Monthly Archives: September 2014

Enterprise essential – know your business environment

Know your competition (which for a choir rehearsing in a church on a cold winter’s night is not only other choirs, but anything that will keep people indoors!) Continually gather as much information as you can to monitor the changing environment and keep on the lookout for trends that might present opportunities or pose threats.

 

Enterprise Essential – aim to surprise

And make sure the surprise is a pleasant one! The German retailer Tchibo changes stock (and offers) in shops every week to create a sense of anticipation and excitement. You don’t have to change your offering this often, but always think how you can develop and improve your service. Use that innovation as a reason to contact your customers and a hook for getting press coverage.

 

Fast food, lifelong learning

Barry AllardDespite the best efforts of the slow food movement from Italy, the prevalence of ‘fast food’ and all it stands for disguises the real time it takes to put a nutritional, high-quality meal on the table and under-values the wider health benefits of cooking.

Luckily people like Barry Allard and LEAP CIC in Norwich know how food and catering can give direction and purpose to individuals leading often chaotic lives. Some of these people are now benefiting from a new enterprise – The Feed – as Barry explains.

“At LEAP we’re about supporting homeless people, or those disadvantaged in other ways, to lead more fulfilling lives. We’ve recently launched a catering enterprise – The Feed – to develop specific skills, while also providing coaching and training; person-centred support. Learners achieve personal development goals – in self-esteem, taking responsibility, dealing with the past, planning the future, gratitude – all the time getting support for progression towards employment.”

leaplogoThe journey into work for LEAP clients may be relatively short, but for others it can be a long term association. People with complicated home lives, furthest from the jobs market, can get the kind of extended support from LEAP that other schemes often simply cannot afford to offer.  One trainee is now employed at LEAP, and it’s hoped others might follow as the enterprise grows.

I wondered how Barry and LEAP got into food and the idea of setting up The Feed in the first place. I discover that, like me, Barry is passionate about food. He also points to the creativity and health benefits associated with catering.

The Feed logo“With cooking, you can get tangible results by making something quickly – a sense of achievement for the person doing it. In the longer term we hope to set up an academy with a 12 – week programme so more learners so they can get their hygiene certificates and develop particular skills – in pastry, for example –  from local chefs”.

Healthy eating is an important part of the LEAP offer: “We’re modern in terms of street food and event catering, but the food still has that healthy kick” says Barry.” As a social enterprise we also aim to embrace ethical supply in the business – we buy local wherever possible.”

I wonder what Barry’s advice would be to someone thinking of starting a social enterprise and getting into catering?

“We’re there to help homeless people into work, but it’s not an easy busy model – working with unpaid trainees in low-cost at one level, but expensive at another- managing volunteers is demanding. So I’d advise you to get support and advice from others who have already been there. Finding mentors is really important. There are people around who can reduce the fear as you go into the unknown.”

“Catering is very hard work. People often don’t realise how much preparation goes into putting food on the plate. And it’s not easy to build all the preparation time into the price of the finished product. Planning, managing trainees, producing good quality food, and making money is a difficult juggling act.”

I leave Barry with a mental image of a chef in a busy kitchen frantically spinning plates on the ends of sharp knives and decide to stick with my particular passion for food – eating it – rather than Barry’s – creating a business with it.

Find out more about The Feed at http://the-feed.co.uk and on Twitter @TheFeedCIC

Barry 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
Ipswich http://bit.ly/1c6lQsj

Enterprise essential – under promise and over deliver

Be honest, positive and precise with your customers about what you can do for them, and then exceed their expectations. If you tell me you’ll have my problem sorted the next day and I have to wait a week, I’m disappointed. If you say you’ll sort it by the end of the week and do it the next day, I’m impressed.

 

Eight top tips from ‘experts by experience’

Create and share the vision…

“Having a clear vision is important, particularly when well-intentioned people are in danger of diverting you. But making sure that vision is one which is shared is also important; the whole consultation process was about taking people with us. For sustainability, that strong foundation and broad backing is essential, as is having the right legal structure with community interest at its heart.”  Rosamund Webb, Station House Community Connections http://bit.ly/1wfUF6D

 Passion is important, but not enough…

“Unless you have a real desire and passion, don’t do it. Social enterprise is not a route to making money, so the desire to make a difference has to be genuine. But passion is not enough. You should learn as much as you possibly can about the subject, but don’t feel you have to do it all at once. It can’t all happen overnight, so have realistic expectations.” James Hogg, Music and Memories http://bit.ly/1p6Lwax

Be guided by your achievements and successes

When starting your business, stick with it. “You’ll have a huge idea at the start, with blurred surroundings so you can’t see how to get to your destination. But be guided by your achievements and successes.”  Amanda Keel, FullSpoon http://bit.ly/1BrZpsI

 Make it sell-able at a viable price…

“ If you want to make money [from your artwork]… you need to make it saleable and sell it at a viable price. The designs you come up with have to be commercial if that’s what you’re in it for. If you’re a creative being who wants to create art, don’t think of it as a business proposition.” Teresa Crickmar, Craftworks http://bit.ly/1qEEU8E

Get your public profile right…

“Look the part. The reason Forest Owl is getting into schools and talking to businesses is that we communicate effectively through our website and social media. We’re also building credibility by nailing our colours to the mast. We live our brand by getting out and about, not sitting indoors in an office.”  Ian Henderson, Forest Owl http://bit.ly/1xIoDEF

Learn to let go…

“Don’t underestimate the people you’re working with – particularly when they’re volunteers. Learn to let go, people are very capable and if you give them the opportunity, they’ll learn.” Nicky Kearns, Secret Space http://bit.ly/1BrZ4Gx

It takes a long time to build a reputation but a second to destroy it…

“It takes time to build up reputation and loyal customers – I favour word of mouth over any other publicity. I stress with the guys that it takes a long time to build a reputation but a second – one hair in the food – to destroy it. So we’re very strict on quality control.” Sam Speller, All Seasoned http://bit.ly/1CRpgvG

Give it a go and be patient…

“Be open to new ideas and experiences. Give something a try and if it doesn’t work out, don’t worry; it’s the trying that’s important. I stuck with jobs that didn’t suit me, resilient in the face of poor management for the sake of the children in my care, until other career stepping stones came along.”  Hannah Burns, Nurture by Nature Forest School http://bit.ly/1lTbOC8

 

More tips from Experts by Experience at:  http://bit.ly/1dQplX3

Learning about Earning: lessons 9 and 10 from a social enterprise start-up  

Working on the business vs working in the business

If you’re starting a social enterprise, how are you going to fund yourself over the first few years? Being employed in a part-time job running alongside your start-up is not without problems – conflicts of interest and time management (at work and home) being two of them. Are you disciplined enough to let others get on with the operational ‘fun parts’ (in my case – making, mending and learning) while you do the less creative form-filling, finance and legal aspects?  http://bit.ly/1An23gR

 Success vs failure

“Assume it will take twice as long as you think it will, cost twice as much, and generate half the income”

Passion, self-belief and eternal optimism are the hallmarks of someone setting up a social enterprise (otherwise why would anyone do it?) But it’s good to stir a little realism into the mix. Be open to advice from advisers and seek out the wisdom of the ‘experts by experience’ who’ve been, done it, and got the cardigan.

Be realistic about time and costs (however painful). The three CRI-supported social enterprises in Hertfordshire have been given a couple of years to break even. Olive Quinton of Lofty Heights in Ipswich (www.lofty-heights.org) wisely observed ‘Your timetable is not other people’s timetable – you’ll need to be patient and do a lot of chasing and waiting’.

As well as having someone with entrepreneurial tendencies leading, is the rest of the enterprise (assuming it’s not just one person operating in isolation) also entrepreneurial? Do you have at least some of these characteristics? http://bit.ly/1w4E7kD

And if all else fails… and your start-up doesn’t take off – probably for very good, unavoidable, reasons – console yourself with the insights of David Robinson founder of (and now senior advisor to) Community Links in east London. He is a man with a declared passion for failure. He says

“If we don’t fail, it means we’re not taking risks. If we’re not taking risks, it means we’re not trying to do things differently. And if we’re not trying to do things differently, why are we here?”

And maybe learn a lesson or two by reading this blog post http://bit.ly/1rVPVTp?

If you’re interested in exploring ways to turn ideas into action, join Chris Lee for a day-long workshop on December 4 in Chelmsford Details at www.voluntarysectortraining.org.uk/courses/event/70/Ideas-Into-Action

Learning about Earning: lessons 7 and 8 from a social enterprise start-up

Top down vs bottom up

I have a problem with reconciling the character of many entrepreneurs (energetic, impatient and confident, even to the point of arrogance) with the idea of a social enterprise as a cooperative and collaborative enterprise. To my mind, users should be involved, as far as possible, in the design of the business (co-production) but this, of course, takes time and patience.

But I also accept that the entrepreneur is the one with the vision to mobilise resources and take the idea to a stage where (hopefully) others can take over – leading from behind. This frees up the entrepreneur to move on with a new idea (or new location if replication is the name of the game). Starters are not always good finishers…

Further related reading: 20 social enterprise leadership tips http://bit.ly/1rpFhQD Do you have the character of a social entrepreneur? http://bit.ly/ZdJ1hH Can you take people with you/ sell the vision? http://bit.ly/1BkU9qJ Are you accountable to others – even when you’re spending your own money? http://bit.ly/1nAA8Yx

 Cash in hand vs gifts in kind

“In year 1 you pay the business, in year 2 the business pays itself, in year 3 the business pays you”

 Whatever kind of business you’re starting (unless you’ve got a ready-made cohort of paying customers from day one) you’re likely to need a couple of year’s support before the business takes off. The social enterprise model is not an easy route to go down so you may need longer.

Traditionally, start-up support comes from ‘family, friends and fools’ and in the social enterprise sector there’s a growing supply of social investment (although there currently seems to be a mismatch between supply and demand). But alongside the need for some cash (you can’t run a business entirely on fresh air and goodwill) there’s a generous supply of free, non-cash support.

Alongside what’s available online…

  • Social Enterprise Start-up support – School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ipswich, Wenta Business Incubation in Herts and Beds (free for first three months), Social Incubator East in Cambridge, Inspire 2 Enterprise, and UnLtd.
  • Partners that are willing to help if there’s minimal direct cost to the organisation (Community Action Dacorum and Sunnyside Rural Trust in the case of The Repair Shed)
  • Company sponsorship – Triton Tools as official supplier of tools to the UK Men’s Sheds Association. More on The Repair Shed funding mix at http://bit.ly/1wdmgp3

If you’re interested in exploring ways to turn ideas into action, join Chris Lee for a day-long workshop on December 4 in Chelmsford Details at www.voluntarysectortraining.org.uk/courses/event/70/Ideas-Into-Action

 

Learning about Earning: lessons 5 and 6 from a social enterprise start-up

Needs vs wants (evidence)

We’ve all heard of the youth centre that was built at great (public) expense but remained unused by young people. Someone decided they needed somewhere to meet but failed to ask the young themselves whether they wanted a place (or what kind).

When spending someone else’s money (grant or loan) you’ll rightly be asked to show that there’s demand – a market and or need for what you’re proposing to offer. Make sure it’s also a ‘want’ if you’re expecting users to be paying customers. In short, needs are what funders will pay for, wants are what users will pay for.

You should have evidence to demonstrate the need and the difference you’re making, but don’t get tied up in knots – decide what matters and measure that http://bit.ly/1xu5Mx7

Sharing vs protecting ideas

Like many others with an idea for a new enterprise, I thought mine was brilliant – merging two proven concepts – the Men’s Shed and the Repair Cafe – into one. For a very short time I investigated the idea of protecting ‘my’ idea (even though I’d borrowed the ingredients from other sources…) particularly as I planned to replicate it elsewhere at a later stage.

Aside from the practicalities of protecting intellectual property (IP), I was persuaded not to bother by someone I admire and respect from afar. David Floyd is a writer and critical friend of the social enterprise sector. He writes a brilliant blog – Beanbags and Bullsh*t  and he wrote one for the Young Foundation quite simply concluded that keeping your ideas close to your chest is far more likely to harm your enterprise development than sharing those ideas as widely as possible. Read the blog at http://bit.ly/1w4FArf (David also point out that having the idea is the easy bit – turning it into action is the hard part).

If you’re interested in exploring ways to turn ideas into action, join Chris Lee for a day-long workshop on December 4 in Chelmsford Details at www.voluntarysectortraining.org.uk/courses/event/70/Ideas-Into-Action

Learning about Earning: lessons 3 and 4 from a social enterprise start-up

Project plan vs business plan

“Never present figures without a story, never tell a story without figures”

What’s the balance of words and figures in your plan (assuming you’re setting up or running a social enterprise)? Despite the pressure from all around to ‘be more business-like’ in my experience, charities are still good with words rather than figures, whereas organisations down the earning end of the ‘asking-earning’ spectrum use figures to tell their story (with the narrative in the background).

In my twelve months as a social enterprise start-up, I’ve had a business plan sitting on a shelf (almost complete, but weak on figures..!) and I revise my project plan every time I bid for grant support (three times – fingers crossed for third time lucky…) In all three cases, the application has been strong on words but, until the third application (when I got help) I’ve been weak on hard evidence in the form of figures (about scale of need, benefit and income) to make the business case.

If you want help to make the mental and physical – it’s as much about thoughts as actions – journey from asking to earning, try this http://bit.ly/1qFGGoJ

Planning vs doing

Cliche alert: ‘Fail to plan and you plan to fail’ andPiss Poor Planning Promotes Piss Poor Performance’ are over-used clichés that are a good excuse for not taking the plunge – talking about doing rather than doing.

Waiting to get all the jigsaw pieces in place and building firm foundations sounds like common sense, but what about (analogy alert) jumping in to test the water without having all your ducks in a row?  A ‘lean start-up’ can…

Motivate:  Having general discomfort can encourage us to go further, faster (you will run faster when chased by someone with a knife…)

Enable real market research: By launching the unfinished article in which you’ve invested relatively less cash and care, you’re more likely to respond to criticisms positively and adapt your product – which is what innovation is all about.

Reduce padding, increase focus: Without the luxury of unlimited resources, the new enterprise is forced to hone in on essential spending with a keen focus on purpose

Attract finance:  A shining business plan with figures to impress is just that – a plan and a promise – whereas hard evidence – of demand for new real products and services – counts for a lot.

More on the case for a lean start-up at http://bit.ly/1kjOsoT

 If you’re interested in exploring ways to turn ideas into action, join Chris Lee for a day-long workshop on December 4 in Chelmsford Details at www.voluntarysectortraining.org.uk/courses/event/70/Ideas-Into-Action

Learning about Earning: 10 lessons from a social enterprise start-up

After 12 years advising others about starting social enterprises, Chris Lee has spent the last 12 months setting up an environmental social enterprise in Hertfordshire, with the support of the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ipswich. The Repair Shed brings older men together to stay healthier and happier for longer by making, mending and learning. Details at https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/the-repair-shed

Below Chris draws out ten lessons (2 per blog post) from the past 12 months and compares what the social enterprise start-up handbook says with his own experience.  In reality, there are no hard and fast rules – no right and wrong ways to do things, rather a series of balancing acts…

Lessons 1 and 2

 Social vs enterprise

What is social enterprise? A clue in the phrase:  Social – Enterprise but there’s no one agreed  definition.

Not a legal entity, but a business model. Social enterprise can be seen as a ‘business solutions to social problems’. Social purpose is the ‘reason for being’, while profit fuels the journey but is not the destination.

In common with other businesses… a social enterprise seeks to address the ‘triple bottom line’ addressing social, financial and environmental objectives  – getting the balance right is a constant challenge eg costing and pricing to be inclusive/affordable and viable.

Above all it’s about clarity of purpose to avoid mission drift. Gina Negus of the Projects Company in Essex) asks … is your organisation a train? – on track with a destination ahead (2- 3 years?) clear to everyone travelling in the same direction. Drawing in resources to fuel the journey, but in control (in the driving seat) with your foot on the pedal to travel at the right speed for you.

Spin vs substance

My opinion – social enterprise and social entrepreneurship is over-sold.  I’m a social enterprise enthusiast, but it’s all too easy to believe the hype and cast the private sector as the villain and social enterprises 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. And scale if also important. Until we make enough difference to enough people, we should resist the temptation to over-egg the pudding. Holding the moral high ground is not enough. More at http://bit.ly/1qxU7rV

The same goes for sanctifying social entrepreneurs as edgy and dynamic (often scarily young!) saviours of the world. The social enterprise movement has no monopoly on entrepreneurship and social impact. In my experience the most entrepreneurial people are too busy getting on developing their next idea than to have time to shout about it! More at  http://bit.ly/1q2FZYT

In my opinion, the best way we can ‘sell’ the social enterprise model is by providing quality products, services and practices – selling on quality (not cheapness or charity as some in the sector are tempted to do…) For examples of three social enterprises that ooze quality, go to the ‘experts by experience’ profile at http://bit.ly/WujgYy

Two final tips on grounding your promotion of all things social enterprise in reality: Think carefully about what the name of your enterprise says about you http://bit.ly/1qtgLC1 – your brand – and don’t be afraid to tell the story behind your products and services http://bit.ly/1tCTIqQ

If you’re interested in exploring ways to turn ideas into action, join Chris Lee for a day-long workshop on December 4 in Chelmsford Details at www.voluntarysectortraining.org.uk/courses/event/70/Ideas-Into-Action