- Not every small business or micro-enterprise owner needs a mentor.
- Mentoring is NOT the only helping relationship.
- Good mentors are rarely trained in ‘mentoring’, nor are they picked from a register.
- Successful mentors are usually selected from within the pre-existing network of the mentee. They are spotted and developed as someone from whom the mentee really wants to learn.
- Mentoring is an intermittent rather than a continuous relationship.
- Access to good mentors is usually restricted and respectful rather than a tradeable commodity.
- The success of the mentorship is usually down to the mentee rather than the mentor. Good mentees know how to choose a mentor and manage the relationship with them to get the learning and the introductions that they need.
- The commoditisation of mentoring is not a good thing.
- Mentors are not coaches, advisers, consultants, counsellors or facilitators. People looking to learn and develop themselves and/or their organisations should think carefully about the kind of ‘help’ they need.
- We should help people explore what they want to learn and how they are going to learn it – rather than prescribe yet another ‘cure-all’ that happens to be ‘affordable’.
- We should focus our efforts on building social learning contexts and helping people manage their learning processes rather than setting up registers and schemes.
- If the national association of image consultants got their lobbying act together I am sure we might all end up being encouraged to use a national register of image consultants in pursuit of GDP.
If you are interested in implementing ill thought through policy and exploiting it as way to make a few bob please do not get in touch. If on the other you are serious about building a context in which people can really learn then I would love to hear from you.
Just leave a comment below.
Craig Dearden-Phillips wrote an excellent piece on the need to financially incentivise social entrepreneurs.
When I read it I was not sure whether I agreed violently or disagreed violently. Let’s just say I ‘felt’ strongly about it. It troubled me. I was provoked. As I am sure Craig was when he wrote the piece.
Schumacher (Fritz, not Michael) helped me to explore the basis of my feelings.
He pointed out that from the perspective of the employer, work is a bad thing. It represents a cost. It is to be minimised. If possible eradicated – handed over to a robot. This truth always makes me smile when the government talks of the private sector ‘creating jobs’.
From the perspective of the worker too it is often a bad thing. What Schumacher called a ‘disutility‘. A temporary but significant sacrifice of ‘leisure and comfort’ for which compensation is earned.
Schumacher pointed toward a Buddhist perspective where work serves three purposes:
- to provide an opportunity to use and develop potential
- to join with others in the achievement of a shared task – to provide opportunities for meaningful association
- to produce the goods and services that are necessary for what he called a ‘becoming existence’
He then went on to say
to organize work in such a manner that it becomes meaningless, boring, stultifying, or nerve-racking for the worker would be little short of criminal; it would indicate a greater concern with goods than with people, an evil lack of compassion and a soul-destroying degree of attachment to the most primitive side of this worldly existence
What can we do to make sure that more of our work is ‘good work’ and not merely a disutility for which we are compensated?
What products and services do we really need for a ‘becoming existence’.
This for me is the true role of the ‘Social Enterprise’ sector in our economy. The development of good work. The enhancement of association and compassion. To provide a real alternative to the mainstream work as profitable disutility philosophy of much (but not all) of the private sector.
And there is no good reason why we should not take sufficient value from our business to lead a ‘becoming existence’ is there? So I agree with Craig’s thesis, but not with the line of argument that took him there. Are the risks really any greater? Can a business be anything other than directly social?
I’m trying to learn just to die with pride,
Like the birds and the trees and the earth in time
But I’ve got this complex and it makes me fear,
That I’ll die knowing nothing and feeling less.
Now, anyone for some truly social enterprise?
These quotes of Barack Obama are taken from the recent Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship:
“A sustained effort to listen to each other, to learn from each other, to respect for one another”… “By listening to each other we have been able to partner with each other, we have expanded educational exchanges, because knowledge is the currency of the twenty-first century.”
“Entrepreneurship because you told us that this was an area where we can learn from each other. Where America can share our experience as a society that empowers the inventor and the innovator. Where men and women can take a chance on a dream. Taking an idea that starts around a kitchen table or in a garage, and turning it into a new business or industry that can change the world. Entrepreneurship because throughout history the market has been the most powerful force for creating opportunity for lifting people out of poverty. Entrepreneurship because it is in our mutual interest…”
“And social entrepreneurship because as I learned as a community organiser in Chicago, real change comes from the bottom up, the grass roots, starting with the dreams and passions of individuals serving their communities.”
“we are forging new partnerships in which high-tech leaders from Silicon Valley will share their expertise in venture capital, mentorships, technology incubators, with partners in the Middle East, in Turkey and Southeast Asia”
This morning, the very wonderful, Simon on the Streets had bit of a shindig with its supporters in the Fourth Floor Cafe of Harvey Nichols in Leeds.
Now Simon on the Streets is a magical organisation for many reasons. Not only does it do great work with homeless people in Leeds (with bold plans to expand) but it does it with a philosophy of person centredness and respect for service users that is quite beautiful to see.
But this post is not about Simon on The Streets.
It is about Harvey Nichols. And me!
I am firmly in the camp that says the economic and social development of Leeds has been far too heavily dependent on the retail and financial sectors. So when Harvey Nicks came to town I was not one of the first through the door. I saw it as yet another step in the grand brand invasion of the city I call home.
In fact as I queued to get in I commented to a friend that I had NEVER set foot in Harvey Nicks before, and that I wasgobsmacked that it was my relationship with Simon on the Streets that had finally lured me in. I was certainly a ‘fish out of water’. A one man boycott.
The event itself was wonderfully managed. Simon on the Streets message as ever gave me goosebumps and bought a tear to my eye. But I noticed something else. The quality of the service in the cafe bar was also a thing of beauty. They must have served 60 or so hot breakfasts while speeches were being made with barely any intrusion. No dropped cutlery. No clanking of china. Skilled and efficient waiting staff who knew their work. Not always the case!
After the event the General Manager of Harvey Nichols, Brian Handley introduced himself to me. He had heard me mention that I had never been in before and asked me why. So I told him about my one man, informal boycott of ‘up market cathedrals of consumption’!
I then listened to Brian tell me about many pieces of work that Harvey Nicks do to raise money for social enterprise in the city, but perhaps more importantly how they use their purchasing power to support Yorkshire based business, their venues to provide showcases for Leeds based charities and artists and their partnership work with 11 mills still making cloth in Yorkshire to help keep them in business. He told me about the local sourcing of produce in the Cafe Bar. And he told me about the pride and effort that they put into training retail as almost a craft occupation. He also told me that Prada are a real supporter of Yorkshire textiles. Some of my prejudices were well and truly put to the test, and exposed for what they were – prejudices.
Now I doubt that everything is the Harvey Nicks garden is rosy. I expect there are chinks, perhaps vast gaping holes, in their CSR agenda. There must be issues around carbon footprints and food miles. I am sure there will be people thatwill tell me about their bad practices. But here was a man who clearly was proud that he and his employer were doing what they could to make sure that not only does Harvey Nicks provide a great return to shareholders and a wonderful retail experience to customers, but doing it in away that creates as much good as possible and does as little harm as practicable.
I have written before about my cynicism about the self congratulatory nature of some of the social enterprise sector and their demonisation of ’for profits’, about how there are simply good businesses, bad businesses and a whole lot that fit somewhere in the middle. ’For profit’ does not mean ‘bad’. And being a social enterprise is by no means a guarantee of ‘goodness’.
Here was a partnership working for both Simon on the Street and Harvey Nichols. And here was a ‘for profit’ ‘cathedral of consumption’ doing great work to keep local businesses going and support the third sector.
It was a useful reminder of my own message that there are just good businesses and bad businesses and sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference.
And to beware my own prejudices!
This was one of the key points from the Enterprising Places Network event run by Enterprise UK in West Yorkshire yesterday:
- It’s not just about raising aspirations but about raising realistic aspirations.
- Projects and initiatives need to adopt a sustainable approach and offer support in long-term engagement.
- Partnership working presents a great deal of opportunity.
- Enterprise is often about taking risks.
And, yes, bears do sometimes go to the toilet in the woods.
Contrary to the blog and tweeting from the workshop (done in real time by a rep from the Enterprise UK PR company) for me at least the Enterprising Places Network event was ultimately a disappointment.
Our hosts at the Cottingley Cornerstone Centre were friendly and and the lunch was substantial – but the acoustics in the room were terrible. I hate to think what it is like when the centre is full of children.
But the problems for me were the ‘case studies’.
After introductions and context setting, Wakefield District Housing kicked us off with Chief Executive Kevin Dodd talking about the importance of carrots and sticks (I think he called them incentives) to encourage people to be more enterprising. And by more enterprising it seemed he meant mainly getting back into the labour market. Indeed this theme about job creation and routes into employment kept recurring. There is more to an enterprise culture than tackling worklessness. If someone’s behaviour is motivated primarily by the way that bureaucrats arrange carrots and sticks it cannot be described as enterprising. Compliant, yes. Enterprising, no. So think long and hard. Do we want our tenants to be compliant fodder for employers or enterprising?
We then heard a little about what Wakefield District Housing is actually doing to promote enterprise. This consisted mainly of sending young people on Outward Bound Courses and providing mentoring in Wakefield secondary schools. I worked for Outward Bound for a couple of years and have much time for them. They develop many things, teamwork, leadership, followership – but I am not certain about enterprise. I would need to be convinced.
And I am not clear how mentoring programmes help individuals to become more enterprising. Especially when mentors encourage young people to take their eye off of their dreams and start to think seriously about Plan B. ’I know you want to be bassist in a rock band but really, don’t you think you should apply to study plumbing at the local FE college?’ ‘We need to be realistic with our aspirations’. I personally think this shows a weak understanding of how people hold and transform their dreams and ideals without being told what is realistic by ‘authority’ figures. It is not our job to decide what is possible….
The main reason schools welcome Mentors is because they can provide a little bit of additional 121 support to help pupils at school. It is not about making them more enterprising. It is about improving school performance. Too often enterprise is snuck in on the back of ‘improving educational attainment’ or ‘improving attendance’ ie providing incremental support to the mainstream pedagogy, curriculum and assessment, when in fact it offers radically ‘different keys’ to ‘different kingdoms’ for an increasingly large group of pupils that mainstream education fails to serve well.
But what was most puzzling to me was why a social landlord in particular would engage in such activities. In what way does this build on the relationship between landlord and tenant? Mentoring in schools is a fine way of delivering corporate social responsibility. Personal development too is extremely worthwhile. But neither of these builds on the unique relationship between landlord and tenant that I had hoped the workshop might explore.
Next up it was Connaught with a re-hash of last years Strictly Come Business competition. Now I have problems with most types of ‘Enterprise’ competition and especially with those that base themselves on the Dragon’s Den format. Dragon’s Den is not a competition. If investors believe a business offers a return, they invest. You don’t have to ‘win’. You just have to be investment ready. In my opinion most winners of Dragon’s Den style enteprise competitions are not yet investment ready. The journey to investment readiness can take years.
Does this competition format provide a serious and sustained methodology for creating an enterprise culture? Or is it an easily costed and managed process that ticks the enterprise boxes?
If we put a leaflet through a door that says ’Do You Have A Big Community Idea?’ most people will say ‘No!’. The leaflet goes in the bin and those that might benefit most from our help to think in more enterprising ways are lost. At best we find a small minority who are already thinking ’enterprise’ and give them a leg up. This kind of enterprise skimming provides the sweet illusion of instant results but in reality changes little. Indeed I think this kind of approach makes many of the 10 Commonest Mistakes in Encouraging an Enterprise Culture.
Networking over lunch, provided by local social enterprise Daisies, was fine and the presentations after lunch were good. I especially enjoyed finding out more about CREATE and how they operated. Competing on the basis of quality products and services rather than on the moral high grounds of SE seems like a winning and novel concept!
And a final talk through the development of Cottingley Cornerstone by our hostess for the day just re-affirmed how bloody hard this social enterprise game can be. On a shoe string and continually seeking funding – but only that which fits with their mission and objectives. Fingers crossed it stays that way.
My only problem with the afternoon sessions was that they seemed only loosely, if at all, connected to the theme of enterprise and social landlords.
So my main take aways from the day:
- Social Landlords are coming under pressure from policy makers in Whitehall and the Housing and Communities Agency to do more to get their tenants to be enterprising. The interest in enterprise is primarily policy led rather than informed by any real insights into how it might help to provide a better housing service and better places to live.
- Landlords are not well placed to respond to this pressure because of their ‘unique’ relationship with tenants and also their relative lack of knowledge and understanding about developing an enterprise culture. It is not about ‘incentives’. It is about power and self interest.
- Just to be clear, I don’t think being a landlord helps if you are trying to promote behavioural change. The tenants will always be looking for the ulterior motive. For some housing cooperatives this maybe less of an issue. But when did you last have a landlord who you could really trust to be working in your best interest rather than theirs?
- There is an apparent willingness to adopt what has not worked in the past rather than to explore innovative approaches to building an enterprise culture.
- There seems to be a conflation of enterprise with entrepreneurial. A belief that more enterprising means more business-like.
So, as I said on my evaluation, the day was good in parts – although I think we failed as a group to really get under the skin of the role of the social landlord in supporting an enterprise culture.
While reading the manifesto I made some pretty comprehensive notes and numbered them for ease of reference. No analysis yet – just my notes…pieces that especially provoke or intrigue me I have highlighted in blue…
Doug Richards Entrepreneurs Manifesto
1 Public declarations aimed at supporting UKs 4.4m entrepreneurs
2.1 A statement of principles highlighting challenges to overcome to release entrepreneurship
2.2 Spectre of capitalism
2.2.1 Greedy bankers
2.2.2 Amoral corporations
- Pitting tax regimes against each other
- Failure of a global commons means they can escape costs of infrastructure and society that supports them
2.2.3 Bloated State incapable of controlling capitalism
- failing to deal with poverty, worklessness etc
- Outgrowing the economy
- We are demonstrably poorer – the system does not work
2.2.4 States competing to be servants of capitalism
2.2.5 The environment has no voice/the consumer no collective
2.3 Unleashing the Wealth Creators
2.3.1 Wealth of the nation rests on entrepreneurial activity
2.3.2 The state as a servant of society
2.3.3 Must harness the power of the entrepreneur to improve services
2.3.4 Size of the state is not the enemy
2.3.5 State run services immune from creative destruction
2.3.6 Fairness of the least…only the State can ensure fairness in health, education etc – no-one can have more than the least.
We cannot improve until we can improve everyone – and therefore we improve no-one
2.3.7 State’s role is to create playing fields on which entrepreneurs can be released to deliver service
2.3.8 Harness collective creative self interest of our entrepreneurial output for the benefit of meeting our social objectives
We will see a flowering of ideas, a manifold unfolding of new approaches and a gale of creative destruction
3 Declaration of Rights
3.1 Practical recommendations to clear the path for an explosion in entrepreneurship
3.1.1 Entrepreneurial culture as the only force that exists for growth, prosperity, fairness and social justice
3.1.2 Not about privilege; few getting rich at expense of poor;
3.1.3 About creating ladders of social mobility
3.1.4 Increasing wealth so we can afford services, health education etc
3.1.5 To harness entrepreneurship first we must understand it
- Risk and reward
3.1.6 Must increase economic freedoms for all businesses taking business risks
3.1.7 Cut the time it takes to start a new business
3.1.8 Streamline regulations, exempt small business where possible
3.1.9 Get government out of Business Support – just focus on regulation
3.1.10 Free up family savings for investment in nascent business with credits and exemptions
3.1.11 Stop paying people to be unemployed – share costs of ‘teaching them to be employed’
3.1.12 Employers have no means to underwrite the costs of turning students into productive employees
3.1.13 Govt is largest consumer – must change procurement patterns
- Must drive revenue to entrepreneurs
- Open doors to innovation
3.1.14 Use new legal frameworks to broaden scope for social entrepreneurs – encouraging for profit co-owned businesses and for profits that deliver social benefits
3.1.15 Understand that we do not understand
3.1.16 Must empower people to step out on their own, take risk, hope for reward and move on from failure.
3.1.17 The corrosive impact of an over protective state is not merely the loss of our sense of responsibility to a civil society; it is the even more profound loss of our sense of capacity to change society, to have an impact, to be an entrepreneur.
3.1.18 Entrepreneurship can be taught and must be learned
I was approached by a young woman in the Holiday Inn in Garforth yesterday. She tugged gently at my trousers and asked me if I was interested in buying.
She was clutching a beetroot plant in a wonderfully hand painted plant pot, with a colourful and neatly laminated label saying ‘BEETROOT’. She must have been six or seven and barely reached waist height. She had a badge on her that gave me the name of her school and her job title in the social enterprise that they ran. She was the “Sales Executive”.
She was one of the students from Leeds taking part in a wonderful event called ‘Social Enterprise Takes Off’ organised by the brilliant team of Enterprise Ambassadors at Education Leeds, led with so much enthusiasm, energy and knowledge by Mike Cooper and Chris Marsden.
“Do you want to buy my beetroot?” she asked.
“I would love to” I said, “but tell me, what should I do with it when I go on holiday?”
“That’s not a problem – just put it in a bag and take it with you!”
“Ok. How much is your beetroot plant?” I asked sensing that she had not really grasped my holiday concerns.
“And do you know how much profit you will make if I buy your plant for £1?”
“Yes, about 80p.”
Sold – in so many ways!
The event was wonderful – not withstanding the slightly tired and dated environs and buffet of the Holiday Inn. Some great speakers including Magic Man John Hotowka, Beermat Entrepreneur Mike Southon (“some people become entrepreneurs because no-one else will give them job – like my mate Mike Chitty over there” – thanks for that one Mike!), Make Your Mark Ambassador Sabirul Islam (check him out) and Nick Bowen inspirational head teacher of St Benet Biscop RC High school and advocate for Benet Enterprise – a school owned social enterprise into everything from professional theatre production (from scriptwriting to travelling productions) and event management to video making. They are tapping into the current (and I suspect temporary) rich veins of public funding for all things social enterprise and turning over hundred of thousands each year raising significant funds to improve facilities at the school. Apparently more skeptical members of staff ‘were soon won over when they saw the laptops and other kit that the ‘surpluses’ from Benet Enterprises were able to supply‘. Setting aside the issue of using unpaid pupils and adults paid by the state to compete with local businesses for a minute they are doing some remarkable work.
Mercifully not a Dragon, Failed Apprentice or (not so) Secret Millionaire in sight. (I have no problem if they bring real substance and experience and engage fully, ‘Yorkshire boy done good’ Carl Hopkins is a great example of this – it is when they just bring their ‘celebrity’ and a carefully honed sales pitch for their latest book/consultancy/educational board game/business development workshop that I struggle.)
But the star attractions were the students working (and I mean WORKING) an exhibition space that felt more like a Mediterranean souk than a fusty business exhibition. As soon as I got my wallet out to exchange my pound for my beetroot I was beset by passionate sales executives hawking fair trade chocolate, handmade wooden signs (“any design, any wood you like”) and glassware. Young people selling with energy and passion, plants, books, woodwork, plastics, ‘stone’ plant troughs made from polystyrene. Young people who clearly loved their businesses and their products. Contrast this with the (almost uniformly) sombre, conservative and impassionate business exhibitors at the Chartered Institute of Housing a few miles up the road in Harrogate.
I have no doubt that work of the Enterprise Ambassadors from Education Leeds and the hard working pupils and teachers who make these things happen will lead to a much more business literate generation in the future. And that matters.
However there is more to excellent ‘enterprise education’ than business literacy and great teamwork.
It is about understanding passion and potential whether that lies in ‘business’, ‘ballet’, ‘beatboxing’ or ‘beetroot’.
It is about belief in ‘self’ as an active agent in shaping the future and building a better life, society and world.
It is about the power of education and the development and realisation of potential in whatever Ken Robinson refers to as your ‘Element’. And the point of engagement for that, indeed the vehicle for the fulfillment of that, might not be ‘business’.
So it is time for a broader conception of the enterprising student. It is not about the next generation of entrepreneurs but about the next generation of cellists, authors, policemen and women, nurses, gardeners, mathematicians, politicians and bankers. About the next generation full stop.
Everyone should have the opportunity to become ‘business literate’ by the time they leave full time education. But primarily, fundamentally and at their very heart they need to be enterprising, creative, innovative, bold and self confident – and this might have little or nothing to do with entrepreneurship and business literacy.
As I write this sat at my kitchen table I am looking out the door at my beetroot plant in its brightly hand painted pot. There is a part of me wondering about their costings and worrying that, like so many social enterprises, they have missed or chosen to hide, some of their real costs of production.
But there is a much, much larger part of me that hopes and prays that the young ‘sales executive’ has learned much more than just how to spot opportunities to turn a profit. That she has learned more about herself and what she could become. About her self interest and her power to realise her potential and how she might really be able to make the difference that she wants to see in the world.
It is these lessons that we enterprise educators should be teaching.
I am a freelance trainer, consultant, thinker, speaker and writer on the subjects of enterprise, entrepreneurship, management and leadership If you would like to work with Mike then please get in touch. mikeatmichaelchittydotcodotuk
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Community Anchors are independent, community-led organisations. They are at the heart of their communities, physically and psychologically. They are able to respond in a holistic way to local problems and challenges, by giving local people support to act.
It seems that there is a high correlation between communities that experience successful regeneration and the development of effective Anchor Organisations.
This has led many regeneration funders to seek to establish Anchor Organisations in ‘failing’ communities in the belief that they can weave their magic and turn things around. And perhaps they can.
But I have a slight concern. I would hypothesise that Anchor Organisations emerge from communities that are already working actively at their own regeneration. They are a natural evolution as independent people and community organisations begin to reach out to each other in the realisation that only through association can they become more effective in their work.
Their success depends to a very large extent on the timing being right and incumbent diverse and fragmented community groups recognising that the development of a successful Anchor Organisation is in their best interest. This realisation and consensus can take many years to accrue.
If this hypothesis is correct then we should expect Anchor Organisations that have been artificially seeded by external funders to find it tough going. The local incumbents may not yet have reached the limits of their own development. They may not yet see the need for the anchor. They may see it as yet another project foisted on them by funders by more money with sense.
Instead of acting as midwifes to the birth of a wonderful new baby, regeneration professionals then end up putting a premature and often unwanted delivery into some very expensive intensive care – if the baby gets born at all.
I have had the privilege of working with some highly successful Anchor Organisations – which emerged from local people and groups in response to local circumstances and opportunities. I have also witnessed Anchor Organisations struggle to get off the ground – and most of these seem to have been primarily ‘funding’ and ‘policy’ driven, conceived by outsiders as an appropriate ‘strategic’ response to the needs of local communities.
If my hypothesis is right then Anchor Organisations are a naturally emergent property of communities that are already on the up. They are an effect of regeneration rather than a cause.
And instead of trying to seed them in communities where they perceive there is a need, funders should focus on facilitating local groups until such time as they decide that the time is right for an Anchor Organisation to emerge.
A leader is best when people barely know he exists,
when his work is done,
his aim fulfilled,
they will say: we did it ourselves.
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While many businesses pay lip service to the idea of environmentally responsible practices, Patagonia has defined itself by “inspiring and implementing solutions to the environmental crisis,” says Chouinard.
The company has pledged that by 2010, it will to make all of its clothing from recycled and recyclable materials. Chouinard says that he would exit the clothing business altogether rather than compromise his standards.
Patagonia takes many steps to control its growth, such as drastically limiting its catalog distribution and not taking the company public in an IPO.
Chouinard even encourages his customers to buy less and focus on their needs rather than their wants. He insists that every time Patagonia invests in the environment, he sees an increase in the company’s bottom line.
Check out the full podcast here it is well worth the effort.
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Todd Hannula has blogged about the possibility of an open source information platform for social entrepreneurs. He posits that such a platform might help more social entrepreneurs get the information that they need at the right time. Sounds like the kind of idea that the public purse might get interested in investing in.
But does it stack up?
- Is the Internet not an open source information platform?
- Is it possible to provide any more information within a few clicks?
- Is the supply side of business support not already rammed full to the gunnels with information and workshops?
I think that the answer to the information question lies in an exploration of the ‘demand side’ for information rather than thinking about how we can develop the information ‘supply side’.
If entrepreneurs REALLY want to succeed (rather than look and feel good for a while) they should get the right team in place before they start. A team that is as obsessed about financial management and marketing and sales as it is about saving the world. With a balanced team seeking information and ‘better practice’ in each of these domains they are much less likely to fail as a business and the demand side of the information market place will be more robust.
So let’s have less encouragement to individual entrepreneurs to change the world single handed and more encouragement to them to build powerful and balanced teams.
Todd suggests that the realisation for most social entrepreneurs that they are ‘not very good’ at business comes ‘just too late’. This is an unpalatable (and therefore largely unspoken) truth for nearly all entrepreneurs – social or otherwise.
They nearly all get a massive shock at some point.
- They run out of money.
- Customers get angry.
- Products and services don’t work as well as was planned.
The question is how to respond?
- Are they prepared for the shock?
- Did they know it was likely to come along?
- Do they have the networks and resources to work through the shock and to learn from it?
- Or do they bail out thinking – ‘I am not cut out for this’?
How do ‘support agencies’ make sure that they are ready to face these traumas when they almost inevitably come?
Because the painful traumas of business start-up might discourage some people from starting, they are often swept under the carpet.
We might use some euphemism, like ‘You need to do a little more work on your business plan’, but we rarely help the client to explore the unvarnished truth; No matter how much planning they do they will never be ready. There will be nasty and uncomfortable surprises. It is the ability to deal with these shocks and their ramifications that will separate the entrepreneurs from the wannabes.
I choose to consistently focus clients on the possible downsides of their business as much as on the upsides. I usually beg them to find some less risky way of following their dream other than starting their own business. I make them explore the things that might go wrong – and of the devastating impact that they could have on finances, relationships and reputations.
People say to me ‘Mike, they will never start a business if you keep pointing out all of the downsides…’
Well I make no apologies.
If someone is put off starting a business by a good exploration of the possible downsides then they are probably making exactly the right decision.
It is not more businesses that we need, but better businesses. Businesses that have a pragmatic understanding of the risks that they face (bankruptcy, debt, damaged relationships etc) – and are still prepared to take them. Businesses whose antennae are tuned to both problems and opportunities. You can’t stop a business like this from avidly consuming information. They seek it out. They devour it. Even if it is hard to find or ambiguous.
Instead we often find ourselves trying to resource dozens of ‘wannabe’ hopefuls buoyed up by a raft of interventions to promote enterprise on a sea of support agencies whose criteria for success is based on counting start-ups rather than survival rates. And then we have to find ways to spoon feed them information like medicine that might keep their business off the rocks – and we wonder if there is not some better way of shaping the information supply side.
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