination for making a positive and lasting impression. Stories will connect with people’s hearts, facts and figures will connect with their heads. (Facts and figures also help control the temptation to make wild claims!)