Never stop looking, listening and learning. There’s a wealth of accessible and affordable sources out there – much of it online and free. Try the Business Planning Guide for Social Enterprises at http://issuu.com/fs12pbl/docs/new_busplanguide?e=4544798/5782269 to get started.
Following the closure of a library in Bournemouth, books were re-housed in the nearby pub. This meant the ‘new library’ was open until late each night, and on Sundays. It also brought people into contact with books in a non-threatening setting. Hard times can stimulate creativity and progress. As Ben Cohen, founder of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, has observed “to stumble is merely to move forward faster.”
Social enterprise is about environmental sustainability as well financial viability. Whether its travel to meetings, the conservation of energy in your office, or the re-use and recycling of equipment, we can all play our part in demonstrating how social enterprise can be a better way of doing business.
Sometimes people are so focussed on the daily demands of running a business they don’t see the world around them has moved on. In the context of social enterprise, the original need being served by the business may have changed so radically, or is being met by others, in other ways, that winding up is the best option.
Demonstrating the difference you’re making to people’s lives is a good way to build support for your business externally and internally. Be proud of your achievements – blow your own trumpet – but don’t be afraid to explain how you’ve learnt when things have gone wrong. For impact measurement tools go to http://www.proveandimprove.org
Don’t stop scanning the market and assessing the competition. See what others are doing well and think how you could do it better. Creativity is about making new connections. Albert Szent-Gyorgy who discovered Vitamin C, is reported to have said “Genius is seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no one else has thought.”
How does your enterprise appear from the outside? Try phoning up or writing for information (anonymously of course) for information and find out! For smaller organisations, ask a friend to do this for you and ask them to note how well the enquiry was handled. Alert staff that ‘mystery shoppers’ will be in touch in the coming weeks.
A good website can be a highly cost-effective way to generate new business and meet needs for essential information, advice and support 24 hours a day. A bad website – with out of-date information, poor navigation, and unhelpful content and design – can kill your enterprise. Make sure your website builds your brand.
In the social economy, successful collaboration is as likely to sustain your enterprise in difficult times as is successful competition. Partnerships and consortia are a growing trend for bidding or contracts. But don’t over-estimate the potential savings from scaling-up your enterprise – particularly when you are selling services rather than products.
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.