Tag Archives: enterprise

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

The art of adding value

Experts by Experience: Profiles of entrepreneurs at different stages on their journeys, identifying and sharing some universal truths along the way.    

Ian and VanMy introduction to Recover in Welwyn Garden City (in Hertfordshire) was through a social entrepreneur and friend – Hugo van Kempen. Hugo is big on the environment, creativity and entrepreneurship and I respect his opinion so, when he said I should meet Ian Block, Recover’s manager, I was off to see him the following week.

I think Hugo was impressed by Ian’s vision and ambition. He (Ian) had taken on the refurbishment of a warehouse that he (Hugo) had earlier looked at and decided was too big a job for him to get it into a useful state.

A year and a day after Ian had moved into that dilapidated warehouse, I visited him in bright and warm surroundings – a transformation. And before I’d even got to the office at the back of the warehouse, I’d bought an office chair. Ian has a background in furniture sales and he had me well and truly hooked with no (obvious) sales pitch!

Like the two other Hertfordshire social enterprises in the CRI family, Recover offer training to volunteers who have difficulty getting into employment. Overcoming addictions, explains Ian, takes time – to build self-esteem and self-confidence – and Recover provides volunteers with breathing space through care and creativity.

With a view to life and employment beyond Recover’s supportive environment, training includes technical skills in high-class wood finishing and upholstery, alongside so-called ‘softer skills’ – team work, delegation, teaching others, management, as well as broader life skills.

The return on that investment is the creation of items of furniture for sale that can only be described as works of art.

The enterprise end of the venture is, says Ian “Helping the volunteers develop their creativity. We work with them to up-cycle and refurbish stuff destined for landfill. They turn donated items into interesting, one-of-a-kind, pieces – leaving evidence of the hand-craft involved. We’re not competing with high street, factory-finished, mass-produced, products from China. For our volunteers there’s no greater confidence-builder than seeing something they’ve created being bought by someone for a good price.”

This is truly adding value but how, I wonder, does Ian arrive at a ‘good price’ for their unique items of furniture – is pricing an art or a science?

“I’ve got a background in antiques and furniture sales. I’m in tune with the markets and, although each item is unique, the internet is a good way to make comparisons. Price also depends on your brand, location and the clients you’re selling to. Even though charity shop prices have crept up, we’re not competing with them or other furniture reuse schemes. We’d like to become a recognised brand which would probably double the prices we can get. For now, we’re pricing above charity shops, at about 50% of what we could sell in a shop in Islington or Greenwich.”

What’s Ian’s view of telling the story behind their products?

Holly and Crew“ The story is important – were supporting people and helping them to move on. Most customers are buying into what we’re doing. They get an original, quality item, crafted with volunteer input and we like to put names on items – ‘another product by…’ Some volunteers don’t want this, and we respect that, but the majority are happy to be identified.”

The future is looking bright for the Recover team. The first year has been about getting the premises useable and volunteers learning how to produce quality furniture. The year ahead is about selling. As well as online sales, there’s a first delivery of a few items to a shop in north London.

Always the entrepreneur but sensitive to the needs of his volunteers, Ian explains his strategy. “We’re looking at several outlets in different parts of London. We’ll be able to test different products at different prices to see what works. The volunteers are not yet ready to set up and manage a retail outlet, so we’re testing the water at no additional cost to ourselves.”

See Recover’s hand-crafted, refurbished and upcycled furniture at www.recoverteam.co.uk

For more on the three CRI Hertfordshire social enterprises, go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/quality-matters