Monday, August 7, 2017

the Korean perspective... (I may be funnier than I think I am?)

I had the opportunity this summer to spend a week mentoring a cohort of South Korean social entrepreneurs as part of the UK leg of their international MBA. And while pictures have been shared on instagram, twitter, and such like, as to the various adventures and activities that people got up to, I thought it might be useful to reflect on what I think that South Korea can teach us about how we do social enterprise in the UK, having spent a week thinking about it from their perspective;


at the end of the week, all the entrepreneurs shared what we mentors had offered and challenged them over which has caused them to rethink either their business models and assumptions, or how they'll launch and scale their enterprises in the future. This was though all giving short presentations to us as the mentors, as well as to their fellow student entrepreneurs, and university professors. And while all agreed that they greatly valued the time we had been able to offer them as mentors, and shared something different in relation to their own specific enterprises, there seemed to be some common themes around:

  • the benefits of mentoring in getting 'back to basics' - its good to have assumptions challenged, and start to simplify things to make them more manageable
  • testing enterprise ideas with a wider group of mentors, all of whom have different backgrounds and perspectives, is valuable in identifying new options and opportunities
  • having a range of mentors to draw upon (rather than a single mentor as many other enterprise support initiatives offer), allows access to a far wider range and number of contacts and other models and initiatives of direct relevance and benefit
  • there's also a cultural difference as to what constitutes a 'social need' in South Korea that the UK would struggle to recognise as being relevant for a social enterprise to have as its mission, but perhaps this echoes some of the confusion we still have here in the UK as to the different ways in which we define and recognise a 'legitimate' social enterprise by the forms it can adopt?
  • Many also seemed to espouse a new mantra that we mentors think may be attributable to their session with Nick Temple of Social EnterpriseUK - J.F.D.I.
  • (and there were also some nice comments that students directly made about me as part of their presentations:
    • "As we all came to realise, Adrian is very humorous"
    • "Adrian was a great encouragement to my self-esteem as I realised that this enterprise will be the hardest thing I ever do in my life")


I also reflected on some of the themes that seemed to regularly come up as part of the mentoring sessions I was delivering. It's telling that these seem closely related to issues that are also particularly pertinent and relevant to all (social) enterprises in the UK today?:

  1. Mapping and reporting the impact we create offers a range of benefits that we don't usually recognise it for:
    1. it helps prioritise service and product development
    2. it contributes to marketing activity
    3. it helps to identify potential future customers who benefit from what we do, but aren't paying us!
  2. Branding is an often undervalued and underused 'tool' in helping us to not only differentiate ourselves from the competition, but also between the services we offer were they are targeted at different customers and beneficiaries, to mitigate possible confusion about us in our marketplaces

so perhaps as a sector, social enterprise has more 'common currency' globally that it might think it has - but how can we encourage and support that? Initiatives such as this that are hosted by Sheffield University are by far the exception, but all involved recognise the immense value it offers to everyone who was a part of it.



(And I'm also indebted and grateful to Darren Chouings for pulling it all together, and also my fellow expert mentors - none of whom I'll share the embarrassing pics I took of you here...



Wednesday, July 26, 2017

the best national business support policy may be no policy at all...?


I recently found myself on an 'expert panel' at a forum convened by ISBE (the Institute of Small Business and Entrepreneurship) on the future of business support policy in the UK, as part of their ongoing conversation into informing and shaping what a new national policy should be.







(OK - to clarify, I was technically there as Leigh Sear of SFEDI and the IOEE, but as he'd been called away overseas, he asked me to fill in for him, hence the confusion of my having 2 names at the forum.)



And while I shared various stories and approaches to business support with those present, I thought it might also be useful to capture here some of the other speakers' arguments and discussions with those in the room that stuck with me, as well as some of what I took away that I'm still mulling over, and that will likely also inform my own ongoing activity in this field:






The definitions debate
With the almost fetishism of high growth in business support policy, it seems that the definition of what constitutes 'high growth' may be too exclusive in excluding many businesses who are seeing significant increases in revenues, but aren't matching this with creating lots of direct employment opportunities (such as software firms, and something that will be be increasingly the norm with the rise of the 'gig economy').
As a result, many businesses who have the potential to contribute greatly to our economy are being sidelined and overlooked - surely to our cost...?

Not a 'bottomless well' (of growth)
It also seems that business growth isn't something that can be sustained - various data sets shared by the ERC(https://www.enterpriseresearch.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/ERC-InsightPap-HartDanes.pdf) all indicate that firms can only experience grow for about their first 5 years, and then all mature and plateau; so if policy is to prioritise support for growth, we need to be more open and honest in recognising that businesses are only able to do so for a time limited period.

Measures of success
There seemed to be a general consensus that we need to use more that just financial measures to consider success in business growth - and that these should reflect the aspirations and motivations of the entrepreneurs and owners behind the businesses.
However, I've an idea that whatever these measures are should share the same characteristics as metrics in financial accounts: that they can be bench-marked externally to help us better consider how we compare and contrast with others to fully appreciate just how successful we really are, and that they can be aggregated to form data sets and evidence bases to allow us to better represent and lobby on their behalf.

Whose benefit is policy actually for?
Discussions around the different players active in the business support arena raised a question about who business support should be for, and who should be paying for it. Public policy should take a utilitarian approach, facilitating and enabling the most benefit for the most people, and in the real world, this means that the State can't appease everyone, or provide for all business types and needs (hence it's prioritising of high growth over sole traders as it believes this will create the most impact for more people).
However, we're seeing private firms starting to offer accelerator and incubator programmes, and also sponsor others' enterprise development and growth initiatives. So rather than try and create a single public policy that will encompass everyone, should we rather be taking an approach that uses simpler policy frameworks around different themes and types of enterprise/entrepreneur; better recognising that in some instances the private sector is better placed, and should be leading on elements of support?

The rationale (and risks) for enterprise education to be a recognised part of business support
There seemed to be agreement that any role Universities hold in delivering any policy around business support needs to include elements of enterprise education, and while there are good reasons for this, there are also some risks too - 
  • teaching and encouraging entrepreneurship amongst students increases their future employability by developing skills that employers value
  • degree apprenticeships creates opportunities for universities to capitalise on their role as a provider of learning, but there's no clear models for how Universities might best harness this new model (yet...)
  • there's a risk that in some universities having linked their offer of enterprise support to that of national policy, many student startups are being 'lost' or 'fail to launch' as the University is too focused on encouraging high growth and Intellectual Property-based ventures
  • with the rise of corporates taking active roles in offering business support (including where there may not be an immediately obvious business case for them to do so), there's a need for Universities to better co-ordinate their offer with these to capitalise on knowledge and expertise that both are developing - but tellingly, there was no presence from any such corporates at the Forum...

The holy grail: creating a pipeline of support for startup to high growth
Within any national policy that emerges, there will need be a recognition that encouraging new startups is just as important as supporting growth in existing businesses - but that its also difficult to ensure that this progression is smooth or able to be well managed. This is largely because of not only the sheer diversity of different business types and motivations, but also the plethora of support available to them at different stages and in different sectors.
In theory, Local Economic Partnerships should be well placed to better co-ordinate these support offers to maximise their potential for wider benefit, but the experience of many seems to be that owing to the governance models of LEPs not being inclusive or transparent enough, that such knowledge and co-ordination which could unlock the potential of many firms, isn't happening.


If we can only do one thing...

As a closing to the panel debate, a few straw polls were taken of people in the room, asking for shows of hands to gauge what the focus of national policy should be if it could only focus on one thing: more start-ups, or more scale-ups.

(Personally, I'm in favour of more start-ups: they create and encourage more diversity and choice in an ever-changing society; help us develop more resilience; and research shows that the larger firms tend not to stick around that long anyway - the FTSE100 has a churn rate of about 10% each year!)


Overwhelming the room voted in favour of more start-ups.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

social value - more impact or more talk? (reflections from Social Value 17)

Part of my approach to my CPD is to tweet from events I attend to capture my thoughts and reflections from them, and then subsequently turn to my blog to try and crystallise my learning from them, and what difference it will subsequently make in how I support clients in the future - and my attending Social Value 17 is no exception...

The conference is one of a series of events that Social Enterprise Yorkshire and Humber stage throughout the year, in response to interests expressed by its member social enterprises in the region. It was designed to look at how social value is being introduced into the sector and public commissioning, and subsequently, how social enterprises might better approach identifying and reporting their impact to aid in their winning public sector contracts.
And against that agenda, I personally found it to be something of a mixed bag (as anyone who was following my tweets on the day would have likely already surmised...)

Having now 'slept on it', I think my overall impressions remain what I left with on the day:

  • probably a bit too much of being 'talked at', rather than sharing stories and facilitated networking (if you do a picture search on twitter for the events' hashtag, all the images are of people holding a microphone and standing in front of a powerpoint screen)
  • there wasn't really much given by way of reason as to why as a sector we should be getting more serious about reporting our impact, beyond the fact that some public sector commissioners are starting to write it into their tender specifications - but in my experience, this is usually the weakest (and least relevant for most) reason...
  • given that the main focus of the event was on how social value strengthens the commissioning of public services, a conspicuous absence of anyone from any health bodies
  • a lot of gaps with regards to practicalities for attending enterprises and charities to be able to follow up on to support themselves with identifying and starting to report their social impact (Social Value UK's free webinar series, the Global Value Exchange set of standardised outcome indicators, and the Inspiring Impact self-help resources to name but 3 that no one made any references to...)
but there were also some moments that were encouraging:
  • the open recognition that most private companies are shaming the sector in being able to better report impact than many local social enterprises and charities can
  • in the workshop, hearing local commissioners share some of their frustrations and hopes for social value commissioning, (and being open to learning from previous strategies and directives from the last 15 years that I shared with them)
What I also noticed is that despite this being an event about social value, there were very few examples of impact reports on show (with the exception of the 3 social investment bodies present - Key Fund, Charity Bank, and Unity Bank) - but I also took a handful of copies of mine and left out on the tables, and all of which were taken with interest and enthusiasm when people realised what they were...


So - overall, a disappointing day in terms of being able to learn anything new that I didn't already know (and in fact, it turning out that I knew more than some of the keynote speakers during opportunities for questions I put to them, and the number of people subsequently approaching me after the formal event to the conference...), but also encouraging to see that commissioners are becoming more open and wanting to progress the debate and discussion. And also useful in helping me better understand the messages that clients I work with are being exposed to, in being able to better structure and direct my support for their future benefit.

What I also took away from the day was that there's also more appetite to be open in taking about when we make mistakes, recognising that there's great value in the learning we can all benefit from through such openness (however embarrassing and fearful we might feel in admitting it...)




Sunday, July 9, 2017

another example of how the private sector continues to stay ahead of the curve (and also ahead of charities and social enterprises...)

A lot of work I do is in support of the wider church of co-ops, social enterprises, charities, and public sector mutuals - but from time to time, I do also with privately owned ('traditional') businesses;

And something that continues to strike me is just how often the social/third sector presents itself as a paragon of virtue and practice in comparison with private business, when in my experience, private businesses are actually doing a better job of being transparent, creating impact, and living the values that social ventures espouse, but seem to struggle to actually do...
Case in point - Mcdonalds, Puma, and City-based pension fund managers to name but a few.

And the latest in this list is the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber of Commerce has recently published the findings of its regular evaluation of its Board. which reflects on how capable its members are in discharging their role, and how well its performs. How many charities or other social sector bodies do you know of who are so transparent in how competent their Board are?

Monday, July 3, 2017

why it's a good thing for some of my clients I don't fully follow the example of Jesus...

As someone who professes a Christian faith, I've always tried to reflect the values and dogma that comes with that in everything I approach (including my work). And over the years, I've started to explore this further in some of the posts here on my blog.

But recently it struck me that as much as many might argue we should follow the example of Jesus in all we do, I don't think I can, at least, not in everything...

I was recently asked as part of a church service to briefly speak about an aspect of my work that I struggle with, and I chose to relate some stories about when and how clients pay me. 
I shared that there's an ongoing balance I need to strike between showing grace in those instances where I know a client may come to struggle to pay me what they owe me owing to changing circumstances, and so I might choose to forgive their debt to me; but that I also need to ensure I'm encouraging people to be accountable and pay what they owe where they can (after all, I too have bills to pay, and commitments to honour).

And it got me thinking about a slogan that was popularised in parts of the Christian church a few years back - "What Would Jesus Do?", and I realised that some of my clients whom I chose to take a more formal line with with regards to payment of my invoices would probably be relieved that I don't fully follow Jesus' example where he came across traders who were being disrespectful...




Friday, June 9, 2017

bank holiday mondays?

time to bust another of the romantic images about freelancers and the self-employed...

some may recall that in some of my previous posts on this blog, I've shared some of the uncomfortable truths about how difficult and challenging it really is to be a 'digital nomad', the pressures being self-employed can place on relationships with family and friends, and such like.

This time, it's the turn of Bank Holidays - you know, those occasional days in the year when everyone seems to be talking about looking forward to taking time off work, having lie ins, spending more time in the pub...

But for many of us who are self-employed/freelance, it's just another day (albeit one where the phone doesn't ring quite so much, and there are a few less emails received in our inboxes). 

Don't believe me? Check out this tweet I posted on the last BH Monday:
https://twitter.com/AdrianAshton2/status/869092338567716864 
It's been one of my more popular tweets, with well in excess of 2,000 impressions, over 50 engagements, and a lot of responses from people sharing that they'd rather not be working either.


Freelancing and self-employment can be very rewarding in lots of ways. It can also be really hard in lots of ways that people don't seem to want to tell you about... I'm not saying you shouldn't do it - just go into it with your eyes wide open...

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

compared to what..?

There are lots of reasons banded about why we should try and be capturing and reporting the social impact/value of our enterprises - and that's not just something which is confined to the social enterprise or charity world: the private sector have been pioneering a lot of clever approaches to it to over recent years as well (Puma's environmental Profit & Loss, the international impact accounting standard, and McDonald's own infographics to name but a few...)

However, one of the key questions that any impact or outcomes reporting should answer is "so what?" - what difference has achieving this reduction, or engaging that number of people, made? But within the context of impact reporting, I think the "so what?" question also needs to be extended to be framed as "compared to what?". If an enterprise reports that it's reduced carbon emissions by 10%, is that good or bad? It might compare itself to its performance last year, but that's not really that objective or honest of a measure - it's surely only when we can compare that 10% to what comparable enterprises have been able to achieve that we can fully appreciate if that's a score to be scoffed at, or to be applauded.
And yet, how many social impact reports seek to reference any external benchmarks or comparisons in presenting their findings?

As ever, I'm not one to suggest something without being willing to try it myself - so this year I've sought to source external benchmarks against my own social impact reporting framework.
And I wanted to see what people thought about this before blogging about it, so published the report via twitter, and various LinkedIN groups, sat back, and waited for a week or two, before sitting down to draft this reflection.

And what the wider world seems to think based on engagements and comments to the post about the report is that while my doing an impact report on myself is a good idea, no-one really engaged or picked up on the fact that I'm starting to benchmark it externally to see if what seems to be a 'good' figure is really good, or if its outstanding instead.

For myself, I think that in finding I'm contributing more in taxes than my counterparts in regular employment is an encouraging sign that I'm still sticking to my principles of wanting to support public services, and my investing more in my ongoing CPD to keep myself 'on top my game' should be a great reassurance to clients (as well as all the awards I seem to keep winning...)

And while it's not perfect by any means (kudos to Liam Black for keeping me grounded as ever with it via his latest tweet), it's surely a start in furthering the conversation and encouragements for things like this to become more commonplace and therefore useful in helping us make better informed decisions about how we're approaching trying to make the changes in the community / society / world we seek to? 






Friday, May 19, 2017

not just for a Sunday..?

While I've never been an 'in your face' type of person when it comes to my personal faith and beliefs, I've never made a secret of them (one of my first ever blogs talked about how I try and reflect my faith in how I approach my work with clients).

And its always seemed to me that as a society, we seem to have a cultural norm of handling 'faith' and 'work' as two separate spheres: 99% of all the church sermons and teachings I've exposed myself to over the years have never offered me any direction in helping me reflect on how my faith should inform my work, and various special interest theological journals and groups that I subscribe to seem to take as their starting point that you're a middle-manager or business owner. But an awful lot of us out here are self-employed and freelancers...

However, I was inspired to take this pic of a wall hanging at St Peters Church in Walsden, where I recently attending their service as the guest of my oldest son who attends there regularly. And then I shared it on my various social media channels as it's very rare that I see such examples of an explicit recognition and encouragement of how God is present in all things - not just the Sundays, or in the 'green and pleasant lands'... As such, I wanted to celebrate this, and social media seemed the easiest way to do that.

And I was greatly encouraged by the responses - it's become one of my more popular posts; to date:


Instagram - over 100 impressions
Twitter - nearly 350 impressions
LinkedIn - over 1,000 views (and a dozen likes)

all of which seems to suggest to me that as a community of businesses, entrepreneurs, and freelancers we're also hungry to explore how we better connect our faith and belief with our work.

So in the great tradition of all the best teachers through history, I'm not going to leave you with what we do about this, or try and draw some deep mystical meaning, but instead invite you to continue the discussion below in the comments to this blog, on instagram, twitter, and LinkedIn...

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

maybe social investment isn't that different after all..?

I was able to make it along to this year's "Working Capital" conference that was recently staged in Sheffield - a day to immerse myself in reflecting, arguing, sharing, and further exploring the wonderful world of 'social investment'.

Depending on who you speak with, Social Investment is either the next big thing (and has been for a few years...); is a market that's suffered failure in the past and needed interventions from government; or a smoke screen for covering the cuts to grants that sustain many charities and social enterprises...

money might not grow on trees, but these desktop garden
pots from Key Fund mean you can grow most other things 

The day offered a range of perspectives and stories: Cliff Prior of Big Society Capital stating openly what many are starting to whisper in hushed tones - social enterprise should be moving more towards retail and consumer markets because public commissioners are very tough nuts to either crack, or to change their behaviours; and Hazel Blears encouraging those same commissioners to do more to learn from each other to progress the social value act (but in doing seemingly having forgotten previous national initiatives over the last 20 odd years that were designed to do just that...).

But the impressions I'm left with (initially at least - as always, I'm open to others coming back to me to challenge me on these points) are:

  • most of the specialist lenders to social enterprise make it difficult for the sector to borrow from them because they usually have repayment terms of only 5 years maximum. But in the private sector its not uncommon to 'refinance' a loan - it can often be hard to get a loan because you've no history of repaying debts; but once you start to, you can flip your loan to another lender on better terms... So what's to stop social enterprises getting what seem initially expensive loans in comparison with the high street banks who see them as being too risky, showing they can manage repayments, and then transfer the loan to their high street bank on better terms?
  • the things that are important to those seeking investment (quick decision, affordable terms, flexibility), are the same as for any other type of organisation in any sector seeking a loan
  • as a general movement, social investment seems to be a little bit too 'introspective' for my liking: NESTA undertake regular national surveys of social and alternative finance, which no-one referenced today. Without understanding how different 'flavours' of social finance compare to other finance types in how widely they're being used, how can we hope to make a best informed decision about where we should be investing our time in pursuing investment?


But but in all, a good day to reflect, see some friendly and familiar faces, and hopefully the start of most other enterprises' journeys into investment that will ultimately help them create bigger and better impacts on, and for, their respective communities.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

breaking freelance taboos...

regular readers of my blog will know that I can be a little unconvential at times in how I think about, and approach, issues and ideas (including how I've structured my being self-employed);

with that in mind, I've taken the most of the opportunity of being featured as this week's 'national freelance hero' (a national programme to promote and encourage the self-employed) to challenge some of the taboos about freelancing, and what the reality of it can really be like sometimes...http://www.edagoodman.com/featured-freelancer-adrian-ashton-social-enterprise-consultant/


but some of these sentiments aren't new - some may dimly recall the first global interview I gave as an 'ethical entrpreneur' 10 years ago where I talked about my love of pound shops, and the desire to have food fights in the House of Commons... http://ethicaljobs.blogspot.co.uk/2007/10/adrian-ashton-consultant-to-social.html

(with thanks to Ed Goodman for managing this series)

Monday, March 27, 2017

the reason I blog

We're encouraged to start and run blogs for all sorts of reasons - build a following, enhance our brand, maintain a position in our industry, and such like;
and many people who blog share their posts across social media sites, encouraging us to 'like', and sign up for their latest posts via email or similar.

But there's a lot of people I know who have blogs that maybe shouldn't - not because they're not genuinely interesting people, or have valuable things to say, but because I get the impression from what they post (and how infrequently they post), that they've not thought about what the purpose of their blog is for. And I've always held that unless you know why you're doing something in your enterprise, then you're probably wasting time and energy that could be better spent on other things.

So - in the interests of trying to encourage others who blog (or are thinking about it), a recap of why I blog (all of which could be seen as aspects of "I'm a freelancer and it gets very lonely sometimes"):


  1. Most social media channels make it difficult to be able to present a reasoned idea in them. Readers of a blog are more self-selecting in wanting to spend more than 3 seconds on my latest update, which means although there may be fewer of them in comparison, they're more likely to want to engage in the debate and discussion I'm seeking;
  2. I've no regular team of colleagues who I get to hang out with in the office/kitchen/lunch/etc on a regular/frequent basis - people whom I would otherwise use as my 'sounding board' to reflect on experiences and ideas to make sure I wasn't starting to loose touch with reality. A blog acts as my surrogate 'chat while the kettle boils' - in essence, I'm looking to you all to help me spot if I'm starting to 'loose the plot' in how I think about, and approach, the work that I do;
  3. As a freelancer I have no formal or regular appraisal or line management. I've therefore created what many see as an extensive and envious/commendable CPD framework for/around myself. My blog forms part of this - giving me a space to critically reflect on aspects of my work, and how I approach it;
  4. I have an idea that many enterprises suffer because of hype and spin in the wider sector - making poorly informed decisions because they're not aware of the 'bigger picture', or possible alternatives. I'm always keen to challenge this when I come across it, and my blog is a route through which I can do this (don't believe me? check out some of my previous posts about CICs, and why we shouldn't be listening to our sectors' leaders...)
In all of the above, I'm always keen to get comment and response from people to help me:
  • better develop my own understandings and approaches to issues
  • assure me of my (relative) santiy
  • make sure my knowledge and skills are as current and relevant as they can be for the sake of groups I support
  • (make sure I'm not becomming libelous...)
So there you are - the 4 reasons I try and blog at least once a month.
I suspect many of these won't be shared by other bloggers, but if they are - please let me know where I've gotten it wrong in the comments below!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

does pursuing social investment reveal a weaking social enterprise sector?

As some of you will know, I'm an approved provider for various enterprise support programmes, one of which is Big Potential - funded development support for social enterprises to better explore, and develop their businesses cases to pursue, social investment.

There are various aspects of this programme that continue to impress me, some of which I've written about before, but one that I keep coming back to is its transparency and openness about its data. It's committed to undertaking an annual evaluation of both its performance, and the profiling of enterprises whom it engages with. (It's also started to publish performance data about how well us approved providers are doing as well...)

Last year, I blogged about the first of these published reports, seeking to better understand what it's data might tell us if we compared it to 'typical' social enterprises (spoiler alert: Big Potential seems to be attracting social enterprises who are younger, more ambitious for growth, and more locally rooted than your typical social enterprise). But this years' data gives us a bit more to consider as we can now start to compare year on year data - and my cursory analysis of the data tables while on the train seem to suggest that while Big Potential may either be getting more generous in awarding support or the sector is getting better at targeting whom it should support for support, (there's an increase in initial enquiries from social enterprises who go on to be awarded a development grant: 2.16% vs 0.6%), there are signs that the wider social enterprise sector may be weakening:

  1. enterprises being supported typically have a turnover that's 7% less than last year
  2. typical net profits have fallen from nearly £18,000 to £3,000 (equivalent to net profit margins falling from 6% of turnover to 1%)
  3. assets held by enterprises are roughly half of what they would have been expected to be in the previous year
  4. the self-reported standards of current social impact reporting, and assurances over data used within it, by applying social enterprises has fallen by 9% compared to the previous year
  5. the overall average investment readiness score of applying social enterprises has fallen from 59.3% to 48.7%
  6. and there have been increases in the incidences of poor governance, and poor financial performance on the part of social enterprises being the reason as to why Big Potential hasn't feel able to award support to them
All of this would also seem to reflect a wider narrative and sense of 'struggling' amongst charities and community groups in light of prolonged austerity and recessions...

But... there are also signs that the Big Potential programme is doing what it set out to do - as well as supported social enterprises securing around £3/4m in investment of different types, they are also reporting increases in turnover in the region of nearly £100,000. However, most of this increase seems to be from growing existing services, rather than entering new marketplaces, and the sample on which this part of the data is based is so small - 4% of enterprises supported, it can only be taken as highly anecdotal at best?

For those of us so inclined, there are also some other findings in the data of interest:

But these are only my initial playing with the tables in the report while on the train heading out of London this evening - as with my previous initial analyses of evaluation reports like these, I hope others in the sector will pick these up and explore them further, and in doing so, help us all to better understand this sector, and how we might best continue to support it in the future.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

who should we believe about how great (or not) being self-employed is?

I'm now into my 12th year of being a self-employed enterprise consultant-type. It was never part of a grand plan I have for my life, but rather necessity: I found myself needing to earn money to support my family, and at the time no-one was hiring, but some were offering work on contracts rather than payroll. And I've been hustling ever since.

Some readers of my bog will know how I've managed to use this status to clever effect in influencing national legislation and policy, and others may also recall the other impacts it's had on me (such as struggling to get to all the christmas parties clients invite me to...).

But there were 3 pieces of research published earlier this month that made me pause and reflect on how appropriate it is that we're all being increasingly encouraged to explore and pursue freelance careers, and also the apparent indifference of the government to us in the bulk of business support being directed to companies with lots of employees and such like:

1) being self-employed makes you happier and earns you more money (according to research by Intuit Quickbooks), but...
2) average earnings for the self-employed continue to fall far below that of their employed counterparts (according to data from the government)
3) being self-employed means your relationships with your family will suffer more (according to the Centre for the Modern Family)

so who should we believe if we're considering a freelance career? What sort of life could we reasonably expect in light of the above contradictory research, and what impact might it have on those close to us?

As for me - I didn't feel I had the luxury of a choice, and over the last 12 years I've tried to manage my role as best I can to try and create as much benefit as possible for those I've been supporting, and also the wider world ('cos of how my mum brought me up). It's been tough, but there have been various moments that I can't imagine I could have otherwise created, (many of which I've tried to chronicle here on my blog).

But the challenge with all this research (as I highlighted under 'Q' in my alternative entrepreneur's A-Z), is that it's all generalisations based on the group of people (who aren't you) that the researchers asked. And I have an idea that we're all so diverse and unqiue in our circumstances that any surveys like these can only point to general trends that may or may not be relevant to us - as with everything, we should look behind the headlines, consider if there are findings which speak into our circumstance, work out what we can do about them, and then just get on with it, and continue making our own path.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

You don’t need a fez to Rock (but it helps…)

I’ve held all sorts of jobs and roles in my life so far, and yesterday added ‘roadie’ to the list!

But as you might expect from me, not a conventional roadie for a band, but one of a small select band of handpicked leaders in our respective fields, to support the 3rd annual #MicroBizMattersDay – 8 hours of streaming video recognising, celebrating, and supporting, micro business owners everywhere. 


It’s the brainchild of Tony Robinson and Tina Boden, and is increasingly attracting a lot of interest from national businesses to government advisors, and this year, plumbers! Not just any plumbers, but the famous Pimlico Plumbers, who went well out of their way in letting us all take over their building to stage the event from, while also trying to continue to run their business around it all!

Loads happened throughout the day, and there are all sorts of stories that people have been sharing across various social media channels using the hashtags #MicroBizMatersDay and #IGave13 (a pledge that micro business owners will offer 13 of something insupport of their peers). However, I thought in the morning after the day before, I’d take time to share what some of my highlights of the day were:
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      -  Meeting the fabulous Ed Goodman in person: there are all sorts of people we meet through social media and start to build an idea about, but he’s far more impressive in real life: not only a similar height to me, but turns out we also share a fondness for pocket fob watches too! (and all my other fellow roadies were equally fabulous too - you can find out all about them in the day's 'souvenier programme' at http://microbizmattersday.rocks/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/MicroBizMattersDay-Souvenir-Programme-2017.pdf)


-  Meeting the ScanSnap crew who embraced the enterprise rocker’s dress code of “hats whenever possible” with aplomb (although there were more than passing resemblances to the Village People at times..) 


-  Seeing how Charlie Mullins, ‘the millionaire plumber’ behind Pimlico Plumbers whom, despite having the ear of lots of very influential people, prefers to spend his time ‘on the shop floor’, joking with his teams and personally making sure everyone is being looked after


-  Seeming to be have not made too much of a mess of sharing about how Todmorden and the Calder Valley have been recovering from last year’s devastating floods in an impromptu interview on camera (starts about 35 mins in from the start of the video)


-  Being part of something that hit the no2 trending spot on twitter during the day!


-  Getting hands on involved in putting up, and breaking down, display stands, and making up goodie bags for guests and supporters who joined the event for lunch: I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed doing events


-  Discovering chocolate covered crackling…


…and of course, giving my fez it’s world debut!


It was great to be able to spend day to share stories, commiserate, and challenge fellow micro businesses. And to have done it all in the shadow in Prince Charles taking a bath just seemed to somehow make it perfect…

So, to all my fellow micro businesses out there, my fellow roadies, and the powers that are Enterprise Rockers - #yourock