Tag Archives: taking time

Eight tips for business start-ups    

Share your start-up ideas

You may be tempted to think your business idea is so clever that others will steal your idea as soon as they hear about it. Chances are your idea isn’t so unique, and you have more to gain from telling everyone who is prepared to listen than keeping your cards close to your chest. Unless you have a potentially patentable product, don’t waste time and money on protection – even with a patent you probably can’t afford to defend it. https://youngfoundation.org/social-innovation-investment/social-enterprise-mistakes-worrying-that-someone-will-steal-your-idea/

Consider a lean start-up

We talk about finishing a business plan before launching a business to lay solid foundations to give the business the best chance of success. In reality, a business plan is never finished – it’s a promise not proof and sometimes waiting to ‘get it right’ is an excuse for doing nothing. Sometimes it’s good to jump in before all the details are worked out. At that ‘test trading/ piloting’ stage you’re doing real life market research and you’ll probably be more willing to make changes because the plan is less fixed and you’ve committed less time to it. https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/03/06/running-on-fumes-a-case-for-lean-business-start-up

Things always take longer than you want/ expect

When you’re fired up about your business idea, you don’t want to be told that it won’t develop as quickly as you’d like; that things won’t follow the time-line in your well-worked business plan. You’ll want to keep the momentum going but remember – your timetable is no one else’s. If you’re collaborating with others and depending on the support of partners who have less interest in your success than you do, you may have to be patient – they have their own timetables.

Passion is rarely enough

People are too eager to say that passion is all you need for starting a business (it certainly helps) and if you want it badly enough you’ll succeed. The latter is not true and sets up people to fail. Some business ideas and the people behind them have no chance of success and ‘managing expectations’, if not actually damping down their enthusiasm, is often kinder in the long run. That said, being proved wrong is always a delight! https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2013/10/27/lesson-1-roots-wings-and-balance

Be prepared to stop making products you want to sell and start making products that people want to buy.

The paying customers is (almost) always right – if they want it, make it. Business is business – don’t let your personal views stop a sale (unless it’s a commission that simply won’t work).

If you’re making products, you’ll probably take pride in your creation having spent a lot of time and effort in the process. But you have to let go – in business you must be prepared to sell your favourite pieces, even to people who don’t appreciated your talent. You may also have to compromise your standards and at times; accept ‘good enough’ to operate competitively. https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/the-paying-customer-is-always-right

Keep it simple and limit choice

Whether it’s pricing and discounts / membership processes and application forms / product and service ranges, keep it simple. You shouldn’t need a degree to work out the price of an item after taking off the discount, adding delivery and VAT etc. It’s also proven that limiting choice will result in higher overall sales. So, don’t display 15 different ‘bespoke’ mirrors – put 5 in the spotlight and keep 10 under the counter.

The ‘right way’ is rarely clear cut

‘Getting it right’ is usually a question of balancing different options. Whether it’s balancing social and financial objectives, pricing for affordability vs pricing for viability, and balancing quality against cost-effective production, there’s usually a judgement to be made. Making 150 bird boxes is good for business but not for the wellbeing of workers who want to be creative.

You can’t run a business on fresh air and goodwill

You can go a long way by appealing to your friends and family and tapping into the time and expertise of volunteers – there’s a lot of free support and advice around, particularly for start-ups. But sustaining a functioning business in the longer term, is likely to need at least some paid staff input. A contract of employment is important for underpinning commitment and reliability.

For more start-up lessons go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/learning-about-earning

 

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When customer care doesn’t have to costa lot

coffe-mugIn 2002, I visited a community café in Market Rasen in Lincolnshire – I was helping to set up something similar in the Cambridgeshire Fens at the time.  The entrepreneurial organisers of the café – Arena – had recently paid £2,000 for an Italian coffee maker (a machine, not a barista) and I’m not sure they didn’t have to import it direct from Italy.

I use their purchase – a bold and costly investment at that time – in marketing courses as an example of a USP (Unique Selling Proposition) that differentiated Arena from the other two cafes in the town – a greasy spoon and a teashop with doyleys. (If you’re too young to know what doyleys or greasy spoons are, look them up).  They made excellent coffee at a time when that was hard to find, particularly in a market town, and people used to travel from far and wide for Arena’s continental offering. But that wasn’t all; the baristas taught their customers how to use the machine and had them judge each other’s brews. ‘Barista of the Week’ posters adorned the walls of the café.

I’m sorry to report that the Arena Café closed in 2009 after the best part of a decade, so it looks like their USP had a limited shelf-life.

Of course, excellent coffee wouldn’t be such a strong USP these days with coffee shops on every corner. The theory goes that everybody now has to make great coffee because customers expect it, right? And all the competition means cafes have to look after their customers or they close, right? And the best coffee shops are local and independent, right?

Well, no – not in my experience.

All I want from a high street coffee shop is decent coffee (but I’m easy to please…) and somewhere I can relax with no hassle from staff – so passive, reactive customer care does me fine. Which is not easy to find in many popular coffee and cake outlets where they want to get you out as quickly as possible once you’ve stopped spending. I once heard that a famous burger chain tilted their seats forward slightly to discourage customers from staying too long, but that may be an urban myth.

we-dont-rush-our-coffeeSo, I’m happy to commend a chain of coffee shops – Costa – for treating their customers like adults, and for being friendly and laid back. My day-job means I meet enterprising young people for 1-2-1 advice sessions on a regular basis. A coffee shop is ideal – a public place where they can relax, stay out of the cold, and get a hot drink. Costa coffee shops are particularly suitable because they’re ubiquitous, accessible, usually have enough space and, above all, the staff are relaxed about me staying all day to meet a steady stream of visitors.

In practice I introduce myself when I arrive and explain what I’m doing. They seem to be genuinely interested – one manager wanted me to take a look at his business plan (part of my job) for a new venture, another offered commiserations when two young people failed to turn up. In every location I’ve been to, the staff have let me set up a tab and I pay for all the drinks when I leave. They haven’t learnt my name yet or started making my regular drink (medium Americano in a takeaway cup since you ask…) as I walk through the door, but that might come with time.

Another way to build your reputation is through consistently good service (assuming you have a winning formula). A recent return to a Costa coffee shop was just as I’d hoped – the manager welcomed me; said he remembered me from last time (I bet he says that to everyone) then left me well alone until it was time to pay.

Afterword: Yes, I know the chain is run by a hospitality conglomerate, I know that their coffee shops are franchises, but I still want to drink to their continued success.

 

The accidental fixer

vac-inspectionIt says much about the kind of people who attend Repair Café events (and many return because they enjoy the experience so much) that Peter Howarth turned up to a recent repair session in Royston, Hertfordshire, with his broken vacuum cleaner and ended up fixing someone else’s instead!

I wanted to find out a bit about the man behind this generous act, this is what I found out…

Have you always been interested in repairs? 

No, not in repairs exactly; it’s more about being interested in finding out how things work… as well as in the general challenge of solving problems of course.

Did you have any formal training?        

No, though as a teenager growing up in Lancaster, I used to work in my dad’s farm and garden equipment business on Saturdays and during school holidays. This included machinery sales, servicing and repairs, so I had quite a lot of ‘on-the-job’ exposure to practical problem-solving, with things like lawnmowers, cultivators and milking machines. 

In general, are you a practical person? 

Yes, I guess so. However, I think my interest mainly comes from inquisitiveness. From an early age I used to take things apart to see how they worked… and (happily) I gradually got better at putting them back together again. 

This was not without a few hiccups along the way though…  I remember years ago investigating the family video recorder after a tape got stuck, which is probably an experience best forgotten… It took me the best part of the weekend to get it back in working order, and tapes still stuck afterwards!

Also of course, when growing up, I had to service and repair my own bikes and cars to save some cash, so you learn as you go along. I must admit though, that today’s cars have many more electronic ‘black boxes’ and computerised engine management components under the bonnet, so they are not as straightforward to repair for the interested ‘home mechanic.’

vac-fix-success

At the recent Royston Repair Café session, how did you end up helping someone else fix their vacuum cleaner, but not your own?! 

I brought along my machine after starting to repair it because I realised it had a clutch problem and thought there may be someone there with more experience of the servicing routine.

However, while I was waiting my turn, I saw a chap with another vacuum cleaner who had been waiting for a while and asked if he’d like me to take a look at it for him. He was happy for me to take it apart to run some tests and happily we managed to find the cause of his problem and get it up and running again. I enjoyed doing something practical and he was able to return a working machine to his daughter – a good result all round!

Has the experience whetted your appetite to be a volunteer repairer at the next Royston Repair Café on February 5th?

Yes, there’s a lot of satisfaction in making something work that has previously been a ‘dead duck’ and it’s great to keep things out of landfill if they can be mended. 

Also, during the working week I’m a freelance marketing consultant who helps people to grow their businesses, so the Repair Cafe was a complete change from the day job and it was really good fun to be a member of the team.

Further information:

Royston Repair Cafe: http://www.facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe                                              Peter Howarth and his business: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/peterhowarth

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)

 

 

Keeping the past alive

Guest blog from Kathy Wilson, Royston Repair Cafe volunteer

IMG_0051Sometimes items arriving for repair at the Royston Repair Café are from a bygone era. This was certainly the case on Sunday 24th April 2016, when Naomi Wallen brought her grandfather’s 50-year-old Ekco Transistor Radio, which didn’t seem to tune into any modern radio stations.

Naomi fondly remembers the radio always on whenever she visited her grandfather’s house as a child, and expressed how lovely it would be to have it working again.

The volunteer repairers were clearly excited with the prospect of taking apart something so old and doing their best to get it working again. Because there are usually lots of owners bringing in broken goods, normally only one volunteer repairer can look at each item. But this was special, so next thing at least three repairers were eagerly bent over the partially dismantled radio, all giving their views on what the problem could be.

IMG_0050Most of the volunteers remember happily taking apart and putting back together all manner of items when they were young, which gave them a good grounding in ‘how things work’. After approximately 90 minutes, they managed to fix the radio to the point of picking up stations, but not completely clearly. They realised it was a matter of replacing one part, and the radio would work fully again!

There’s definitely a sense of satisfaction in repairing something, or at least attempting to do so. It’s not just that repairers feel a sense of personal satisfaction, but having fixed something, we feel we’re helping, in our little way, to overcome manufacturer planned-obsolescence and the concept of the ‘throw-away society’. And in the case of the transistor radio, we’ve given Naomi new memories to make.

Radio Fix success

Get updates on the Royston Repair Café at www.facebook.com/roystonrepaircafe 

Growing your enterprise – Nurture by Nature

Latest in the More Expert by Experience series

New Nurture by Nature logoNurture by Nature are connecting young people with nature and history at their stunning 6-acre site of ancient Norfolk woodland. Hannah Burns, fellow of the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ipswich, is the inspiration behind the creation of an oasis of tranquillity. Exactly two years on from my first and last visit to Attleborough Wood, I get an update.

I’m surprised to hear Hannah summarise developments over the past two years as “laying the foundations and getting the structure in place.” This seems like an extended gestation period, but then I remember she’s in this for the long term; Nurture by Nature has a 20-year management plan. 

In reality, Hannah’s baby is now an energetic toddler as she explains “we’re trying new things, lots of activities, we’ve got a growing team, we’re working with more schools, we’ve got an office and tool shed [play area] and equipment [toys].”

But importantly, Hannah is clear about the reason she set up Nurture by Nature in the first place. “The ancient woodland is our priority – we’re here to take care of it as guardians and advocates. We’re trying to educate the next generation; make them more mindful about minimising their environmental impact.”  

The fresh air and exercise is obviously working well for the three staff members, four directors, and up to 15 volunteers. There is now talk of ‘scaling-up’ – hopefully with further support from the School for Social Entrepreneurs in London.

Hannah B - Nurture by NatureFor Hannah this is also about recognising her limits “admitting I’m not an expert in everything”, letting go “we’ve now got a strong team”, and bringing in outside help “we’ve had external marketing support to develop our public image”.

The painful pregnancy and birth that seem to accompany many, if not all, social enterprise start-ups are reflected in Hannah’s advice to other would-be entrepreneurs. “Don’t give up – it’s about your head and heart. I’ve been tired and tearful, had sleepless nights about taking risks, some months I’ve been unable to pay myself, and it can be lonely. But the change in the last year has been amazing. I’ve got supportive directors, each with specific expertise and, as staff, we care for each other.”

Another characteristics of people like Hannah is that they have too many ideas for the time available – mindfulness courses and weekend retreats being just two. Funding permitting, the next ‘big thing’ is a visitor centre, regular opening hours, and more work with schools.

“Think future, act now” could be Hannah’s mantra as she, no longer alone, continues to grow young people and ancient woodland in rural Norfolk.    

Further reading:

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/freedom-to-think-outside-no-box-required (Nurture by Nature, November 2013)

Find out more about Nurture by Nature  www.nurturebynatureforestschool.co.uk www.facebook.com/NurtureBNature www.twitter.com/nbnforestschool

Will my smartphone make me smarter?

DumbphoneToday is special for me in my relationship with social media – tweet number 10,000 – and I’m proud to say that all were sent from my laptop.

One reason for this is that the first and only mobile I’ve ever owned (until recently…) couldn’t connect online. My dear old Nokia was good for making phone calls and I took some pictures when I first bought it over a decade ago, but the novelty soon wore off. I didn’t demand much of it and (to the annoyance of my daughter) I had it switched off much of the time, which is probably why it served me so well for so long.

Which is the other reason I’m proud not to have had the facility to tweet anything, anytime, anywhere. I don’t believe my life is so important that I should have Twitter, or any other social media, at my fingertips 24 hours a day; particularly when I’m at conferences, as regular readers of this blog will know.

Now all that could change. My faithful and functional phone is knocking on heaven’s door as I can’t switch it on. I’ve had to dump my dumbphone and replaced it with what I think they call a ‘smartphone’.

Will this change my tweeting habits? Probably not. It’s not that I’m a Luddite (if you don’t know what one of those is, you’ve probably never known life without the internet – look it up via the link below). It’s just that I’m influenced by Richard Uridge at ACM Training who, leading a brilliant social media workshop almost exactly four years ago, suggested that Twitter, Facebook and newer kids on the block are simply communication tools – to be used if they do the job; not if they don’t. And before using them you need to know what that job is. “You wouldn’t get a saw out of your toolbox unless you had a job that needed one” said Richard at the time.

Now I have a smartphone, I can probably interact with the world far more than I will ever know (my daughter’s got me hitched up to WhatsApp – it’s brilliant…try it) because I don’t want to be available, worldwide, 24 hours a day. For me the smart move is to stay in control of my waking and sleeping hours and invest in real relationships.

Further reading:

My top tip for live tweeting… https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/02/27/my-top-tip-for-live-tweeting-dont-do-it (February 2014)

On Luddites… http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/what-the-luddites-really-fought-against-264412/?no-ist