P & Q – Price and quality
There’s a danger that, in the fight for public service and other contracts, social enterprise is promoted as a cheaper vehicle for providing goods and services. Some social entrepreneurs who should know better find themselves making such claims. In only a few cases have I ever found this to be true.
Social entrepreneurs will never ultimately win a battle on price, however much we may want to be the chosen provider, and it’s a dangerous route to go down. In reality, social enterprise is an expensive business model – employing people deemed ‘unemployable’, providing what others won’t, and locating in places others don’t go. I’ve always believed ‘better not cheaper’ is a much more sustainable mantra than ‘more for less’.
R – Risk
– “If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin.” Ivan Turgenev
Textbooks tell us we need to have a fully grown business plan in place before launching an enterprise to minimise risk. But increasing in a fact-moving business environment, there’s a case for getting products/ services out there before they are fully formed.
The argument for a ‘lean start-up’ is that there’s no substitute for market-testing with real products and services and that early-stage feedback is more likely to be taken on board because it’s not written in stone in your fully developed business plan.
S – Systems
When asked how he ‘turned around’ an international charity that had grown too fast for its own good, the new Chief Officer’s one word answer was ‘systems’.
Social entrepreneurs are renowned for being flighty and fact-moving. Frustrated staff at a great social enterprise once told me “the business runs best when xxxx [its inspiring founder] is not around”.
Just as there is usually a team behind every great social entrepreneur, so there needs to be systems people who can identify what works that can be shaped into a regular way of working that gives the enterprise firm foundations and brings stability from day to day.