Tag Archives: figures

The story so far

latitude-books-2I was thinking about the power of storytelling the other day when advising young entrepreneurs about how to present their business ideas without using jargon, exaggeration or clichés. In other words, without bullshit. How do you grab attention in a matter of seconds; leading to the much-talked about ‘elevator pitch’?

One way is to say something that surprises your audience. I recently saw a beautifully designed standing desk. It was being promoted with a question – ‘did you know that standing for an average three hours a day at your desk for a year burns more calories than running ten marathons?’

Yes – it surprised me as well. I regret I couldn’t afford to buy that particular standing desk, but the appeal of such calorie loss (even if it’s not true!) while using my laptop was enough to inspire me to design and make my own not-so-beautiful standing desk from an abandoned wooden garden chair.

Another way to connect powerfully with an audience is through storytelling. Antony ‘Tas’ Tasgal, author of ‘The Storytelling Book’, believes stories are under-rated and under-used in business. After being exposed to around 6,000 business presentations, Tas is leading the fight against the debilitating effects of Powerpoint (which he describes as “people in power who can’t make their point”).

But the battle is not yet won; we continue to be bombarded by bullet points and deluged with data. Too often we still experience the mind-numbing effect of the presenter reading each slide as if s/he is seeing it for the first time, which may be the case. And often all this follows a delay to get the computer to talk to the projector. Never perform with children, animals … and technology.

Tas believes we need to develop and polish our story-telling skills, to bring the human element back into business transactions. “We often forget that all of us in sales, marketing and communications are – at least partly – in the business of storytelling” he says “We seem to have fallen headlong into a culture in which business thinking, business talking and business doing have been overtaken by a system that is contrary to our hard-wired storytelling instincts…”

Which is not to say that words alone can always tell the full story. Despite widespread condemnation of the misuse and abuse of statistics, figures do, of course, have a role to play. A fellow business adviser once suggested ‘never present figures without a story, and never tell a story without figures’. Accountants would, of course, argue that a set of figures tell a story without need for further embellishment…

latitude-books-1In the non-for-private-profit world, the art of storytelling can also be used to communicate a charity’s mission effectively, particularly when the stories feature real life experiences. A useful communication tool for trustees and directors is a small set of postcard-sized profiles of individuals who have benefited from the charity’s support. Each one describes the individual’s situation when they first contacted the charity, how the charity worked with them, and their new situation after the charity’s intervention. It has everything – a focus on real people and real benefits, bringing authenticity to the illustration.

A final word from marketing man Andy Bounds “Facts tell, stories sell. Tell stories about what you’ve done for others; don’t just list facts about what you do.” Andy Bounds has made a name for himself writing about ways to make ideas sticky. But that’s another story…

Further insights into the use of stories:

The Storytelling Book http://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Anthony-Tasgal/The-Storytelling-Book–Finding-the-Golden-Thread-in-Your-Communications/17487848

A great infographic on capturing and using stories  http://www.imaginepub.com/Image/zTSY2BGi00imRglC0cmfgw/0/0

A word of warning from Seth Godin http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2016/01/3-d-printers-the-blockchain-and-drones.html

Why stories are good for our brains http://lifehacker.com/5965703/the-science-of-storytelling-why-telling-a-story-is-the-most-powerful-way-to-activate-our-brains

Storytelling and presentations http://blog.strategicedge.co.uk/2015/03/better-storytelling-in-your-presentations.html

 

 

From tabletop to laptop – Recover

Latest in the More Expert by Experience series. For other profiles, see http://bit.ly/1rd75hZ

Recover logoWhen I last spoke to Ian Block about his business plan, he’d three years to achieve self-funding from sales of quality upcycled pre-loved furniture. At that time (February 2014) Recover – the social enterprise he leads in Welwyn Garden City – was one year old. I wondered how the three year plan had progressed over the previous two years.

“Our mission has remained the same throughout” confirms Ian “It’s about helping people reintegrate and get themselves worthwhile employment that will stay with them, and help them to be the best they can be; that they feel fulfilled and their lives are worthwhile.”

I asked whether there had been any surprises – good or bad. Continuing the theme of benefiting the volunteers, Ian points to success at the rate at which people have gained and used new skills. Recover has helped raise expectations to the stage where, says Ian, most volunteers are keen to progress.

Looking back, Recover have learnt some hard lessons about the reality of working with people who are furthest from the jobs market. One lesson is a well-known ‘problem of success’ for many social enterprises – that the most capable and productive unemployed volunteers move to paid jobs – an occupational hazard! And for those that remain…

Recover people and products

“There are a broader range of issues facing our volunteers than we anticipated. Their lives are complicated and it takes more time and support for people to move on and stay moved on, particularly when they are older or have lower self-esteem.”

“We thought that the majority of volunteers would progress relatively quickly and then help run Recover. But once out of treatment, when they come to us, the original problems may resurface; they need a lot of hand-holding to develop a sense of self-worth.”   

The first step, of what is often a long journey, is turning up on a regular basis – establishing some structure and routine. Recover offers work and life skills development through refurbishing quality, high-end furniture and Ian doesn’t underestimate the challenge.

“We’re not making sandwiches here – the work takes skill, concentration, focus, practice creativity, Recover recoveringtechnique. We’ve developed methods, systems and processes to keep it as simple as possible, but it still takes a lot of time to teach and embed the learning.”

The intensity of the hands-on support for volunteers means that Ian is finding it harder to balance the books from sales than he’d anticipated. Recover is currently aiming for 50% of income from sales and 50% from funding.

The biggest single development over the past 12 months has been the transition to independence from Recover’s parent charity. Recover is now a Company Limited by Guarantee and Registered Charity in its own right. This means more paperwork as back office functions are taken in-house, including insurance, funding applications, and reporting to the new directors.

Despite the increased demands on his time, Ian is clear about what matters “My priorities are supporting our team and making money. The backroom work has to be fitted in around that. Reporting alone could become a fulltime job if you let it – I started out working on dining tables, now I spend a lot of time on computerised tables!”

Looking ahead, it’s about finding the right balance between growth and consolidation. For Ian the books must balance to keep the doors open. Recover aspires to raise their 50:50 funding/earning ratio to 100% income from trading, but wisely he doesn’t set a date for this.

In the meantime, Recover are getting to grips with pricing – an issue for many social enterprises and an area where Ian is learning fast ‘what works’.

                                                                     Ian gets hands on

“We’re educating people about value – the quality and cost of our work. We’ve been  able to reduce prices as we’ve got better  and faster at refurbishment. The pieces   that we turn into ‘artisan one-of- kind items’ are well-priced compared with mass produced generic flat pack furniture from economy high street chain stores. Items     we don’t refurbish are sold at considerably lower prices than charity shops. Sometimes, we just ask people on low income for a donation that suits their budget.”

Another ‘problem of success’ – in addition to losing the most capable volunteers – relates to Recover’s high profile (“done without any paid advertising” adds Ian proudly).  The two staff members are finding increased demands on their time – from media people, businesses (all support welcome!) and statutory sector staff.

A timely reminder that I’ve taken over an hour of Ian’s time. As I leave, he joins his team for lunch which, he tells me, will be a main meal of the day for some. Yes – two years on from our original meeting, the strengths and values of Recover are still very much in evidence.

 Further information and contact:

http://www.recoverteam.co.uk https://www.facebook.com/recoverteam.co.uk https://twitter.com/RecoverTeam

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/02/19/the-art-of-adding-value (February 2014)

 

 

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

What makes an entrepreneurial enterprise?

light-bulb-new-businessSounds like a bit of tautology – isn’t the definition of an enterprise ‘an entrepreneurial organisation?’ I hear you say. Maybe, so … what makes one enterprise more entrepreneurial than another?

Paula Howley, ‘creator’ of the Social Enterprise Mark thinks it starts with mindsets – around the culture of an organisation.

Social enterprise is a big mind-shift. The most important thing is the culture of the organisation. You can’t set up an enterprise if you are continually having internal battles where staff members of the board are resistant. You need to identify that culture is an important part of the jigsaw and work on that.”

Below in the form of a list (for which no apologies) are eight (of many) characteristics of entrepreneurial organisations – a synthesis of the output of half a dozen thinkers and doers in the social enterprise sector. How do you stack up?

Self-awareness: You know about expertise and skills gaps in the enterpriseand take steps to plug them through training or recruitment.

Environmental awareness : You have a handle on trends and opportunities affecting your work. Some years ago Innocent Smoothies had ‘front foot’ meetings each week to avoid nasty surprises (they may still do so).

Passionate but purposeful:  You are committed and clear about your cause; it’s about balancing mission and money.

Plan for change: You’re not afraid to changeyour plan. (But you can only do so if you’ve got one!)

Fearless with figures: You understand cost, price and viability. Do you have robust financial systems?

Market understanding:You know the market – and compete on quality and customer focus. You know the difference between the customer and the consumer.

Delegated decisions: Staff are enpowered to make decisions. Drivers for a major parcel delivery firm in USA are authorised to spend up to US$100 to fix problems on the spot

Taking measured risks as a way of life:Failure is a comma, not a full stop. “Stumbling is only moving forward faster” says Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerrys Ice Cream

A final thought… Are organisations entrepreneurial or are they just a collection of entrepreneurial individuals?

Enterprise essential – Price is not a finger in the wind calculation

As business author and blogger Nicholas Bate says “Setting a price is not a quick phone conversation before catching a plane to Boston. A price point is a subtle capturing of profit, customer psychology, market penetration and positioning. Give it its due.”

 

Enterprise essential – Get on top of the figures that matter

In a fast-changing business environment you may need to identify new performance indicators and tighten up your financial monitoring – including actual, against forecast, income and expenditure. Do this more rigorously and more often and share your findings throughout the organisation. If you don’t know the figures that matter, find out!

 

Enterprise essential – Make sure the figures add up

If you expect to spend someone else’s money when starting up an enterprise, the figures will need to convince them you have the potential to trade profitably. Solid research should help you present figures that will stand up to scrutiny (and save you a lot of time, money and stress in the long run!)