Tag Archives: competition

Counting what counts

Last Friday I found myself staring at a quotation on a hotel wall at 7.30am. I was about to enjoy a community breakfast meeting that I attend each month at the same hotel. I’ve seen the quote many times before and I like it almost as much as a full English breakfast, even though it’s widely mis-attributed (including by the hotel) to Albert Einstein.

The correct attribution for ‘Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted’ appears to be William Bruce Cameron. The first reference found is as recent as 1986, but that was 30 years after Einstein’s death in 1955. That doesn’t matter to me – it’s the insight I value – but I expect it would bother Cameron.

A day after re-admiring the quote, I had its significance confirmed at parkrun – a free timed 5 kilometres run involving over 1 million runners of all ages and abilities across the UK every Saturday morning at 9am, not to mention a vast army of volunteer marshals. The big thing for me about parkrun is (apart from it being independent of government and the 2012 Olympic legacy) that, as is always emphasised, it’s a run not a race.

We’re also told that parkrun is all about community – everyone supporting each other – it’s not about the running. But last Saturday for the first time in four years and 64 parkruns I forgot to take my barcode – essential for getting a time for my run. In my 15 + years of off-road running I’ve only run competitively on three occasions – I run for fun, not to compete with myself or anyone else. So, I was taken aback by my reaction to discovering (after my 5K run) that the time wouldn’t appear on my personal parkrun profile.

I was surprised to be bothered about not being able to get my parkrun time, although I think it was as much annoyance about my own forgetfulness. Then I remembered that William Cameron quote and I realised that what really mattered was running around a beautiful National Trust estate on a sunny Saturday morning in August with 350 lovely parkrunners.

More on measurement https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/measure-what-matters

Discover parkrun at www.parkrun.org.uk

Risky business

They say that entrepreneurs are risk-takers and it’s fair to say that, like most things in life, it takes an element of personal and/or professional risk to make things happen. This is not to say you can only succeed in business by being reckless, but being willing to get outside your comfort zone is pretty much essential. So, what are the main risks for the entrepreneur starting a new business? Here are six ‘Cs’ to consider:

Can’t do – Much of the talk these days is about a ‘can-do’ attitude – as if positive thinking is enough to make things happen! In reality, self-awareness about what you can’t do is probably more important – so that you can work out how to overcome your shortcomings eg filling skills gaps by training or co-opting someone else.

Competition – With a new business one of the first considerations should be the competition (direct = others doing something similar, indirect = everything that’s going to stop your would-be customers buying your product or service). If there’s no competition, you might ask yourself why not, if there’s loads of competition you need to know why people should choose you. A serious assessment of the competition can reduce the risk of failure – try to learn from other people’s mistakes. That said, I’m a firm believer that you can gain more from cooperation/collaboration than competition.

Cash (flow) – The single biggest reason that businesses fail is running out of cash. There may be lots of money tied up in the business but none available in a liquid form – cash – to cover immediate costs such as salaries and daily expenses. Not for nothing do people like me repeat the quote Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity, but cash is reality.” Keeping a close eye on the money coming in and going out of your business bank account – your cashflow – will reduce the nasty surprises.

Capacity – So your start-up is doing well and you want/ need to grow; the biggest limiting factors at this stage are time and space. You only have so many hours in the day and, if your business involves face-to-face customer services, you’ll need to be looking for people to bring in to help out (in effect, to increase the hours in the day). You may also need more space to accommodate the extra people knocking at your door. If you’re selling products, you’ll likely need extra space for production, storing stock and materials, and maybe for increased packing and distribution.

Contingency – They say that the best business people are not so bright that they keep asking ‘what if?’ all the time. But, it would be bright to do at least some contingency planning around you and your business along the lines of … What if I’m off sick for 4 weeks?  What if my mobile phone or laptop was stolen? What if a massive order comes in next week?

Coordination – Business seems so easy when you see it in terms of ‘selling the right products/services to the right people at the right price’ (whatever we mean by ‘right’). But the problems arise because real life rarely provides an easy route from A to B. Coordination – having a realistic map of your route to a clearly defined destination, and systems for coping if/when things go wrong (breakdown recovery etc), will help make the ride less bumpy.

Ultimately, the best entrepreneurs manage risk rather than letting it stifle progress – they take risks when they can afford to fail. David Robinson, former Chief Officer of Community Links in East London, makes the case for risk-taking. “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?”

The power of networking

Many years ago I went to a talk in Cambridge by Hilton Catt, co-author of The Power of Networking. I don’t know whether the publicity was ambiguous or what but, it being Cambridge, there was a digital divide within the audience – one half thought it would be about virtual networks, the other half thought it would be about ‘real’ human networks.

I’m pleased to say it was about the power of the face-to-face – in Hilton Catt’s case, for job-hunting. I was unemployed at the time and, while the evening didn’t result in my immediate employment, it reinforced what I’d been told by other jobhunters and confirmed my belief in the benefit of seeking and nurturing contacts for both professional and personal progression.

To this day, I still think you can’t beat close encounters of the personal kind – even in our tech-rich, time-poor working lives – and more so in an age of faux online friends, false news, and reality TV shows that suggest that, in business, someone has to lose for you to win.

Call me old-fashioned, but my experience of working with small business start-ups for more than a decade is that they have far more to gain by sharing their ideas (rather than protecting them) and seeking partners for mutually beneficial relationships. I’m not starry-eyed about collaboration and co-operation (as opposed to competition) but I recommend it daily, and will do so until someone convinces me there’s a better way.

In my day-job I support young people in their efforts to turn business ideas into viable and hopefully sustainable enterprises. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely road to take, so I encourage then to seek out like-minded people – even the competition – for advice about mistakes made, lessons learnt, and what works well.

The young entrepreneurs are constantly astonished and delighted by the helpfulness of others (people who remember when they were starting out maybe) with no expectation of a payback. I also pull in my own personal and professional contacts when I can. In the last six months, I’ve fixed a fence erector up with a van, I’ve arranged a would-be photographer’s night at a music awards ceremony in London as professional snapper’s assistant, I’ve unearthed (pun intended) a garden designer to pass judgement on a newbie designer’s work, and I’ve steered others towards potential collaborators, including business networks.

The day that ‘who you know’ becomes less important than ‘what you know’ and online communications make face-to-face connections unnecessary, I think I’ll pack up and head for the hills (preferably somewhere there’s no broadband).

A passion for pallets

???????????????????????????????Creative flair, a willingness to roll up sleeves and ‘have a go’, to experiment and being prepared to fail, all make Dawn Taylor well suited to a recent, perhaps surprising, career development. Dawn is founder of York-based enterprise Purepallets which does what it says on the tin (or should that be timber?) turning pallets into crafted items fit to grace any home.

From wine racks and candle holders to what can only be described as ‘letter wall shelving’ (B anyone?) pallet product design and creation clearly excites Dawn.

But perhaps the new career move is not so surprising, as Dawn explains… “When I was young I was a tomboy. My dad was a plumber and built our extension by himself, and I helped him. I learnt how to mix cement and lay bricks, so from an early age I’ve not been scared to try new things.” 

So, practical from an early age and Dawn’s creativity – probably also rooted in her past – has been honed through a career in retailing, including 14 years as a visual merchandiser with a major UK high street store.

And what could be more creative than turning a much-maligned product – the humble pallet which many of Dawn’s friends think is only good for firewood – into a thing with real appeal, each one unique? Having “fallen into making pallet products by accident” – an unexpected commission to make a wine rack – Dawn was soon bitten by the upcycling bug. She has just started experimenting with paint effects but still delights in the beauty of the ‘pure pallet’ finish which, when embossed with the original owners logo adds to the story behind the product.

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Now taking a service break with her current employer, Dawn has nine months to see if she can ‘give birth’ to a financially viable business. The product range is developing nicely – mainly through commissions from a rapidly widening customer base that values the bespoke nature of each item. With low overheads to date – pallets are sourced locally at low/no cost, the workshop is a garage at home, social media and word-of-mouth are the main marketing tools – there may be a temptation to under-value the finished product.

But Dawn believes her promotional offer – quality and uniqueness at affordable prices – could create a sustainable business model. While pallets grow on trees (well, sort of…) Dawn’s talents do not. With these she may just be able to differentiate Purepallets’ product range from others and have champagne corks popping.

See Purepallets products at http://on.fb.me/1xtfc8T

 

An A – Z of social entrepreneurship: P – S

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.

 

Enterprise essential – are you still needed?

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.

 

Enterprise essential – be entrepreneurially alert

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.”