Tag Archives: business plan

Tips for Business Start Ups: when should your hobby not become your business?

Colin has been a long time gardening hobbyist; he has dabbled in potted plants, sells the odd apple (and when I say odd, I mean odd strange, not odd occasional), designs all manner of green houses which sit in a Tesco bag under his bed and over the years has built a useful income for himself selling a disparate variety of plants, fruit and vegetables all from the comfort of his ramshackle garden shed. It’s been a labour of love for him and has been a hobby which has eaten up most of his time and not a small part of his income. If he were to do a cost benefit analysis he would probably demonstrate to himself that he was losing money hand over fist by the day, but that’s not important: he loves it, and it loves him and every one in the garden is happy.

Unhappily though, Colin has been persuaded that his hobby could become a significant business opportunity. Someone’s whispered in his ears too many times that if he could write a business plan, that if he should have an accountant, that he would then be driving a company car – all on the proceeds from the activity in his garden shed. He’s now staring at that run down shed and wishing it were more than it is: thinking it could do with a coat of paint, that it needs a receptionist and thinking, isn’t it about time he got serious with a brass plaque just under the window so that others down the allotment knew that he’s now a bona fide horticulturalist?

Colin unfortunately is so woven into his hobby that no amount of business cards, plans or acumen is going to convert this activity from a much loved hobby to a rational, calculated business. He loves it too much: he knows so much about the intricacies of his potted plants, their soil demands and how the sun shines at a particular angle on a Tuesday afternoon that he’s unable to distance himself from the nitty gritty of his garden and recognise that whilst some of the plot has business potential – much of it doesn’t. Some of the shed needs knocking down and rebuilding on the roadside; some of the ground needs concreting over, rather than left as an unending sprawl of wild flowers, interesting herbs and strange tendrils that no-one knows what they’re called, where they come from and where they’re going (aka weeds to the rest of us).

Colin’s hobby is just that – a beautiful, varied and delightful way of passing the time of day and bathing in the sunshine. It’s not – and won’t be with Colin in charge – a business. And neither should it be. The difficulty for Colin is to recognise this, step back from dressing up in suits and put back his garden gloves and continue to love what he does, has done, and will do for the rest of his days.

Loving your hobby is one thing: but you can love it too much for it to become your business.

Tips for Business Start Ups: 9 questions which will tell you whether to do it or not.

The recession in the UK is generating several bizarre phenomena, not least being the fashion to encourage many more people to start their own businesses irrespective of their abilities, wishes or state of mind.

Many reasons are wheeled out as justifications for this life changing activity: you can be your own boss, you can turn up to work any time you like, you can turn a hobby into an income generator, you can play a game of golf whenever it suits. The fact you may come off the unemployment register is also a bonus to statisticians and politicians, massaging as it does the figures on the unemployment register.

But the notion that setting up a business is a realistic and achievable option for everyone, especially if they have just completed 30 years service for the same employer is a mirage.

Setting up your business isn’t an easy option which you can blithely dive into, with keys to your new premises and golden clock in hand, which will provide you with an easy route out of employment or a bit of diversionary relief to a retirement which is becoming riddled with boredom and inertia.

There are several questions to ask yourself before taking that plunge:

1. Are you prepared to wake up every morning of every day of every week of the year, preoccupied with the challenges you will face that day – and for which you will take the ultimate rap?

2. Are you comfortable with scary levels of risk? The occasional feeling that you are standing on a precipice, not knowing where the next weeks income is going to come from or how you’re going to fend off your increasingly noisy creditors?

3. Do you have any knowledge of the stuff of the business you want to set up? If you want to set up a restaurant for example, do you know anything at all about the restaurant trade apart from knowing what your favourite pizza topping is?

4. Can you add up and / or write in coherent sentences?

5. Are you handling the transition to Internet shopping, e-commerce and social networking with aplomb?

6. If the answer to any of the above is ‘no’, are you bringing in other expertise and voices to your dream which will turn the ‘no’ into a ‘yes’?

7. Is your motivation for setting up a business explained in terms of days off, visits to golf clubs or any other type of diversionary activity?

8. Is this business opportunity you’re dreaming of a great way of getting out of the house and avoiding the imminent marriage disaster you’ve seen coming for years?

9. If the answer to questions 7 and 8 is ‘yes’; and if you answer question 6 with a ‘no’, then stop hallucinating, pack the business plan back in the attic and don’t give up the day job. You will save yourself and your nearest and dearest a whole load of heartbreak – and may even enjoy your retirement to boot.

Tips for Business Start Ups: beware the evangelising business adviser

Georgio is the sullen ICT type. He shuffles half heartedly into the office but has not a lot to say other than ask where the funding is. He hasn’t done very much (any) thinking about his business idea, or the business plan, or indeed much else around the concept that he rather pathetically shoved across a table at you in his first meeting. No-one yet has told him that his business proposition sucks, his attitude sucks and that he has much chance of making a success of his sucky idea as I do of winning Wimbledon this year.

All your instincts are saying to you: tell him straight, show him the door. Don’t give up the day job or whatever it is that got you through my office door. Whatever you do, don’t set up in business. You’ll have a terrible time, you sullen young thing.

However, what you don’t recognise is that you have other instincts too that are saying; I’m going to get him through this; he’s going to become a top selling business man if it’s the last thing I get him to do. I’m gonna show him a really tough time and roughen him up in the best Duncan Ballantyne toughing tradition and at the end of it, he’ll look back, dressed up to the nines and thank me for it, he really will. This is gonna be a case of tough business love and he’s gonna take it like a man.

At this point either the business adviser or the sullen proto-business man should probably leave the room or someone should throw a bucket of cold water over the both of them.

It’s not in anyone’s interest to make that relationship between evangelical adviser and sullen prototype a happy one. It’s not going to be happy. Ever. Get over it Mr Adviser and take your evangelical fervour to those who will respond to it in the happy clappy way that sets your and their world alight. Sullen Georgio will remain in his kind of happy sullen way for many years to come and its not your right or responsibility to knock it out of him.

And a word to Sullen Georgio too: if you ever share a space with a business adviser who is trying his hardest to enthuse you about your idea, tell him to mind his own business – and you get on with developing yours, in your own, inimitable, sullen way.

Tips for Business Start Ups: the joy of early morning sales

Every now and then a business you work with goes quiet. It goes underground and its lack of visibility is worrying.  What’s happened to it?  Have the owners packed their bags and high tailed off home in a fit of embarrassment? Has there been some kind of confidence meltdown which means the owner has gone back to their day job to face up to their ‘told-you-so’ colleagues and critics?  Or did they just wake up from their dream?

But every now and then, that ‘oh-so-quiet’ moment passes and the business comes knocking at your door again and presents itself in all its opening and early trading glory.

It transpires that the business plan was written and then unceremoniously dumped; that the finances have been found wanting and given a good shaking; but that the solicitors are now busy beavering away on contracts and lo! There’s the early Spring whoosh of an invoice being paid.  All the signs of a start up finally shaking off their chrysalis, starting to stretch their tender limbs and beginning to do what they’ve been dreaming about doing for months, some times years.

This is a glorious Spring moment and never fails to amaze me. It doesn’t matter whether the business is about trading  coffee, constructing electrical sockets or intricately folding pieces of paper into peculiar shapes: the thrill is the same and the joy of the business owners a wonder to behold.

Tips for Business Start Ups: Start Up? A Business? WTF would I want to do that right now?

Whatever they say, we’re still in recession. Whatever they say, the banks aren’t lending. Whatever they say, the climate is still atrocious and it won’t stop raining and it’s still very cold out there in the harsh economic world. For many, many people the tender green shoots of economic growth are just that: algal bloom in a stagnating river of economic effluent. There’s a million and one reasons why there’s never a right time to start up a business. And a million and one why it’s the right time.

You get to shape your own future, rather than have it shaped for you by distant beaurocrats in the HR department. You get to develop your own ideas, unhindered by the pressures and politics of more noisier colleagues who are always putting you down. You get to shape the culture of your workplace rather than being the unwitting object of other peoples outdated cultural habits. You get to employ people, create jobs and make a difference to others around you.

Sure, none of this easy, and none of this makes for sleepless nights and a stress-lite existence. For a sleep-full and stress-empty life, you might be better retiring to the hills, writing your memoirs and feel comforted in what coulda been, what woulda been, and what shoulda been.

But if you have an idea which is itching to get out, which will contribute to your community, your society and the people around you, then now is absolutely the right time to set up your new business.  It won’t stop the rain, the banks won’t have a change of heart and the recession is likely to continue for a lot longer than we might like: but your business will make it a bit sunnier for some and will stick it to those mad-market-morons who are driving the economy ever deeper into the ground. That’s exactly why TF you would want to do that right now.

Give Us This Day: a Toast to Reincarnation.

At a recent education conference, our presenter talked about the value of the green curriculum, stressing its importance in Eco-viability, sustainability and all good things in general.  Ironically sponsored by Pepsi Cola, she added that as we only had one life we best make the best of it, that we only had one life on this planet and that it was our moral duty to be good guardians of it.

In an important nod to her audience however she also recognised that there was more than one way of looking at our lives on the planet: “to those of you who believe in reincarnation” she finished, “ the greening of the curriculum is not so much about saving the planet now, but making it a better place for you when you return”.

Reincarnation is a particularly handy idea to deal with common sense notions that we only have one life; that life is not a dress rehearsal; that death is a foregone conclusion and like taxes, we best face up to the giant tax collector in the sky and pay what’s due on time, with no argument and with good grace. Reincarnation allows us to plan for the second, third, fourth and who knows how many times around, hopefully securing a better deal on the next visit unless we have been particularly obnoxious on this occasion.

Planning for reincarnation would be a useful addition to funding applications as it would be a tacit acknowledgement that our cultural efforts are always flawed, no matter how many business plans we write. A box which asks us how we intend to produce the production, deliver the curriculum or save the world when we are reincarnated either a) as a lizard or b) as a superhero would make writing and reading funding applications a lot more of an entertaining process for everyone.

My Lords, Ladies, Gentlemen and Members of the Jury, please raise a toast to Reincarnation.

Give Us This Day Our Daily Toast: read all about toasting here.

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.