Monday, December 20, 2010
Disclaimer: This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for him/herself or others and no responsibility for any unintended emotional stress these greetings may bring to those not caught up in the holiday spirit.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
And with the advent of social media there are ever-increasing opportunities and invitations for me to meet with like-minded people, immerse myself in new thinking, reflect on ideas and experiences; I should be having the time of my life but the time of my life demands that I find myself increasingly having to say no, makes excuses, leave early...
You see, I’m blessed with 2 great young boys who I want to spend time with; I also want to support my wife as she develops her career as a textile artist, and in her expanding role as a community leader through her being part of the school PTA, a member of the local church’s leadership team, developing collaborations between local businesses and so on.
A few people have commented on my work as evidence of a successful career; I see that I do well in spinning a lot of plates in my professional and personal life while trying to get, and keep, the right balance both in and between them.
So, this isn’t meant as a “woe is me, life’s tough...” lament, but hopefully as encourage to some of you who are in similar times of your lives, and explanation to others who may be feeling upset at my apparent snubbing of your kind invitations.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Sadly the latest national salary and careers survey seems to suggest that these warnings have fallen on deaf ears:
• More people expect to be working in the public sector or private enterprise than in social enterprise in 5 years time...
• There will be fewer career opportunities in social enterprise next year than in the private sector
• We pay our staff at least a grade less than their counterparts in the private and public sectors
• Social enterprises are worse at training and developing their people than charities, private companies and local authorities and public bodies are
All of this means that we’re likely to see a growing exodus of people and talent from the sector – indeed I’ve started to see more practitioners leaving their social enterprise employers to join or set up private practices (like I did myself 6 years ago – but that was out of necessity rather than a deliberate career choice, and a story for another time...).
But what of the next generation of social entrepreneurs I hear you cry? All of these new up and coming starlets being born out of the teaching in schools and colleges, who’ve been learning about the wonders of social enterprise? Well, if people have any sense, then they look at employers carefully before committing themselves – and if you had to choose between an employer who paid you less, invested in you less and offered you fewer development opportunities than a private firm or public body, who would you choose?
Monday, November 8, 2010
But I’ve found myself being a naughty boy... I find myself increasingly eavesdropping on others' conversations at events and conferences I attend (but how else will I find out who might be a useful person to get to know, and have identified Vivs Long-Ferguson of RSA fame?). And on-line we scream our conversations to the world through twitter, facebook, youtube, linkedin and others, desperate to have our conversations heard by others in hopes that they’ll join in and share their ideas and experiences to enrich our own...
Monday, October 25, 2010
I've always been very open about saying I'm happy to have an initial chat/lunch/beer with anyone who like to ask me to, without obligation – just 'cos I think that's how the world should work. But I don't keep track of how much time I spend doing this, and I'm suddenly aware that its probably increasing - there seem to be a growing number of people in different sector bodies who 'pass my name on' to various groups and people (I was tempted to list the sector bodies they work for, but might be a tad delicate if I did....), and I'm happy for them to continue do so.
But very few of these lead to any fee earning work, and although that's not the reason I do it, being self-employed I have to try and drum up enough work to keep the bills paid somehow.
But I digress – I do pro bono for a lot of people and I don't track it.
But if I did, what would it show? The only reason I measure or record anything I do is because I think it generates useful management information, and anything I record about myself I tend to be pretty open about in sharing what they show (see previous posts about my social accounts and why I do this ). As a freelancer, what useful management information would I be generating by recording how much of my time is spent doing pro bono stuff and openly reporting this (other than to gratify my ego).
This is not a hypothetical question – it’s something I really am trying to work out. I'd appreciate any comments you'd like to share with me, either by reply to this post or by direct email email@example.com.
Monday, October 11, 2010
It matters because of the worlds in which we exist increasingly inter-mix: speaking with procurement officers, they're used to private businesses so you need to use P&L - terms their accountants will understand. Similarly, if you're seeking loans, then lenders speak P&L as well.
My concern is that as a sector we constantly seem to be calling for a level playing field, to be treated on equal terms as every other type of organisation and group, and yet we then create our own special languages that don't match the systems and practices of the wider world.
Perhaps it time to stop being so precious about why we're special and get on with showing it in ways which anyone can understand by using their languages?
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
But... it seems increasingly that the social enterprise policy and priority being set is for 'scaling up': making existing enterprises bigger. But surely such a 'scaling up' risks the enterprise losing touch and becoming a faceless giant such as Tesco or McDonalds – they both started out very small, rooted in their immediate communities, but as they've grown, they've become increasingly distant and unresponsive to local communities. And as they've grown, they also appear to have increasingly struggled to retain credibility and trust from their customers on ethical issues...(see Tescopoly and McLibel)
Surely we need more, not less, local small initiatives, each of which recognise their role and contribution to this wider movement, but retain their unique identity and distinctiveness in their communities. And that should be the priority for growing our movement, not force growing a handful of individual enterprises.
And where questions of scale are raised on economic terms (generating economies of scale, the ability to reach larger numbers of people), we should be looking to better collaborate between ourselves – and perhaps even look to our history for models of how this can be done: the co-operative movement grew from a vast number of small, individual, local co-operative societies who created a shared supply chain (the Co-operative Wholesale Society) to balance this tension between scale, movement and local impact.
So – if we're a movement, we should be focusing on seeing more small social enterprises emerging, not trying to find who can be grown to become the next Tesco...
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
The co-operative economy is equal to the 10th biggest economy of any country, it employs more people than all the private multinational companies combined, it wasn’t hit by the collapse of the financial markets, its led reforms and legislation that have changed the world so that commerce is conducted for the better, it serves more than half the people on the planet, (link here
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
But... if it means that communities are benefiting through these ‘branded’ trading activities by groups not structured as social enterprises, then how far should we feel ‘protective’ over our identity? After all, there’s a compelling and logical argument along the lines of “as long as they job’s getting done and supporting people is at the focus of what we do, what does it matter how the organisation is structured...” however, taken to its conclusion this argument surely takes us down the path of the end justifying the means (something the Prince of Demark wrestled with famously in Hamlet).
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
But this is at a time when there’s universal recognition of the increasing need for them to be supported, and for them to gain the knowledge that they need to not only be sustainable, but also prosper...
So... when was the last time you visited your local library?
Friday, July 30, 2010
But is mentoring worth it?
Thursday, July 22, 2010
However, I wonder if this hasn't unintentionally led to a damaging of our economies – local and otherwise?
So – if you use SROI and calculate a high figure – rejoice, but also be aware of the wider implications of what it may mean for your wider impact upon the economy, both local and national... alternatively, it could mean that we just need better tools to consider how we measure and understand the wider economy?
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Therefore we need an incentive – if the state wants us to take such high risks, then they should recognise the cost to us for delivering their agenda (assuming that we decide it’s actually a good idea to enter new marketplaces). This doesn’t and shouldn’t be through grants, but maybe through tax and investment reliefs, interest free loans, and so on – possibly the need that the big society bank that’s being created could meet?
But if we do diversify and enter these ‘non-traditional’ market places, ultimately it should be because we see that there’s business sense in doing so – otherwise we change into charities or subsidiaries of the state and loose our distinctiveness.
Monday, June 14, 2010
To help reduce confusion about what type of co-operative they are, they group and identify themselves into a number of types, with each being based on their primary focus (type of member) – worker, housing, community, credit, consumer, ...
Maybe that’s a trick which the wider social enterprise movement might look to adopt in helping to reduce the ongoing confusion about what it is. Perhaps the basis for such ‘sub-grouping’ would be on their primary market or beneficiary, so we’d see ‘employment social enterprises’, ‘training social enterprises’, ‘health care social enterprises’, maybe even ‘co-operative social enterprises’?
Thursday, June 3, 2010
But we now have the shiny new Social Enterprise Mark, which will hopefully have a better chance of being the easy identifier as it’s based on recognising defining characteristics of social enterprise in whatever legal form or structured they are enshrined.
Monday, May 17, 2010
I recently saw some publicity for a local enterprise agency that caught my eye (for the wrong reasons) because of a client testimonial they’d used: “their advisors give you honest feedback as to whether or not your idea is a good one”.
As business advisors, it shouldn’t be our job to tell you if your idea is any good or not, but to support you to best understand the marketplace and your potential customers, what it will take to launch and manage it, and what you’ll need to be aware of in doing so. We shouldn’t tell you whether we think the idea is any good or not because:
1) It’s your business not ours – you’ll have to live with it, not us, so why are we telling you what to do with your life?
2) How do we know if a new business idea really is any good or not? - Look at all the ‘rubbish’ ideas that were rejected by the “gurus” of Dragon’s Den that went on to make a fortune; and history is littered with ideas and inventions that the ‘powers that be’ and recognised purveyors of ‘wisdom’ of the day just didn’t get – as a result we almost never had TV, the jet engine or even photocopiers!
You – the entrepreneur, should not always take what you’re told as gospel by a business advisor about if your idea will work or not: it’s your idea, your life, not ours.
If you don’t think we ‘get it’, then challenge us, or ask for another advisor; but please don’t abandon your brilliant idea that will change your world and mine just because someone else tells you it’ll never work based on their own personal tastes and prejudices.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Yet when we create new enterprises, we suddenly seem to lose this boldness and capitulate to our customers when they’re late in paying our bills and invoices to them – to the tune of over £62 billion for small businesses!!!
So why this change in attitude between being an employee and an employer over money?
I have a suspicion it’s about FEAR. We’re frightened that if we appear pushy, our customers won’t come back, and/or even more damningly, our customers start to think “if they’re so desperate for our money, then they must be in trouble, so better take my business elsewhere”.
So what do we do?
Well, for starters, let’s be more open about talking about money and getting paid – raise it as soon as we can as part of negotiations with customers and clients, be clear about when they want to pay and when you want to be paid from the outset. Negotiate, haggle, agree compromises – after all, we do that already over the price and delivery schedule, so why not the payment terms?
Plan the cash-flow: so many businesses fail because they run out of cash before they get paid – I’ve seen it happen, including to a business that was making a £1m+ profit annually (I helped their employees subsequently buy-out the business).
Finally – don’t forget the easy stuff: there’s a lot of legislation you can use to support you with your asking to be paid. The biggest (and least well known) being the Late Payment Act which says that as a small business, you can charge interest on what you’re owed if its late in being paid. And after all, it’s not you that’s chosen to charge interest: it’s the government and their legislation... so no risk to your personal relationships. I’ve used it a number of times and on each occasion got paid more promptly AND had that client/customer book me for further work.
Simple things that with a bit of thinking and planning can make all the different to getting that overdraft reduced and staying in business.
Or maybe there’s something about ‘being British’ that means we like being owed more than £62 billion and not being able to cash it?
Monday, April 19, 2010
Well done to them - rather than try and continue a service that no one wants/needs, or to re-invent themselves with new services (which would undoubtedly have moved in into areas different to those that originally attracted its staff, volunteers, trustees and other supporters to it), they've decided to shut up shop, celebrate and allow all involved to move on to new adventures with a renewed sense of excitement and optimism.
Too often I see groups and agencies who are 'fighting on' long past their use-by date: as a result their people are unhappy and de-motivated, other groups view them with suspicion and they suck up resources that could be better deployed elsewhere.
I've always advocated to groups that once you achieve the reason you were created for, you should stop and go home - don't assume that everyone will want to continue with you if the organisation starts working in new areas, and if you're really serious about wanting to create 'social good' and benefit the community above all else then prove it by walking away when you've done your job.
This translates to me personally in that one of the ways I check that I've been successful in supporting the groups I work with is that they no longer need me (because I've trained/empowered/strengthened them so well) - in effect I've done myself out of a job, but the vision has to come first.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
And there are a ton of toolkits and models out there to support you do this - some based on your form (ie - CESPIs for co-ops) and some on your main focus of activity (eg environmental impact).
However, as a sole trader, there's nothing really obvious that I've found that I can easily pick off the shelf and use on myself...so 4 years ago I began to create my own framework based on measuring the things most important to me in terms of what I try and achieve and contribute through how I work.
It's an evolving framework, and I usually add an additional measure each year, but surely its a start.
This year they show an increase in the extent to which I've contributed to stimulating debate and discussion around sector issues, that over a quarter of all my business purchases have been made from local companies, that the majority of all my business travel was made without the use of a gas-guzzling and polluting car, and that training I develop and deliver seems to be well received.
You can download a pdf version (as i include it in my 'blag sheet'/CV) from my website here (its referred to as the 'information sheet about me'); and below is a copy of their summary:
So what do people think? Is this a useful emergent framework for social accounting on sole traders, and what other measures should I incorprate for next years?
Sunday, March 21, 2010
sorry for 'hi-jacking' my own blog, but this will remain the 'latest post' until further notice as I want to let people know that due to technical issues involving the internet service provider who looks after my main website, that my main site (the one with all the cheesy pics, links and copies of various published articles) will not be available until further notice.
you can still follow me here on this blog, as well as my twitter feed and via LinkedIn, and hopefully it'll be back before you know it and I'll continue to post my (sometimes irrevent) musings and thoughts here.
I've also now created a temporary site using paperclips and rubber bands at http://adrianashton.blogspot.com - while it doesn't have everything my site usually offers, its got some of the basic stuff available again there.
until then, thanks for your patience and understanding
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Often, as professionals and support providers we assume that what we deliver and offer has to be highly technical and detailed when sometimes simple cartoons will suffice – cartoons ensure that everyone understands the issue, everyone is involved and somehow, in being a cartoon, its disarming and so people more likely to at least pick it up and start to engage with it as they see it as non-threatening even if, as with the DTA guide, it ends up telling you that your ship is sinking fast and you've no lifeboats left!
Sunday, March 7, 2010
I recently participated in a 2-day residential on social enterprise replication run by Unltd Advantage – a welcome opportunity to reflect on my own knowledge and experience built up from firsthand experience and self-directed learning (especially as I’m currently writing a 5,000 word essay that will be critiquing current theories, models and tools for social franchising).
Sunday, February 28, 2010
I’ve transcribed their responses below, and get the feeling that it was the question that people in the room most appreciated being asked and answered:
* Recognise the timing – most successful enterprises (social and otherwise) are opportunistic in response to emerging or changing need
* thinking more about what you want to get out of it – it’s too easy to let it take you over (something that I always counsel start-up businesses about, and have developed a tool around to manage)
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Undaunted, the conservatives pressed on, launching their movement with a website and flagship publication “Nuts & Bolts – how to start a food co-op”, the author of which prefaces by saying that they have no technical expertise in how to set up co-ops... and the site doesn't list what co-op values are, nor link to the national federal body for the movement - Co-operativesUK
And this new movement has been subject to some criticism, not least because although espousing co-op values, it was a self-selecting body, accountable to no-one... But now, all that’s changed! It’s incorporating itself as a formal co-operative entity, with membership open to all (a snip at £10 a year!)
And that got me thinking... if enough people in the ‘main’/pre-existent co-operative movement became members, we could exercise member democracy, call an extraordinary meeting, and agree to dissolve the co-op, distributing its assets throughout the wider non-partisan co-op movement.
Anyone with me?
Monday, February 15, 2010
Many argue that in order to be a 'true' social enterprise, your organisation must exhibit specific characteristics and that these must be present in one of a number of limited legal forms (limited in number and choice, that is) - asset locks, accountability to more than just investors, controls on how profits and used and distributed, and so on...
Given the complexity and range of such characteristics, most generally accept that any form of co-operative, company limited by guarantee, CIC or other similar legal forms are acceptable as 'true' social enterprises.
BUT - what about the S&M Club that almost became a CIC (pdf article - see p2)? the Thailand lap dancers co-operative? and so on...
Given the importance that as a sector we ensure that our image is consistent and easily understood, should be perhaps be moving away from simply accepting enterprises at face value on the basis of their legal form?
especially when those legal forms can be used for activities and services that we would not necessarily recognise as meeting social and environmental needs...
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
UPDATE: 22 March 2010
it seems the government may have picked up on this post and and my earlier one about the value of pubs, and have recently announced a multi-million pound programme of support to enable communities to take over their own pubs!
Monday, February 8, 2010
And we've found out about these great crystal caves in Mexico that appear nowhere else on the planet; only snag is, the school's IT system won't let them to the sites where they could watch clips of it, so I'm hoping that they'll be able to load my blog, and from this, see this clip...