Tag Archives: spin

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

Slowing the spin about social enterprise  

Before Christmas I wrote about resisting the temptation to sanctify social entrepreneurs and I think the same goes for over-selling social enterprise.

IMG_3712As a social enterprise supporter of the past 15 years or so, I’m naturally delighted when the sector gets a positive profile-raising plug, but I’m equally dismayed when someone goes over the top about what social enterprise has achieved. And the praise is usually coupled with a side-swipe at mainstream business.

It’s all too easy to cast the private sector as the villain and social enterprises – assuming that implies the business is ‘not-for-private-profit’ – 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 (ref David Floyd’s social enterprise myth-buster).

I also think scale is relevant. Big isn’t automatically better, but until social enterprises (individually or collectively) make enough difference to enough people’s lives, I believe they won’t offer a realistic alternative to mainstream business models – holding the moral high ground will never be enough.  This isn’t to knock small scale, community-rooted enterprise – it can demonstrate a better way of doing business – but we shouldn’t pretend it’s going to change the world until it’s more ubiquitous and until many more people benefit.

In an imperfect world, I’m happy to credit a large scale solution to a social problem rather than condemn it outright for being big and motivated by making a profit for shareholders. What I’m not happy about is mainstream contractors (they all seem to have numbers in their names these days) providing public services badly and passing themselves off as social businesses. We know who they are…

There’s a well-worn saying in customer care – ‘under-promise and over-provide’. In other words, say you’ll deliver an order within a week and have it with your customer the next day, not the other way around.  The same should go for social enterprise which has a rich heritage that goes back at least 165 years to the Rochdale Pioneers – founding fathers of the co-operative movement.

Recent difficulties for the Co-op Bank show how easily reputations for ‘better business’ can be shaken, so it’s more important than ever to manage expectations about what social enterprise can achieve. If we get carried away with our own publicity and hold it up as the solution to all economic, social and environmental ills, and it’s then found wanting, we could see customers taking their business back to mainstream suppliers – condemning social enterprise as ‘all mouth and no trousers’.


Slowing the spin about social entrepreneurshttps://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/slowing-the-spin-about-social-entrepreneurs

David Floyd social enterprise mythbusterhttp://www.theguardian.com/social-enterprise-network/2013/oct/03/private-sector-social-enterprise-ethics

A shorter version of this blog first appeared on the Social Enterprise East of England blog site

Slowing the spin about social entrepreneurs

I tend to be a little suspicious of people who call themselves social entrepreneurs; I personally think it’s for others to use that description. It’s also been, in my opinion, too narrowly defined as someone who starts a social enterprise. I believe a social entrepreneur is someone who mobilises resources and – jargon alert – empowers others to make a difference, often in a community setting. That mobilisation may or may not be around a business idea.

And I think the School for Social Entrepreneurs [currently supporting me through a 12 month Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs start-up programme at the Eastern Enterprise Hub in Ipswich] would agree with me.

Welldone l1People have written elsewhere about the dangers of would-be entrepreneurs believing the hype that people who start social enterprises have some god-given right to succeed. Some of the blame is laid at the foot of those annual awards ceremonies; the social enterprise sector has its fair share of them. I’m all for celebrating success, but I know of at least one case where a national award winner was out of business less than two years later!

If I sound like a grumpy old git (I’m 58 but not old or grumpy) I don’t mean to and I’m not alone in my views. I was chatting recently about older entrepreneurs with a (much younger) staff member of a social enterprise support organisation. She made an insightful distinction between the views of younger and older entrepreneurs as the difference between new parents and grandparents. The new parent/entrepreneur thinks their baby/enterprise is beyond criticism, the grandparent is equally passionate but tends to be more objective and measured – ‘a different energy’ was how she described it.

Entrepreneurs of all kinds have been around for generations – some are remarkable, most are not.  Maybe it’s time to get our feet firmly back on the ground and get back to basics?

Michael Gerber, US small business adviser and writer, has made a name for himself by coining a concept – the E-myth [where E is for ‘entrepreneurial’]. He has shared his theory in books – I came across his ideas in The E-myth Revisited’ – talks and paid consultancy around the world. Nice work if you can get it, but I’m not knocking his success because I think the E-myth is sound and it’s beautifully simple to grasp.

In essence, the E-myth is ‘Just because you can bake a cake doesn’t mean you can run a bakery’.

Yes – we’ve all heard of people who’ve turned a hobby into a business but this is probably not typical and do we ever hear how long those often home-based (or should that be half-baked?) businesses survive?

Gerber argues that in all his years of studying small business start-ups, the most common factor in determining their success or failure is how quickly the entrepreneur recognises what s/he is not good at, and then takes steps to remedy any shortfall.

He suggests that there are three broad roles in any start-up – the entrepreneur (for vision and ideas), the technician (rolling up sleeves and doing) and the manager (bringing all the different elements of the business together). Assuming the entrepreneur hasn’t got all those skills in equal measure (and unlimited time) they will need to beg, steal or borrow them by bringing in others as soon as they can afford to do so, maybe sooner.

As always, I suppose it’s about balance – being positive and quietly confident, enjoying any sincere praise that comes your way, but seriously listening to and assessing constructive criticisms. How balanced are you?

For more on the cult of the social entrepreneur, see  http://beanbagsandbullsh1t.com/2010/04/ and http://www.pioneerspost.com/comment/20130410/letter-young-social-entrepreneur-the-poor-are-not-the-raw-material-your-salvation