Tag Archives: partnership working

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).

The Feed – a recipe for resilience

Latest in the new ‘More Expert by Experience’ series

Barry AllardThe Feed is a trading arm of Community Interest Company LEAP (www.norwichleap.co.uk)  providing fine food, catering services and more, in and around Norwich. They’re passionate about food and people – well, that’s what it says on their website – and nothing The Feed’s founder Barry Allard, a Fellow of the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ipswich, tells me makes me think otherwise.                                                                                                                                                                                    I’m re-interviewing Barry 18 months on from our first chat about what starting a social enterprise demands and how he and his growing team have overcome the challenges.

The ‘social’ part of the enterprise is about providing work experience and training in hospitality and catering for those who, for a variety of reasons, are furthest from the job market.

The academy that Barry talked about in September 2014 has now supported three cohorts of learners through a 12-week course. The Flourish Employment Academy involves formal training working in the business and day workshops at local food producers.

When I ask about the intention 18 months ago to source ingredients locally, Barry is upfront about current considerations,

“We aim to use local producers wherever possible, and the Norfolk Food & Drink Festival community have helped us with this, but increasingly we also have to be aware about the cost of buying local.”

Balancing the ‘social’ and the ‘enterprise’ – principle and profit – is nothing new amongst businesses like The Feed that set out to bring business solutions to social problems. Barry is honest but positive about how they’ve been getting their house in order in recent months.

“I was realising that the hours I was putting into setting up The Feed [and LEAP – also founded by Barry] were not sustainable, and I required people with the necessary experience in the catering and hospitality industry.”

Feed logoThe solution was to take the big step of employing an experienced chef and adding to the staff team another recruit with relevant catering and retailing skills. Barry believes that they are now getting on top of the figures with better costings and the ability to make more informed decisions about which events to attend to make money and/or raise their profile. This has also enabled The Feed to make more contacts in the industry.

Another major development is the relocation of The Feed to Open – a multi-purpose arts and entertainment venue in central Norwich working with and for young people. Access to bigger kitchens, and opportunities to cater for conferences and other events on-site, has demonstrated the benefits of The Feed’s willingness to work in partnership with others.

18 months ago Barry Allard was aware that the catering and hospitality industry was not easy sector to work in. It seems his opinion hasn’t changed,

“It’s a difficult business; there’s the upfront expenditure with no guaranteed return and the potential for waste. A lot of behind-the-scenes work goes into putting food on the plate with associated costs, and success is often weather-dependent.”

Barry hasn’t yet worked out how to control the weather, but I’m left with the impression that he and his team are getting a firm grip on the financials and also seeing reward in preparing learners well for the world of work wherever their careers take them.   

Further reading:

Fast Food, Lifelong Learning https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/09/23/fast-food-lifelong-learning (September 2014)

Follow The Feed at http://the-feed.co.uk Twitter: @TheFeedCIC   Facebook: thefeedCIC

An A – Z of social entrepreneurship: A – D

As a contribution to Global Entrepreneurship Week (17 – 23 November) Chris Lee blogs his personal and highly selective reflections on what increases the effectiveness of social entrepreneurship to mobilise resources of all kinds for positive change and social impact in and beyond local communities.

A – Accountability

Even when you’re spending your own money you’re not truly free to behave as you might wish. You have a responsibility to guard against your actions having a negative impact and to be aware that a poorly executed plan may harm the credibility of those who follow you. When you’re working with vulnerable people, as clients or employees, their welfare should also be your concern.

 B – Balance

Rarely are there right and wrong ways of doings things, even when applying a proven model in a new situation. For all the online advice and training manuals, social entrepreneurship is about testing new and different ways to bring positive change in society and seeing ever obstacle as a new opportunity. Ultimately the ‘right way’ is likely to be a compromise – balancing conflicting needs and interests.

 C – Collaboration

It’s too easy to stereotype entrepreneurship as being competitive (and aggressive if you believe ‘The Apprentice’…) and social entrepreneurship as being about collaboration. In reality, entrepreneurs of all varieties know the value of networking and building mutually-beneficial alliances with others. Indeed, with growing need and shrinking resources, partnership may be the only answer in some cases!

 D – Decision-making and democracy

When asked, four years on, why he’d not consulted the community when setting up a (very successful) social enterprise, the entrepreneur replied “They’d still be trying to decide what to call it if I had.”  

Consultation and involvement are our watchwords, but they can make decision-making more cumbersome. Business decision-making tends to be more streamlined. But, ultimately, which brings better decisions?

Enterprise essential – collaborate to compete

In the social economy, successful collaboration is as likely to sustain your enterprise in difficult times as is successful competition. Partnerships and consortia are a growing trend for bidding or contracts. But don’t over-estimate the potential savings from scaling-up your enterprise – particularly when you are selling services rather than products.

 

Good fences make good neighbours

???????????????????????????????‘Good fences make good neighbours’ is a line in a Robert Frost poem that’s much better known than the poem itself – Mending Wall* – which we studied at school many moons ago.  I think of it every time I repair the windblown fence panels in our back garden (and trample all over our neighbour’s flowerbeds while doing so).

I was reminded of it again recently when resolving an incident with a partner organisation that could have had severe consequences for The Repair Shed’s future. In the not-for-private-profit-sector there’s a tendency to think that because ‘we’re all in it together working for a common cause’ we’ll collaborate, co-operate and generally be nice to each other. This, of course, is not always the case.

I’ve spent 35 years in the not-for-private- profit sector and I’ve been a member of a trade union all that time (I’m amazed how few of my colleagues have been union members). When I first joined a union I was told “you’re wasting your money, you’re working with friends”. But that’s the point; it’s harder being hard with people you know and like. Having a professional body to intervene on your behalf de-personalises and professionalises the negotiation. This has been the case on a couple of occasions in my 35 years (and recovered the cost of my union subs many times over!)

Not that the recent ‘falling out’ needed anything like union intervention, but it did result in us agreeing to formalise expectations about relationships and behaviour by putting it in writing – to make it explicit to everyone involved – friends new and old and those yet to come on board.

Someone recently said ‘I’m straight with people and then I don’t lie awake worrying’. I can now see the wisdom in that – being clear, consistent, direct, but sensitive, in our written and verbal communications can go a long way to maintaining friendly and effective relationships inside and outside work.

So make good your fences and you won’t need to mend them so often.

*www.poemhunter.com/poem/mending-wall