Tag Archives: motivation

What young people have taught me about starting a business #3 – the support

Concluding a three-part series of what I’ve learnt over two years working with young would-be business owners….

Age, experience and influence

As business advisers to young people, I think we’re at risk of overlooking one of the most valuable resources we have in our midst – other young people of a similar age. We see it happening in group training sessions – the animated exchange of ideas in the breaks away from the formal learning. To date I’ve been largely unable to capitalise on this opportunity for encouraging peer support as a potentially effective way to sustain the commitment to business start-up.

I’ve facilitated ‘buddying up’ on a limited scale – notably where one young entrepreneur is now employing another, and a couple of ‘joint ventures’ – but there’s scope for more. Role models of the same age, albeit with only relatively greater experience, are also potentially more motivating than even successful business people from another generation.

The sharing of profiles of young entrepreneurs – covering their successes as well as their failures – becomes ever more possible in our increasingly multi-media world. This is not about setting them up cool, edgy mini celebrities, rather it’s about getting it straight from honest influencers they relate to and can trust. It’s also showing what’s possible through relatable case studies.

What it takes to succeed

18 months after launching her (successful) beauty business, one of the entrepreneurs I’ve worked with apologised for not responding sooner to my e-mail – “I’ve just had my first holiday” she explained.

I’ll be using this to get across to other young entrepreneurs a bit of the reality of setting up a new business. It’s always a fine line between being brutally honest and being positive and encouraging, but mass media and ‘get rich quick’ TV programmes can give a false impression of the life of the entrepreneur.

Guidance from those who have been there and done it (as suggested above) can be important voices in administering a dose of reality mixed with inspiration – ‘see what I achieved despite the setbacks.’ There’s also a place for giving greater attention to the entrepreneurial mindset needed to start a business (often alone) without suggesting that it can’t be learned. Many of the young people I work with have too often been told what they can’t do, rather than being encouraged to see what they might achieve.

Tough love

I’ve been accused of being too soft on the young people with whom I work – giving them too much of my time, making too many allowances for their behaviour, seeing only the best in them. An observation from a supportive and very experienced colleague “this business idea should have been knocked on the head at birth” pretty much sums it up.

At an organisational level, it points up the difficult balancing act that is living your personal and professional values – to support those that the rest of society may have written off while recognising that, ultimately, would-be entrepreneurs have got to do it for themselves and that no organisation can afford to ‘flog dead horses’.

Previously…

Lesson #1 – what it takes              https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/08/28/what-young-people-have-taught-me-about-starting-a-business 

Lessons #2 – the entrepreneurs  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2018/09/18/what-young-people-have-taught-me-about-starting-a-business-2-the-entrepreneurs/

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.

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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.

GAP Learning – a growing family

Latest in the new More Expert by Experience series

Teresa and AmandaNearly 18 months after graduating from the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ipswich, I discover that fellow fellows Amanda Page and Teresa Crickmar are sisters. Well I only studied alongside them for 12 months… There has also been a wedding, but more about that later.

When I first interviewed the two sisters separately, almost exactly two years ago, they were developing two different social enterprises – FullSpoon (Amanda) and Craftworks (Teresa). I hadn’t a clue they planned to work so closely together to launch GAP Learning, but then I’ve discovered there’s a lot I didn’t know about them.

The Craftworks and FullSpoon courses are still happy and healthy* but they have now been gathered under one roof – GAP Learning (a Community Interest Company) with a new upstart moving in – She Loves Him Tho’. GAP stands for Generating Alternative Possibilities with a mission to reach out and get people at biggest disadvantage into education, training and employment through volunteering and learning.

As Amanda explains, that learning includes “a free five-week ‘Healthy Eating on a Budget’ FullSpoon course which includes food safety, budgeting, reducing food waste and cooking.” In comparison, Teresa describes Craftwork’s training as “A mini product design course, getting people talking, thinking about a stress-free life, thinking about learning and gaining new skills by making beautiful products to sell, with an option to set up in business.”

gap logo

Working with ‘hard to motivate’ learners can be exhausting but, for both sisters, this makes the small and large breakthroughs all the more rewarding. “It’s the elation of anything from a learner eventually ‘getting it’, to prising someone out of bed in the morning!”

Like nervous parents with fast-growing children, Amanda and Teresa don’t like to see their learners leave when the courses come to an end, so they offer them lots of progression routes instead. And, like teenagers who don’t really want to leave the comfort of home, some of the learners are only too happy to stay on!

Teresa explains “Once a course has finished, around 20% of graduates sign up to stay on for work experience with, for example, our partners at the local Love Food, Hate Waste project. Some graduates progress to paid roles for a few hours a week and also volunteer with GAP Learning.” Amanda elaborates “Two learners are now tutors, having been trained at Cambridge Regional College. Other part-time roles include administration, design and social media. Then there are one-off volunteering opportunities like event management.”

GAP learning 1Craftworks Rocks is their latest innovation, with young men being trained to make stylish pallet-wood boxes to store and display crafted magnets made by other learners and sold to the public. The plan is to locate the boxes in coffee shops and retail outlets nationally with income being used to pay the producers for more magnets, and to subsidise the courses to keep them free to learners.  Craftworks Rocks was the focus for a recent crowdfunding campaign which raised enough to launch the initiative to meet early demand for the boxes and magnets.

She loves him tho picIt was a ‘Social Venture Weekend’ at Cambridge Judge Business School and a wedding that sparked the latest addition to the GAP Learning family. Amanda was getting married and as she recalls     “I realised there was nowhere that creative people could have the fun of crafting their own wedding items – making rings and other jewellery, designing and printing invitations and menus, decorating shoes.” ‘She loves him tho’ was conceived “It’s a programme of workshops for brides, grooms and their relatives to create a bespoke ethical wedding range that helps make someone else’s life better.”

Amid such change and growth, has Amanda and Teresa’s mission also changed?

“No” says Teresa (like all close sisters, I realise one often speaks on behalf of them both) “Our mission has stayed the same – we want clear positive change through group learning for people with challenges. We’ve put some boundaries on who we work with and, even if we can’t really afford to, we’ll sometimes say  ‘no’ because of our strong values.” 

Building the team has also meant that Teresa and Amanda have had to learn how to manage – both people and processes. “Because we’re now paying people we have to equate our own time and theirs when costing items. We have to set targets and deadlines and it helps them that we’re clearer about expectations. We’re training them for the world of work so time management and good discipline are important.”

“For our part we have to be more realistic about how long things take, get a grip on cash-flow (were learning how payments can lag behind sales) and remind ourselves that unlike the understanding between the two of us, other people can’t read our minds!

As our conversation comes to an end, I ask what’s on the horizon. I admire social entrepreneurs who are self-aware and confident enough to admit their weaknesses alongside trumpeting their successes. Amanda and Teresa are upfront about their needs; funding and financial management are next on their to-do list.  Sounds like a good topic for a new GAP Learning course…

*The health of Craftworks is shown by a recent Social Return on Investment (SROI) calculation showing that for every £1 invested, the service creates £60 in social value. More at http://www.gaplearning.co.uk/documents/SRoI_Report.pdf

Further reading:

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/putting-a-price-on-hidden-talent (Craftworks, February 2014)

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/fast-food-for-hungry-learners (Full Spoon, March 2014)

Follow Amanda and Teresa on Twitter: @GAPlearning, Facebook: GAPLearningCIC , and at http://www.gaplearning.co.uk  and www.sheloveshim.co.uk

Something to sing about

concert posterThere has been much discussion recently about football managers, their relationships with the players and, by extension, their influence on match results. There are well-known studies of the effect a new manager taking charge of a failing team can have – achieving instant success (if only for a game or two).

On the same day in December 2015 that the Guardian newspaper published an article by Oliver Burkeman explaining why singing in a choir makes you happy, I discovered the benefit of having a new team manager (or Musical Director to be more accurate) in charge of our local choir – the Royston Choral Society.

I started singing in the choir in 2000. I missed the team-work associated with playing football and I felt that my physical fitness could do with a boost. I started running for fitness and joined the choir for the team-work. The running also helped when I was late for our weekly rehearsals…

And that’s been the case for the past 15 years with a Musical Director who lived music 24 hours a day and showcased the best the choir could manage for up to five concerts a year. I suppose I’d accepted that we’d achieved a creditable standard but didn’t have the potential to do much more.

But then poor health forced our incumbent Musical Director to step down and, in September of this year, we ‘signed’ a new manager. For me this was both scary and exciting having only sung under the leadership of the previous conductor.  After a comprehensive interview process there was agreement between choir members and the panel as to who was the best of the three candidates.

And we are now discovering how right we were with the appointment. When I joined I was told that singing in the choir was firstly about having fun and secondly about making a good sound. We’re now doing both by the bucket-load!

Our new Musical Director and conductor Andrew O’Brien has managed, in just three months, to convince us we can perform better, to sing with feeling (if that doesn’t sound too pretentious) and to sing at a higher standard than I could ever have imagined – all with largely the same group of (ageing) singers.

Our December Christmas concert was an amazing experience – for both choir and audience. Two concert-goers mouthed ‘wow’ after one of our pieces; I’ve never seen that happen before in my 15 years with the Royston Choral Society.

In football, the instant success of the new manager is often followed by a swift slide back to more familiar poor results. I refuse to believe our musical team will return to a lower division while our new manager Andy is in the dugout.

Oliver Burkeman’s article on the delights of singing in a choir is at http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/dec/18/why-singing-makes-people-happy-oliver-burkeman

Taking people with you

We will gather 1

Social media makes community action so much easier

“If you want to get something done, ask a busy person”

Recently I’ve been grappling with a problem which, I’m sure, is quite common.  This makes it all the more frustrating that, after 35 years of trying to mobilise people to take action of one sort of another (ie throughout my career in not-for-profit marketing) I’ve hit this brick wall now.

I’m working on two projects are the moment (I’ll save the blushes of those involved by excluding details) where people who have previously expressed interest, do not now seem to want to be involved with those projects. I know they’re active, committed and yes – busy – individuals; that’s why I asked them in the first place!

Over the last few months, I think I’ve given them both ample opportunity to get involved and the chance to say directly if they want out. But, despite my best efforts, they’re pretty much voting with their feet and staying away without explanation. A couple of people have said they’ll get involved when the projects are up and running, but I need help now!

As I write this, lots of questions fill my head…

Are they interested but just too busy? Someone suggested summer is a bad time to start things because of holidays and competition from fair-weather activities. But these people first declared their interest at the start of 2014.

Maybe they’re no longer interested and don’t want to offend me by saying so? Granted I regard many of them as friends, and sensitive friends at that, but I regard being upfront as hallmarks of a healthy relationship. Indeed one of those people has been both helpful and honest by telling me they’re bowing out from further involvement.

Another question is whether I or they are being reasonable / unreasonable? I admit I sort of co-opted them to get involved, but a mild bit of bullying is sometimes needed to persuade and, after all, they’re grown-ups. Surely it shouldn’t come down to me chasing them all the time?

Revisiting basic marketing principles, I suppose one way for me to get answers to these questions is to ask the people concerned, individually, how they feel about being involved. The fact that so many are staying away suggests I’m doing something fundamentally wrong (painful to acknowledge) or maybe their reasons are all different, all equally valid and/or could be addressed with a bit of effort on both our parts. If I don’t ask them I’ll probably never know.

In the meantime it would be great to get insights and advice from readers of this blog. As I said at the start, I’m sure I’m not alone in having trouble drumming up support for a new initiative. How did you get to take people with you when you needed them?

Running on fumes – a case for lean business start-up?


Month six of my year-long journey on the Lloyds Bank School for Social Entrepreneurs start-up programme. The creative environment at our monthly group learning sessions in Ipswich at the Eastern Enterprise Hub is always stimulating. Our last gathering got me thinking…

running-on-fumesStarting a new enterprise is always a balance between getting going and doing your homework first. Clearly having a sound plan and a solid funding base before developing a business makes sense, but could the ‘lean start-up’ approach be a quicker route to financial viability?

When I was at primary school, my mother seemed to be driving around on very little petrol much of the time. If I pointed out the petrol gauge was in the red, she would simply speed up – “to get home before it runs out” she’d explain.

Yes, pressure – to get home, to meet a deadline, to get a business up and running – can lead to irrational behaviour. But maybe real entrepreneurship means just that – cutting corners and taking risks (with due regard for health and safety) and doing things differently – however irrational and ill-advised it may seem at the time.

Bedford-based social entrepreneur Lynn Serafinn uses the phrase ‘running on fumes’ in an excellent blog post on social enterprise start-ups in which she passionately argues against letting your heart rule your head when it comes to money. But maybe, just maybe, there are benefits to be had from taking my mum’s approach to overcoming a shortage of fuel for the journey? Four thoughts on this subject:

Motivation: We know that in a dangerous situation, our adrenalin kicks in to enable physical feats – jumping clean over a sofa to avoid a violent confrontation was one such achievement for an unfit friend of mine. More general discomfort can also encourage us to go further, faster. I know a couple who built a house in just less than a year while living in a garden shed that was little bigger than the double bed inside it. Their friends decided to do the same thing – but while living in a nice, comfortable warm house. They were struggling to get their house finished many years later.

Real market testing: In his much-praised 2011 book The Lean Start-up, Eric Ries suggests that it’s a good idea to put a product out into the marketplace before it’s fully developed. Getting a product developed for sale at ‘just beyond pro-type stage’ will get more genuine feedback from purchasers than will more theoretical market research. Also, Reis argues, 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.

Less padding, more purpose: Without the luxury of unlimited resources, the new enterprise is forced to hone in on essential spending (assuming you have some objective ways of defining ‘essential’) with a keen focus on purpose; what are we trying to achieve? I’m currently watching a national programme of activity evolve through two broad development routes – top-down (the deluxe model) and bottom-up (the lean machine approach). A few years from now I’ll be intrigued to see which route has been the more sustainable and, ultimately, more successful.

Attracting finance: Even when seeking start-up funding, it may be a good strategy to get your business out there before you have all your proverbial ducks in a row. A social lender recently told me “proof works” when pitching for 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.

What do you think – is ‘running on fumes’ the way to go fast, or go bust?

References:

Lynn Serafinn’s blog post http://the7gracesofmarketing.com/2013/10/show-me-the-money-thoughts-on-social-enterprise-start-ups

The Lean Start Up by Eris Ries www.hive.co.uk/book/the-lean-startup-how-constant-innovation-creates-radically-successful-businesses/13291794

Funding your social enterprise with or without money www.theguardian.com/social-enterprise-network/2014/feb/10/how-to-guide-funding-your-social-enterprise

Enterprise essential – 3 questions to assess your actions

When assessing different courses of action, help your decision-making by looking at motivation (is this desirable, necessary?) achievability (is it realistic, relevant?) and impact (will it make the most difference, what if we did nothing?)