Thursday, July 15, 2021

be kind, above all else in your professional life

As a consultant-type (of sorts), I'm often seen as someone who is clever, knowledgeable, experienced, etc. Most other consultants you see will probably present themselves as being these things as part of assuring you that they're worth your spending your money on them.

But I've often wondered how far these things really matter when businesses, co-ops, charities, social enterprises, universities, government bodies, and others who invite me to work with them, are really wanting and valuing these attributes.

And my wondering about this has, over the years, seen me introduce some unusual practices (such as asking people what they think my superpower is, and not being overt about the various qualifications I've come to hold ), and subsequently also make changes to how I work as a result of what I learn about how I'm seen, and how people value what it is I'm able to do with/for them.

So why am I sharing this with you here? If you're someone who's kindly offered me feedback about my working practices in the past, you'll know this already. If you're someone else, you may be thinking that this may be sound vaguely interesting, but it's all very personal, and are struggling to see the relevance of why I'm reflecting on it so openly?

Well - wonder no more, because I now have an empirical data set (of sorts) to help me validate these ideas!

I recently came across Google's Ngram viewer, which is a nifty little site that allows you to track how frequently any given words have been used across all books published. So I thought I'd pop in a few keywords about how as consultants we think we're supposed to portray ourselves, and a few about how people seem to value the way that I work with them (click on the image to open the original google page and graph):

All those words about how the support consultants and advisers are supposed to 'be' and the attributes they're valued for, all pale against the approach to how we work with you.

Fortunately, kindness is one of the KPIs that I track within my annual impact report (listed as 'grace' and 'pro bono'), along with knowledge; so I know that I'm making sure I try and keep this at the forefront of how I work with people (following the adage that "we manage what we measure").

As consultants or advisers we're often initially commissioned on the basis of expertise or specific skill, but as the Ngram and my experience suggest, those things become far less important in the working relationship that we subsequently form when delivering on the agreed project. 

But I wonder how far others might agree with this?

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

So how do you actually start a social enterprise?

'Social enterprise' is a phrase that seems to be increasingly commonplace, and something that we're all being encouraged to start-up to if we think we have an idea for a new project or a business that might do some good in some way.

There's also a lot of 'stuff' about them out there: mapping by Social Enterprise UK; webinars on how they can best report their impact and how they're changing the world for the better by Social Value UK; offers of funding for how they can support local communities continue to recover from the impact of the pandemic; and such like...

social enterprise start-up course
But I'm often approached by people who want to know the answer to a much more basic question about social enterprises - how do I actually set one up?

Well, the good news if that I've been running seminars, boot camps, and webinars covering this for about the last 20 years, and hopefully will be able to distil them down into a few pithy bullet points in this blog to help you start to chart your adventure into the lands of social enterprise...

1) You'll already have a (social) idea, but is there actually the potential for a trading enterprise in it? 

Have you identified people or organisations who might be willing to pay you money (which is different to offering you philanthropic grants) for what you're going to be doing? 

2) How are you going to raise the money you need to get it started?

It's very rare than a start-up enterprise of any kind will have customers who line up in advance of it officially opening for business, to pay for the services and goods before they've even seen them. So have you thought about not only how you'll raise the cash you need for those early bills, but also where you'd be happy to seek it from?

3) Do you see yourself as a lone hero, or part of a 'Scooby gang'?

Creating any new enterprise is hard work and risky. Social enterprises even more so, because of the additional dimensions they have (balancing social mission with need to generate cash; trying to keep a set of values and ethics central in every decision made; feeling a responsibility to try and save the world...). So do you feel you can take it all on by yourself, or are you looking to recruit others to work with you in developing, leading, and managing it (and how will you ideally structure these relationships between you all)? 

And what measures can you think about putting in place to support yourself (after all, if you're supporting the birth of this exciting new social enterprise, whose looking out for you in return)?

The next steps in starting up a social enterprise flow from these, and may seem far more mundane in comparison, but are true for any enterprise thinking about starting up:

- create some budgets to help you manage costs and make sure you're going to be charging the right prices;

- pick a legal structure that will help you manifest and protect all of the above;

- register the enterprise with HMRC and whichever regulator is responsible for the legal structure you've picked, and open a bank account;

- do some marketing;

- Oh yes: and get out there to tell people you're now 'here' and so some selling!

Once these are in place, then everything else you come across out there about how social enterprises can thrive and prosper should start to make more sense.

But if you'd like to explore these steps in more detail, chat about how to tell if your idea really does have sufficient potential to be a trading enterprise, or would like to know about any other aspect of social enterprises, feel free to get in touch: I'm always happy to have an initial conversation by phone or video without charge or obligation.