Social Enterprise UK invited Steve Allman to talk to a group of aspiring social entrepreneurs about business essentials for those leading startup social enterprises. Steve shared his own business essentials, based partly on his experience of leading a large organisation and partly on his love of 1980’s kids TV…
1. The A-Team: Have A Plan (and love it when it comes together)
I’ve always had a plan in my head. I’ve always found it hard to transfer it to paper. It’s much easier to bring people along with you if they can see your plan; your colleagues, your board, your funders. It’s good to know where you’re heading and it’s even better to love it when that plan comes together.
2. Dukes of Hazzard: Problem Solving
The Dukes of Hazzard had a 1969 Dodge Charger with no doors. Did it sit rusting on their driveway? No. They climbed through the windows instead. Social Entrepreneurs will encounter many problems and barriers; especially when starting out, but there is always a way to get around the problem.
3. Knightrider: Be Cool
Social Entrepreneurs need to look the part, but that doesn’t mean permed locks and flared jeans. As a young CEO, if I turned up to meetings in jeans and trainers I ran the risk of being sat in a corner with some sweeties and some colouring in. Yesterday I met with a CEO (suit) then a colleague (removed tie) then gave this presentation (removed jacket) and (thankfully) didn’t have any more meetings as I had very little left to remove.
4. Care Bears: Clearly Defined Roles
The Care Bears had this sussed. Rainbow Bear, Love Bear… (don’t know any others. Didn’t watch it. Honest). Everyone knew their role and where they fitted into the team. Many social enterprises are driven by one individual, especially early on. Choose a team structure that works for your enterprise and make sure everyone knows their role and understands what their responsibilities are.
5. He-Man: Strong Leadership
Some days I’m He-Man striding forth on Battle Cat; but most days I’m Adam cowering behind Cringer. I’ve learned not to dither, not to faff about, have confidence in my decisions and get on with it – or JFDI as it’s known. Of course, consult your team as far as possible, but don’t let bureaucratic decision-making hold you back. You’re the leader. So lead.
6. The Wombles: Be Resourceful
Why the Wombles haven’t sued David Cameron yet for ripping off their Big Society idea, I don’t know. Anyway, be resourceful. Make good use of the things that you find, or have, or can get hold off. Beg, borrow, don’t steal.
Call in favours, get friends to help out. Do everything you can think of before you dip into that hard-earned “social profit”.
7. Skeletor: Confront Your Worst Fears
All social entrepreneurs, even the cocky ones, will have niggling fears sometimes. What if it’s a crap idea? What if it doesn’t work? Maybe you don’t like public speaking or you’re not good with figures. Be completely honest with yourself about your main fears, then face them. Develop yourself. Get trained. Get people in who can do it better than you, or find people with those skills in your support network.
8. Fall Guy: Be The Fall Guy (or Girl)
When things are going well, the social entrepreneur driving it forwards tends to get the credit. When things aren’t so good, we tend to get the blame. Be prepared to fall on your own sword, admit when things don’t work or when you got it wrong, especially within your team.
9. The Littlest Hobo: Know When To Move On
”There’s a voice, keeps on calling me…” The Littlest Hobo was quite possibly the first doggy Social Entrepreneur (except maybe for Lassie)… I digress… The point is, he saw who needed help, got stuck in, did the job, saved the day, then got out. In our quest to save the world, we can spend ages in activities that won’t further our social aims; meetings, events, planning, etc. Also, for every 1 good idea I ever had, I’ve had 9 bad ones. After a while, you learn when to dump the bad ones quickly and move on…
10. Transformers: Always an Autobot (Stay True): Stay true to your aims. Simples. Optimus Prime, like social entrepreneurs (!) is many things. He’s a robot. He’s a lorry. He’s a leader. But he’s always an Autobot (who are the goodies). Over the years our service and delivery methods have changed beyond recognition. However, last year, we held an event and invited the floppy-haired, shoulder-padded people from the 80’s who set up the organisation.
Terrified that I was going to show them a different baby to that which they had entrusted in my care (see point 7) I was over the moon when our founders said that everything has changed, but the vision of an inclusive world for disabled children is as clear to them now as it was all those years ago.
Social Entrepreneurs can be many things. But you’re always an Autobot; one of the good guys.