Thursday, April 18, 2024

something strange is happening to my blog

15 years ago, this blog emerged into the world.

And it wasn't because I wanted to start to share and broadcast all the various and ongoing stories, ideas, and researches I have and do with you all - but because Jason Elliot, who I knew at the time, thought I had a lot of important things that needed to be said and heard, and unbeknownst to me, he created it, forcing me to start a habit that's seen me post a new provocation or reflection roughly every 2 weeks since then.

Over that time, I've thought a lot about what the purpose and value of this blog is/should be, and noticed that the analytics have always remained pretty constant (and relatively 'modest' at 500-1000 views a month).

But in June of last year, that's suddenly changed.

I'm now starting to see up to 30,000 views a month! 

And despite what I hear from a lot of the 'gurus' out there about how you should do your social media, my approach to my blog hasn't changed over the last 15 years - I'm still posting about once every 2 weeks, and on the same sorts of themes I always have (see my labels list for a flavour).

Perhaps this is a sign that the age-old adage of the value and importance of persistence, perseverance, and patience are actually at play here - if you want to achieve success (however you might define it) you have to keep putting the effort in consistently over time. There are no easy quick win solutions, and perhaps what's happening with how my blog is now 'performing' is a sign of this?

Monday, April 1, 2024

CIC 2.0?

Nearly 20 years ago, the Community Interest Company (CIC) form was introduced to high acclaim and interest for the social economy sector.

Since then, it seems to have struggled to fulfil its potential, based on various datasets which has shown it to: 

And my poking around different data sets in these ways as shared in my blog here, has led me to be invited to write features for both Pioneers Post, and Stir to Action in recent years.

But I've spotted something recently about CICs in the data about them that makes me wonder if we're about to see a change in how this part of the social economy acts.

One of the data sets I regularly look up are those published by the CIC Regulator (along with those published by the regulators of the other legal forms: Companies House, the Charity Commission, and the FCA). And recently, the CIC Regulator has started reporting on how many of the new CICs that are appearing each year aren't 'new', but are actually existing limited companies who have decided to convert to a CIC.

Over the last 2 years, 50% (yes, half!) of all CICs added to the register have come through this route of an existing private company converting to a CIC.

Frustratingly, it's not clear what the motivations are behind these companies wanting to make the shift to gain a legal status that doesn't offer them anything that they couldn't already have otherwise incorporated within their legal form more easily, and which isn't automatically helping them access any new grant funding opportunities.

But these new data points suggest something seismic may be starting to take place amongst the CIC community - without this rise in interest from already established private companies, the growth in CICs would be in single % figures each year (lower than private companies), rather than the current roughly 20% growth. This means that CICs as a whole are likely to be starting to be increasingly influenced by the practices and thinking of previously private companies - rather than the historic basis of wider local communities applying for this form. 

What this means for how CICs will start to be viewed by the wider sector and others remains to be seen, but with a growing number of CICs being registered that don't have their origin story in how this part of the social enterprise sector has worked for the last 20 years, must surely mean that if this trend continues, we may be seeing the start of CIC 2.0?

Saturday, March 16, 2024

an A-Z of facilitators (sort of)

A while ago, I was encouraged to create an alternative (social) entrepreneurs A-Z - and it seems to have been generally well received and appreciated by most people who've read it.

It came out of my work supporting entrepreneurs of all types over the years, and I've recently wondered if I should do the same with other parts of my 'professional' working life...

Some may know that amongst the things I 'do', is facilitate: getting a bunch of people to create, agree, or resolve something together - although it's actually usually more interesting and exciting than that sounds. 

And that's the rub with being a facilitator - most fellow facilitators I know all agree that until you know what facilitation can do, and how it can benefit your team and organisation, it's hard to be able to convey the full magic of it (a bit like the first Matrix movie back in 1999: you couldn't be told what the Matrix was back then, you had to experience it for yourself, and then you'd understand it completely...)

So I've had a go at an A-Z of what it means to be a facilitator, and what you can expect of us. But as this is also about helping to explain what one is, I've tried to approach it as an acronym:

F - friendly: open and non-judgemental, on your side

A - accessible: finding ways to make things best work for you

C - childish: after all, who doesn't want to play out and have fun whenever we can?

I - idealistic: trying to keep focus on the bigger picture 

L - Lego: there are lots of different styles, tools, and approaches to how facilitation can be 'done' (including playing with these magic bricks!) 

I - insightful: helping probe and prod ideas and assumptions to best make sure they're 'right' 

T - talkative: helping keep conversations and discussions flowing

A - accountable: if we can't make it work, then that's on us for not doing our job properly 

T - tree-top views: in not being part of your team, we can bring a new perspective to help you make sure that you're seeing the 'wood for the trees'

O - open: you know your organisation and people better than we do, so we want to hear your ideas about how to make things work

R - robust: people throw a lot at us, and we can take it. Tough conversations, sensitivities, and taboos. We'll hold your confidences, but also won't take it personally or expect you to hold back if things start to bubble up

But as with all definitions, the above may be missing or mis-leading in places - so by putting this out there, I'm hoping other facilitators will be promoted to counter-suggest better words for each of the letters, and people who haven't experienced the magic that a good facilitator can bring (other than copious amounts of post-it notes, fancy pens, and sheets of flip chart paper) can start to glimpse what you might be missing out on...

Monday, February 19, 2024

Qualified, Certificated, and Accredited imposters

Feelings of imposterism are commonly associated with feelings and thoughts that “we’re simply not good enough” – and there are lots of ways through which people generally try and manage these.

But most of these advocated approaches tend not to involve people engaging with formal study or learning, in pursuit of ultimately gaining a recognised qualification of some type, with which they might then beat their inner imposter over the head with.


I’ve also noticed that although feelings of imposterism can surface in any of us, in any role, and at any time in our lives, it seems to be more concentrated were people have roles with higher levels of responsibility – yet part of the gaining such roles is, in part, based on evidenced learning on the part of the candidate, in the form of increasingly higher levels of certificates and accreditations (which are supposed to be proof of our abilities to undertake such roles and tasks).

And this is odd because feelings of self-doubt can often be rooted in our feeling we lack sufficient knowledge or experience in a subject field – something which qualifications are surely designed to offer us? So what’s going wrong in our current structured learning pathways not automatically resolving the tension in how we believe in ourselves after being awarded our shiny new certificates?


I wonder if it may be to do with the fact that courses which offer us a route to gaining a recognised qualification aren’t often that connected to how well we feel we can subsequently do our jobs?

The process of accreditation is usually based on a learner being able to evidence that they’ve gained knowledge and been able to apply that knowledge in a given situation. And the criteria by which they are assessed in doing so are linked to overarching national standards.

But having created accredited programmes (and been through a fair few) myself, there’s something that I realise has been missing in all of them: there’s no standards or frameworks about how we as learners are reflecting on, or building, our confidence in the subject matter. There are no prompts for how we emotionally feel about the knowledge and how we might be subsequently using and applying it. And without those tools to help us relate to our learning through our feelings, as well as our intellect, qualifications don’t help us in any meaningful way
in challenging feelings of inner doubt.

And perhaps this is why most of the guidance out there about how we can try to approach managing feelings of self-doubt don’t often seem to promote a person committing to a programme of formal certificated learning as a way to bolster their self-esteem and belief?

So – in summary: just because a person is qualified, doesn’t mean that they’re automatically going to be any more confident in their role; and if you’re supporting someone through a course of learning, try and help them to explicitly consider how their confidence and self-belief in themselves is being bolstered and enhanced through the new knowledge they’re getting. It may help us all to beat those inner imposters collectively better over the head…

Thursday, February 8, 2024

why some people don't want to banish their imposter syndrome

Some people will be aware that I wrote a book about imposter syndrome, which turns out to be a bit like marmite: some love it, whilst others have uninvited me from speaking at events because of it.

The central idea in my book is that, after looking at lots of research papers and studies, and evidences from various places and sources, I don't think imposter syndrome is what most people say and think it is. 

(SPOILER - it's actually part of what it means to be a human being, helps keep us safe, and can act as a superpower in our work and lives).

But something that struck me as I waded through all the published research materials about it was a recurring thought: 'if all the evidence and research keeps showing this thing isn't what people say it is, then why does it seem that so people say they feel they have it, and it's negatively affecting their lives?'

Perhaps part of the answer could be that imposter syndrome is an illusionary truth - something that, because we've heard lots of people talk about it in the same way, we accept as being true without questioning it. Just like the 10,000 hours rule, breakfast being the most important meal of the day, etc. 

But I also wonder if it may also be to do with it being a 'label' which, in being external to a person, makes it easier to validate a lack of motivation or desire to progress on their part? (And so we fall victim to a self-fulfilling prophecy - best articulated in the armed forces through their adage of 'if a soldier thinks they'll die in battle tomorrow, they'll probably find a way to make it happen'.)

Suffering with 'something' can make it easier to justify not pushing ourselves to grow - but in doing so, we create a fake 'safe space' for ourselves, which only serves to limit our potential, and the lives we might otherwise be living.

As Baz Luhrmann once observed - "a life lived in fear, is a life half lived."

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

time to ditch the fetish of becoming a 'financially sustainable' business

In a social/networking session with fellow freelancers I was part of recently, a recurring theme amongst my fellow self employed, who are in their first few years of trading, kept coming up - namely a desire to become 'sustainable' (aka creating a pipeline of assured regular work).

Let's quickly clarify something about this - this isn't unique to freelancers.

While most businesses make it through their first year, most won't make it past 3. 

This 3-year threshold is possibly why, if your business makes it past 3 years, it's officially recognised as being financially sustainable:,Year%20Three,three%20years%20in%20the%20distance.  

However, within 2 years of reaching this magic milestone, 20% of these 'sustainable' businesses will then have had to close their doors for good... Just because you've made it to 3, doesn't automatically mean you're set for life.

So - if all businesses equally struggle to keep going (regardless of it they're large or micro), why do we keep chasing the dream of reaching a promised land of 'being financially sustainable'? The data referenced above shows this will never happen - but that's surely to be expected when you remember that markets, people, and fashions, etc keep changing all the time around us (so what we once thought everyone would want to buy, is now an anathema... disposable plastic cutlery, anyone?).

Surely it would be better to ditch the expectation of reaching a goal that's always going to be unachievable, and instead reframe our language and ambitions to something more realistic and honest: maybe something to do with cash reserves, and how long we can run for if we suddenly run out of paying customers (which would reduce the threat of facing imminent eviction from our homes, and therefore go a long way to helping our peace of mind and achieving a healthier state of mental well-being...).

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

When is a community not a community? (or, am I an Albatross?)

As freelancers and small business owners, there seem to be constant exhortations for us to be part of a community. And I recognise the various benefit of being part of such peer networks, having invested time, emotion, money (and even professional reputation) in many over the years.

But over the years, despite having been part of many 'communities', I'm starting to wonder if I'm accidentally having an 'albatross effect' on them, as they all seem to 'die' after my being involved with them..!

However, this post isn't about me suggesting I'm a potential jinx, but rather to ponder how the ending of a self proclaimed community might reveal just how far it really was ever a real community to begin with:

Of the gravestones raised in memorial in this post, I'm going to immediately discount Micro Biz Matters Day (which I was a keen supporter of, sometime roadie, and occasionally part of the line-up for), which was staged every year for 8 years, because it never presented itself as a community but rather as a part of a wider campaign that's been championed by Tony Robinson - and campaigns all have a natural life, and the small teams who lead them rightly decide when it's time to move on to the next thing.

In contrast, the other 2 examples are worth lingering over:

Freelance Heroes (FH) was created in 2016 and referred to itself as a community for freelancers - and indeed, created lots of things to facilitate such a sense and practice of community, inspiring many other freelancer communities to coalesce in response to their mere existence: from it's original Facebook group, conferences were added, chat forums introduced, twitter hours with member of the community being invited to lead and manage them, 'featured freelancers' profiled (published interviews and youtube lives), peer learning sessions by member for members, a virtual library of books written by its members, and optional paid subscriptions (with additional pirkx). 

But at the end of 2023, it was suddenly announced by email that FH would imminently be being closed, and all of its associated artefacts and IP (website, forums, blogs, etc) would be being taken down.

Reasons were given about financial pressures, and people's capacity etc, and while there's plenty that FH can be proud of having achieved and influenced, for a body that presented itself as being a community, the upset that many expressed in the immediate wake of the announcement is possibly based on all of us feeling we were part of just that: a community. That the owners of that community seemingly hadn't trusted or respected us enough to share that there may be tough decisions to be taken, or to try and engage us all in conversations about possible succession and legacy options, maybe helps to explain how and why so many people were upset by the announcement - after 7 years of feeling we were part of a community, we suddenly realised that we never were in any meaningful way when it came to the big important decisions about us.

And more recently, the Good Business Club (GBC), established 6 years ago has suddenly made a similar announcement about closing up in the next few weeks - a shock decision that's seemingly come out of nowhere after years of all us members of it being encouraged to be actively involved in leading and developing activities and initiatives for the benefit of the wider community of its members. So again, I'm left wondering, how much of a community were we really being allowed to be, if we can all be disbanded by a discretionary decision of the founders of it?

Importantly, for context, I think there's a lot of things that have been going on behind the scenes at GBC which are highly charged and emotive in leading up to this apparently 'out of nowhere' announcement - based on the official statement of its being wound up seemingly contradicting itself: 

(1) The founder opens by saying that they are stepping down from running the GBC after a tough professional and personal year (but no sense yet of this spelling the end for the GBC, as they'd always clearly managed their personal role and identity as being separate and distinct from that of GBC); 

(2) it's then immediately stated in a bold heading that the community will continue; 

(3) but it's then clarified at the very end that all the forums, websites, and membership fees will be cancelled and ended in the next few weeks (and we're signposted to another paid 'community' we can join instead - which costs 25% more). So actually, despite how this statement began, it really is a 'so long and thanks for all the fish' goodbye to all of it.

All of this leaves me wondering and feeling if its really worth my investing time, energy, money, and emotion into any self proclaimed 'community', when at any time, a small group of people within it can suddenly pull the plug on it all with no warning or notice (as added embarrassment in both instances, I'd been actively working on developing new strategic partnerships for FH with other national sector bodies on their encouragement and with their full knowledge, when their announcement was made with no prior warning - so first I knew of it, was also when the contacts in other bodies I'd been speaking with also found out. And a week before GBC announced its closing, the leaders of it had approached me to talk about my developing and running events and initiatives in the community's name). 

Maybe all these self-proclaimed 'communities' we see out there, aren't really communities at all, if the people who make them up are never actually trusted with hard truths or realities about looming difficult decisions facing it, nor given opportunity to step up and help to mitigate challenges that it may be being faced with?

What I'm taking from these knocks (there have been others over the years - I'm just reflecting on the most recent ones in this post), is that in the future, any group that presents itself as a 'community' and invites me to join, will get a bit more of a due diligence on my part to see just how far it really is a community, or it's actually just a club controlled by a selected few that would actually just like my money to help keep their idea going. And at any moment, the 'rug may be pulled out from under our feet' without warning, and we all find ourselves back in this stage of shock and disbelief about what's happening.

Finally, I'm aware that some people who may read this post will find it hard and painful, because they were part of the leadership teams for these communities, and so will naturally feel a sense of responsibility for how the ending of these groups played out, despite their best efforts and intentions.

This post isn't meant to be any smear or indictment of their character, but an opportunity for me to grieve these wider groups' passing (moving through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), and to reflect on the manner in which the process has been managed has on me for how I approach similar things in the future. Very often when 'communities' end, there's an outpouring of encouragement and support for those that made the decision and had bee the figures heads in leading/founding them (and rightly so), but rarely an opportunity or space for those of us who were part of them to reflect on what their ending means for us.