Tips for Business Start Ups: Who Loves Ya, Baby?

Beatrice and Benedict are egg cooks par excellence. What they don’t know about how to cook an egg – scrambling, poaching, filleting – isn’t worth knowing about and over the last couple of years they have carved out a small but ongoing enterprise in Manchester fulfilling their customers every ab ovo need.

True, it’s quite a niche market and they don’t have a lot of customers – but it’s big enough to help them pay their cooping needs. They’ve reached the point though that the constant scratching around in the dirt for some more regular income has gotten tiring and they’re faced with an unpleasant truth: it’s time to either give up or grow up and turn their eggy activities into an egg-citing new business start up.

They’re approaching this choice with a degree of trepidation. They’ve both been comfortable so far and are still wrestling with why they should go down the business start up route. They’re particularly struggling with what running a business means – things like insurance, budgets and corporation tax. ‘Why do we have to get into all this nonsense?‘ muses Benedict.

It’s a good question. Why would anyone want to shift working on what they love into working on activities which fill them with dread? They’ve spent years avoiding the skill sets needed to run a business and have run miles from the drudgery they see that defines what running a business means.

But the fact is that if they want to grow, if they want to place their work on a wider public stage and share their love for eggs and their innumerable ways of being cooked, they will have to bring another skill set in to their cosy partnership.

This doesn’t mean that they have to involve someone just like them. Quite the contrary: they need to bring in someone who has no idea about how to coddle an egg – and even less desire to want to learn how to coddle one – but who does know how to communicate the benefits of the process, who can generate enthusiasm for eggs a la Beatrice and Benedict and who knows how to present the consequences of their activities to those distant authorities of the tax man and bank woman.

The first step for them is to find someone who loves them and their work as much as they love producing it; someone who can get enthused about the range of eggy product available and who can communicate that enthusiasm to customers who don’t yet know they’re customers.

This isn’t a straightforward process; in business as in life, finding someone who loves ya is never a straight forward process. But to misquote Kojak’s rhetorical question, ‘Who Loves Us, Baby?’ is a question new start ups would be well worth asking themselves in the search for not only new customers but new advocates, sellers and followers.

The trick is that you have to love them and what they bring to the business and not expect them to be just like you with your own preference for sunny side up.

Tips for Business Start Ups: beware the business of business start up programmes

If there’s one good business to be in at the moment, it’s the business of business support, whether this be of the start up or growth variety.

Governments, local authorities and private sector investors across the world are all looking at their ailing manufacturing base and their imploding public sectors (which they’ve all contributed to incidentally) and rapidly coming to the conclusion that if anything is going to save their collective economic skins, it will be in the small, micro and nano business sector.

The SMEs, the verySMEs, the nanoSMEs and the atomicSMEs (such as the rag and bone man and the kids who clean your car windows at traffic lights) have been charged with rejuvenating our ailing economies and much resource has been allocated to bring about the catalytic changes needed to sustain a postmodern capatalist economy and its associated life styles of having a lay in on a Saturday morning after too much carousing on a Friday night.

And in order to effect those changes we all hanker after, a new model army of business advisors (including yours truly of course) has been gathered to direct our collective intellectual, emotional and financial resources at the hoardes of new businesses, old businesses, briefcase businesses, businesses that don’t exist and businesses that shouldn’t exist with the intention to start them up, grow them up and get them producing new products and services which will replace the car industry, the steel industry, the NHS and the welfare state as a whole.

All this is well and good and more often than not the new model army of business supporters is filled with good intentions, useful budgets and strategic nous so that authentic business support is effective and meaningful. But for you new business start ups out there, you need to be aware of the fifth columnists who have infiltrated this heady movement of well intentioned economic architects.

You should watch out for the advisors who are more concerned about ticking boxes and collecting outputs than making sense of your business outcomes; the agencies who will throw cheap loan money at you without a second glance at your daft financial projections; the enthusiasts who wax lyrical about boot-camps, water boarding and other military metaphors; and the growth accelerators who get more kicks out of your impossibly stretched stretch targets than they do out of their usual Friday night supply of illicit intoxicants.

Be afraid – be very afraid – if you’ve met an advisor, a mentor or a snake in wolf’s clothing who will get you to sign forms and write rubbish before depositing cash into your empty bank account and who will fill your head with helium so that you end up talking in high pitched squeaky voices about the economic powerhouse that your car window cleaning service will represent in the new modern economy in your village, city or country.

A massaged bank balance and personal ego will make you feel fine for about a week or so – but you’ll then wake up one Saturday morning with a far worse hangover than the one you were used to after a Friday night out on the town.

Continuing Education, Economic Growth and Changes of Mind and Culture

Life is what happens to you
while you’re busy
making other plans.

John Lennon, Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)

This paper is about metamorphosis, and in particular the changes that occur during the process of transforming a publically sector driven education policy initiative into a third sector arts based education social enterprise. It will consider those changes that are forced upon the protagonists in that process; the changes the protagonists initiate for themselves and the effect of these changes on organisational structure, culture, identity, programme and the raison d’etre of the enterprise itself. It is particularly timely given the recent upheavals in the public sector and the Coalition government’s intention to broaden the supplier base of public services like to health and education to the private, charitable and social enterprise sectors.

It will do this by focusing on the Aspire Trust, a social enterprise based in Merseyside and will focus particularly on its current business activities in the field of continuous education and lifelong learning. Whilst it will demonstrate that its continuous education programmes have had a beneficial impact on its economic performance, the more significant findings and implications for practitioners who are considering the leap from public sector to social enterprise will be in relation to the structural, cultural and attitudinal changes took place during the company’s set up and establishment phases.

The changes that this company went through involved challenges on many practical and theoretical fronts: personal, social, political, artistic, and educational. Orthodoxies such as ‘The Business Plan’; ‘The Bottom Line’; ‘The Job’ all came under scrutiny in the company’s early years and the results of this scrutinisation are tangible in the company’s existence and will be drawn out through this blog.

The paper concludes with four specific transformations the company has undergone since its inception which have contributed to strengthening the linkage between its education programmes and its economic performance. These transformations are not however offered as a potential ‘toolkit’ for future social enterprise development but as the provisional and partial results of an retrospective analysis of the company’s birth and growth.

The paper will continue to develop here until its presentation at ISBE, Sheffield in November.

Tips for Business Start Ups: how to avoid getting in your own way

If we’re trying to develop a policy, business, project or whatever – the process of determining the changes you want to make might appear simple enough until you realise there are various trade offs to be accommodated; creativity or standards for example? Compliance or independence? Responding to policies which say ‘turn left’ coupled to others that demand ‘turn right’: sometimes, legitimately, both at the same time.

Organisational growth is in one sense a mirage of a mechanistic process which suggests growth is simply a matter of increased turnover, more staff, more premises, more profits and that these things arrive in good mechanistic ways which are based on the principle that if I do ‘X’ then this will cause ‘Y’ and that if we behave in a certain way then we will be due – or we will deserve – the consequences.

But the environment we work in isn’t like that at all. It’s far more complex and indeterminable than those assumptions allow for. If we follow the mechanistic logic of following policy, guidelines and so-called best practice – then all to often we will get in our own way and end up contradicting the very steps we want to take.
One model for new businesses is to avoid the notion of the Business Plan like the plague – but opt for Emergent Responsiveness strategies instead, meaning that instead of following a plan – which can be built upon contradictory policies and calls to action – that we respond to the business moment, the glimpses of opportunities and the acceptance of serendipity in the business growth process.