Advice on starting a social enterprise

A couple of years ago I ran some social enterprise tours, taking people interested in starting one to visit successful models. To prepare for the tour I asked a few friends and colleagues from the social enterprise / business world for some advice on start-up social enterprises (contributors – Susan Black Director of Projects Social Ventures Australia; Richard Warner Manager NCEC; Wayne Rabnott – Logan Office of Economic Development; Maggie Shambrook Director – SANDBAG; Casey Archbald Managing Director Omnitopia Capital).

Here’s what they said:

1. What are the most important things to consider when setting up a social enterprise?

A) Make sure the business opportunity fits the employment outcomes you are after B). do a feasibility & business plan before starting, make sure there is a business case and you have someone with knowledge of that kind of business C). Make sure you have the capacity to fund the start up stage… it will cost more than you think!

Susan Black Social Ventures Australia

People, Productivity, Passion, Profit

Richard Warner NCEC

I really think that people starting a social enterprise need to firstly get a very strong understanding of the PURPOSE of the organisation.. a shared purpose will hold the venture together much stronger then a shared vision. — understanding the real purpose sets the boundaries for the organisation …Values are the second thing to consider as the purpose is held together by the values — this doesn’t mean thinking of a few words and claiming them — it means selecting the key values that the organisation aspires to and making them clear and transferable.
the third is Alignment — alignment between the people in the organisation and the organisation itself — this means all the various stake holders including staff and recipients — if the organisation is in alignment with the needs of the recipients but not the team members then it won’t work in the long term.

Wayne Rabnott – Logan Office of Economic Development

Stick to the vision and be prepared to hold on to it the face of many and varied obstacles including your own doubts – sometimes it is not necessarily a broadly shared one at the start. Your board of management /manager must love the possibility of it though and support your efforts to keep moving inch by inch to make it a reality.
Remember who and what it is about ie providing work opportunities for many of the most vulnerable and that this cannot be achieved unless the new business has great foundations and has the potential to be viable, strong and grounded in a context that utterly supports this vision. While there are risks involved these can be calculated with good due diligence and expert advice when required.
Believe, believe and believe more.

Maggie Shambrook Director – SANDBAG

You need to quantify the benefit to the community. At the same time, your non-profit or business needs to be viable. There are a lot of well-meaning people around, but plans that fail on either of these two are, well, either not Social or not Enterprises.

Casey Archbald Managing Director Omnitopia Capital (founder of Safe Places for Children)

2. What are the most important aspects of running a business?

A). A good business manager; B). the customer: deliver on price, time and quality product or service;

Susan Black Social Ventures Australia

Maintaining the balance; holding the tension; of business and social mission agendas

Richard Warner NCEC

The three keys to creating a successful business in this new era.A) Excellence B). Innovation. C) Anticipation

Wayne Rabnott – Logan Office of Economic Development

You have a great product that people want. You have a great capacity to sell and promote the business
You have sound and expert financial advice on an ongoing basis and you know the financial status of the business at any given point in time.

Maggie Shambrook Director – SANDBAG

Developing a set of values with your team, then sticking to them.Managing cash flow and profitability.

Casey Archbald Managing Director Omnitopia Capital (founder of Safe Places for Children)

3. What are the most important aspects of running a social enterprise?

A) running it as a business!! B) . Having a support agency to provide the social support for staff you are employing, don’t try to be an employer and a social worker!!

Susan Black Social Ventures Australia

Give it a go, learn as you go, keep going back to the people.

Richard Warner NCEC

As above. understanding your purpose and values and
constantly ensuring that your team and stake holders understand and are in alignment with them

Wayne Rabnott – Logan Office of Economic Development

Remembering who and what the whole venture is about and balancing a range of different and often conflicting needs.Ask for help and be prepared to know you don’t know and to know you need to find out what you don’t know. Have colleagues and or family who can tell you when you need to know more and be prepared to listen and learn. Have an open heart that is nourished by the spirit and values of the work and listen to the feedback from the employees about what this means for them.

Maggie Shambrook Director – SANDBAG

Employing skilled managers and leaders – particularly if you enterprise is employing people excluded from the labour market, you will need good people to keep your organisations standards high and be mentors. With an empowerment framework it can be tempting to promote disadvantage people too early.

Casey Archbald Managing Director Omnitopia Capital (founder of Safe Places for Children)

4. Any words of wisdom for those in the research phase of enterprise development?

Back to first question; do a feasibility and make sure you have business advice.. and take it!!

Susan Black Social Ventures Australia.

Who can you partner with, who can you go to for advice ?

Richard Warner NCEC

Get the financials right or it will end up hurting more then helping..

Wayne Rabnott – Logan Office of Economic Development

Use an agreed framework of criteria to assess the business idea or actual business. This criteria needs to rate the social, economic and environmental values and issues that are important short, medium and long term.
Never give up and keep asking, talking and looking. Celebrate the good times and the bad!!!

Maggie Shambrook Director – SANDBAG

Do your research, write a plan and ask for honest feedback from experienced entrepreneurs or investors. Business people can sometimes provide you with a different point of view than you can find in the community sector.

Casey Archbald Managing Director Omnitopia Capital (founder of Safe Places for Children)

I hope these help build a flourishing, sustainable, profitable and people centered business at your organisation

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About stevewilliams1901

Social entrepreneur based in Australia.
This entry was posted in A Social Entrepreneurs Diary and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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