Tag Archives: measuring success

Investing in business success

In my work with young people wanting to set up their own enterprises, I take a particular interest in the insights of others similarly placed to provide support to business start-ups. In Milton Keynes, my meetings with young would-be entrepreneurs are held at the NatWest Accelerator Hub. Below I chat with two women who manage the Hub – Sharon Rai and Debbie Lewis – to find out more about them, their support roles, and their vision for the Accelerator Hub itself.

Sharon and Debbie are both steeped in business with combined experience in running a chain of hair and beauty salons, training, coaching, and other business development roles. Sharon grew up with family businesses around her – she describes her grandmother as a “serial hustler entrepreneur” so business is in her blood.

The role of ‘critical friend’ to entrepreneurs excited both women and it was the diversity and number of businesses being supported by the Accelerator Hub that attracted them – the scope for making a practical difference to the business development of over 120 would-be entrepreneurs each year.

“It’s about everyone in the Hub pulling in the same direction to achieve more than simply working 9 – 5 and getting an income; they want to make a difference and have a positive impact on the world around them.” Both also appreciate the freedom the backing of a major high street bank gives them to work out what’s best for the clients – without an agenda, hidden or otherwise.

I wonder how far Sharon and Debbie can stand back and put the emphasis on clients ‘doing it for themselves’? Both are clear about their role… “At the interview stage [for admission to the Hub] self-motivation is an important assessment criterion. It’s not our role to enthuse them; we’re there to pick them up when they are down, slow them down when their heads are in the clouds, and reflect back their comments when they need a dose of reality.”    

Support for Hub clients

There are two programmes on offer to would-be business owners; Debbie and Sharon makes the distinction between the two…

“The Pre-Accelerator Programme is for early-stage, or what may simply be ideas-stage businesses” explains Debbie “It’s an eight week predominantly digital [so arm’s length] offer to help with client discovery, validation of the business idea, and basic steps to assess whether the business has legs. After further reflection and work on the business idea (which might result in big changes to the original concept), entrepreneurs may then be able to apply for the Accelerator Programme.”

Sharon explains the sort of entrepreneurs coming on to the Accelerator Programme. “We may have people who are not yet trading, but may have secured investment, may have built a prototype or MVP [Minimum Viable Product], and have enough early interest to warrant the support the Hub can give them. In contrast, we may have businesses that have been trading for a number of years but want to make a step change. The critical element on the Accelerator Programme is that we’re looking at scaleable businesses. They have access to up to 18 months of support (reviewed every 6 months) but it may not be best for businesses stay for the full 18 months in one go. For some it’s a matter of getting out into the business world, or fixing a part of the business that’s not going well, and then coming back for the next step.”   

What’s in it for the bank?

The Hub in Milton Keynes occupies the second floor or a large building occupied on the ground and first floors by staff involved in commercial banking activities. It offers free facilities and programme support to Hub clients with a team led by Debbie and Sharon. I wonder about the commercial rationale behind this philanthropy and both are quick to answer…

While we’d obviously like clients to bank with NatWest there’s no obligation to do so. Indeed, if you looked at the cost per acquisition it would look like a very expensive way to get business customers! Ways in which the bank benefits from the Hub include an Entrepreneurial Development Academy where the Hub team are training ‘entrepreneurial thinking and doing’ in banking staff. Intrapreneurship is how they describe it. Fintech [technology specifically relevant to financial services] businesses and entrepreneurs may also be able to help the bank – through a healthy two-way exchange of ideas and insights.

A third potential benefit for NatWest is innovation, as Sharon explains “Being at the forefront of innovative technologies and solutions, we can feed that thinking and behaviour back into the bank.” And Debbie believes that the inter-change of ideas does effect change…

In the relatively short time I’ve been in post I’ve seen continual review and feedback and I haven’t found the frustrations of slow progress that other organisations experience. What we’ve reported gets considered, though obviously, it’s not always acted on.”

I learn that NatWest wants to be seen as the number one bank for entrepreneurs, so anything the Hub can do to turn clients into advocates must be good for business and brand. This also fits neatly with the vision for the Hub, which is to be a household name and first-choice provider when it comes to talk about ‘tools for entrepreneurs’ in and around Milton Keynes.

Defining success

I find it hard to believe that a business support facility backed by a major bank wouldn’t want some hard facts and figures to show the return on their investment. Sharon confirms that they’re working to certain Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to assess the productivity of the Accelerator Hub. “For me, the really important measurement is the percentage success rate, and our 87% success rate compares very favourably with the 50% success [or 50% failure rate] of unsupported businesses. We also measure investment attracted, jobs created, and number of entrepreneurs supported.”

Alongside these ‘hard outputs’ are the ‘soft outcomes’ that result from bringing entrepreneurs together under one roof. These include the connections being made – between entrepreneur and mentor, or at a peer-to-peer mutual support level – to create a local community and support ecosystem that is invaluable. “The stories behind the figures are what drives the magic – creating something that is sustainable, long lasting, and with a significant local impact.” 

Sharon also identifies what she describes as a ‘fluffier element’ when defining what success looks like. “At the Hub we talk a lot about having a growth mindset – this is about supporting and enabling people to take ownership of their decisions. Success is when those same entrepreneurs hire their team and use those same principles.

Another measure of success is our ability to get entrepreneurs out into schools to inspire the next generation, to give them a sense of purpose and the heightened sense of self-worth that comes from surviving the highs and lows of starting and running a business.”

Debbie continues… “For young people, having someone coming in to school as a non-parent and non-teacher, and showing interest in them can give them a real buzz and a sense of importance. And it can be particularly powerful when the entrepreneurs are of a similar age to the students.

Having a vision for the next generation seems appropriately forward-looking for a sector like banking and financial services that has been transformed in less than a generation, let alone between generations. As we finish, I reflect that ‘banking on the future’ summarises our conversation quite neatly.

For further information about the Milton Keynes Accelerator Hub, e-mail miltonkeynesaccelerator@natwest.com, go online at www.natwest.com/accelerator and you can book onto one of the Natwest Entrepreneur Milton Keynes events via www.eventbrite.co.uk

Business support – what matters?

On the same day this week that I learnt, with surprise and delight, that I’d been listed as a Top 50 Adviser 2018 by Enterprise Nation, I was reminded by my employer how badly I’d missed my target for business starts. Working with a charity supporting young people with complicated lives I appreciate that, for the funders, entrepreneurial success is best measured in tangibles – loans made (and repaid!) businesses started, jobs created etc.

This is understandable – ‘soft outcomes’ like increased self-confidence and improved mental health, better relations with money and family, are harder to quantify. But it risks giving the impression, to which I’ve referred in past blogs, that only what can be easily counted counts.

A work colleague recently asked me how I would define success in my job. I explained the hard versus soft outcomes debate and then described the progress of a young woman I’ve worked with who will probably never set up her own business but has made massive strides in her personal development. I’ve only played a small part in that young woman’s achievements, but I know she’s not the only one who has benefited from my start-up guidance.

When I was first encouraged to throw my hat in the ring with the Enterprise Nation Top 50 Adviser competition, I decided I’d only do so if I got ten endorsements from the young people with whom I’ve worked over the past 20 months. With only 24 hours to the entry deadline, I had three independent nominations and ten endorsements with some truly heart-warming comments from the young entrepreneurs. See above.

Which is how I come to be in the national Top 50 listing with the possibility of being voted top in the ‘Branding and Design’ category https://enterprisenation.com/top50 If you’re considering voting and you want to get an insight into my work with young people, click here https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/learning-about-earning

As you can imagine, I value that expression of support from those thirteen young people far more than any pay packet at the end of the month, but I do understand that I’m employed to keep other customers happy as well.

So, I must dash – there are businesses to be launched.

What young people have taught me about starting a business #1 – what it takes 

I’m a year into my new job with The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme, supporting young people aged 18 – 30 as they explore enterprise and self-employment. It seems like a good time to reflect and take stock.

As someone old enough to be their parent (and, dare I say it, I could be their grandparent) there’s a temptation to think that the wisdom of age and experience trumps all other knowledge. Of course it doesn’t – I never stop learning. So what have I learnt over the past 12 months from the young entrepreneurs?

Many of the young people I meet expect to be told what to do and castigated when they don’t (or can’t) do it. The Prince’s Trust Enterprise programme is not about pushing young people to start their own businesses – it’s about enabling them to make informed decisions about where they want to get to in the world of work, and how they might get there. Self-employment is just one possible destination.

A lot of the young people are surprised by this laid-back approach. It’s a fine line between encouragement and more assertive guidance but, in reality, if they can’t motivate themselves to develop their business ideas they’re unlikely to succeed. And if they want a regular boot up the backside, I suggest to them they find someone else to do the kicking.

It’s easy to make achievement one dimensional – as if only what can be counted counts. Yes, it’s important to celebrate success and statistics about new business starts, number of loans made, and mentors matched; these are tangible and easy to compare year on year. But the real progress may be far less visible. Given the complicated lives of some of the young entrepreneurs, arriving at a meeting at the right time and place can be a major achievement in itself. Many are trying to set up a business against all odds – and there are some remarkable successes, even within some ‘failed’ businesses.

Passion is not enough. TV talent shows have created this myth for young people that if they want something badly enough they’ll succeed. This is unfair, it sets up unrealistic expectation in the young entrepreneurs – their business idea may be a bad one and/or they may simply not have what it takes. Managing expectations calls for sensitivity and sometimes, as with parenting, you have to bite your lip and allow young people to make mistakes and, hopefully, learn from them.

A final lesson I’ve learned from these young, sometimes inspirational, entrepreneurs is that setting up a business is often their ‘plan B’. Plan A is to get someone else to pay you to work 9 – 5 with limited responsibility and certainly with someone else working out Tax and National Insurance.

And that’s where The Prince’s Trust can also point to success.

A large number of young people may not be successful business owners but, after attending a four-day ‘Explore Enterprise’ course, mentoring, and developing a business plan, they’re more confident and employable. And a good number then get work – job done!

If you’re 18-30 and want to explore the possibility of starting your own business (or you know someone who does), The Prince’s Trust Enterprise programme is for you. It’s free and available both face-to-face and online, visit www.princes-trust.org.uk/enterprise to find out more.

When high demand doesn’t mean success

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????A recent Enterprise Essentials blog alluded to the problems of success for parkruns around the country – concern about deterioration of courses, pressure on facilities, and conflicts with other users of the open spaces.

A 5K run on a Saturday morning is, of course, not a matter of life and death, but wear and tear on the NHS can, indeed, be life-threatening.

When the NHS was established in 1948, apparently it was envisaged that as the nation’s health improved demand for the national service would go down. We now know, of course, that prediction was very wrong; unlike in business, increased demand is not a sign of success!

M.D. (aka Dr Phil Hammond) writing in Private Eye magazine recently, reminded readers of this difference between the NHS and businesses. “If the NHS were just a large collection of independent businesses, emergency departments would be welcoming customers with open arms rather than begging them to shop elsewhere. If money truly did follow patients, the unprecedented demand that did for Circle [the private sector provider running Hinchingbrooke Hospital] would have saved it.

In the less pressured world of Men’s Sheds, there’s been an impressive growth in the number of sheds being set up across the UK. During 2014, the number of Sheds in the UKMSA network doubled to 127 and a further 58 are currently in development. It’s not unrealistic to think that number will double again in 2015.

The link with the NHS is relevant here, as sheds have been achieving great things in keeping older men out of the health system in other parts of the world (see http://bit.ly/1zyPWPx) and similar health benefits are now being reported closer to home.

At The Repair Shed in Hemel, we’re expecting a local surge in interest as our promotion kicks in and word of mouth spreads (we’ve already had three people recommending their fathers for membership). Like A&E departments around the country, albeit without serious risk to health, we may have to learn how to turn people away – a difficult lesson.

See  parkrun blog at https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/the-numbers-game

The numbers game

???????????????????????????????I’m a big fan of parkrun – the weekly 5K run (not a race…) enjoyed across the UK every Saturday at 9am by over 50,000 runners of all ages and abilities.

My first parkrun was in May 2013 and I’ve since led two parkrun teams in raising awareness and funds for Movember, run at five courses, and spent 9 months trying (unsuccessfully) to set up a parkrun in my home town. I enjoy marshalling at some of the runs (along with over 5,000 others volunteers) almost as much as the running. What I was told when I started –“it’s not about the running, it’s about the community” – is absolutely true for me and, I believe, a vast number of other parkrunners.

Looking only at the numbers is one way of measuring whether parkrun is successful. The organisers have an amazing array of statistics – compiled and updated weekly by the individual parkruns and available for all to see. The stats paint an impressive picture and the organisers and sponsors are rightly praised for mobilising so many people to take exercise on a regular basis. Note the parkrun seeds were sown 10 years ago – long before the 2012 Olympics. For me, the personal stories from members of the parkrunners’ community are an equally powerful testimony to the importance of the parkrun phenomenon.

But now parkrun is facing a problem of its own success – the number of people wanting to get involved is causing concern about wear and tear on routes, pressure on facilities such as parking and toilets and, in some cases, is bringing runners into conflict with other users of the public spaces. I also sense that over about 150 runners, the special dynamic of the community changes, but this is just a gut feeling.

The parkrun UK strategy for dealing with the spectacular increase in interest seems to be to create many more parkruns – having ten by this time next year is the aspiration for my home county (where we currently have three). In theory, each would attract smaller numbers of runners, travelling shorter distances to get there, and reducing pressure on any one location.

It’s not just parkrun that has to address issues around growth. In the field of social enterprise, there’s an ongoing debate about how best to scale (up) successful producers and providers. The trick is to balance the often conflicting demands associated with addressing ever-growing unmet need cost-effectively while protecting the very thing that makes social enterprise so special; the closeness to customers, connection with the wider community and a sense of shared ownership within the enterprise itself.

It’s the age-old debate about appropriate scale, quality vs quantity of (jargon alert!) outputs and outcomes, and about the breadth and depth of provision. Those concerned about the development and growth of social enterprise, interested in scaling up to make enough difference to enough people’s lives to be taken seriously by mainstream naysayers, might do well to look to the runners in their local parks for some of the answers.

More about parkrun at www.parkrun.org.uk