How To Be a Startup Social Enterprise Superhero!

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This week Social Enterprise UK very kindly asked me to speak at the Social Enterprise Exchange Conference in Glasgow, where over 1200 people from all over the world were in one place with one thing in common; being a social entrepreneur. 

With tongue slightly in cheek at the notion that all social entrepreneurs are superheroes, here’s a summary of my talk, aimed at the newbies in their first year, on becoming a startup social enterprise superhero…

Mighty Mouse:  Even little mice can be mighty
Social Enterprises (like superheroes) come in all shapes and sizes but you don’t have to be a big enterprise to have a big impact.  Some of the best social enterprises start off as relatively small ideas or projects that have a BIG impact in the lives of others.

Spiderman:  “With great power comes great responsibility” So you’ve started a social enterprise?  All eyes are on you now.  You set the pace for the organisation, you set the culture for the team, but most importantly you carry the responsibility for ensuring that your enterprise is social and that it delivers against it’s social mission and social aims, meets the needs of the people it serves or tackles the social problem.

Daredevil:  Be a daredevil! Go on, take a few risks.  As a social entrepreneur, you’re doing your bit to change the world so don’t be too shy about it.  Think big, aim high, chase those contacts that were unreachable before – however high up the food chain they might appear to be, they might be glad you asked for their help or advice.  Be creative about marketing your enterprise, make a lot of noise, let people know you’re out there!

Superman:  Know Your Kryptonite
Possibly my top tip.  If Superman gets too close to Kryptonite, he loses his super powers.  We all have it; those things we put off because we can’t do them, don’t want to do them, or don’t enjoy them.  Get rid of your Kryptonite asap before it takes up too much headspace or holds you back from doing the things that you can do or that you do enjoy.  Get other people in to help with your Kryptonite tasks so you can get on with whatever else needs doing.

Batman:  Get Out of the Batcave! Actually, maybe this is my top tip?  The world of social enterprise, and the voluntary sector, for all it’s networking and partnerships, can sometimes be a little insular.  Talking about social enterprise with people who talk social enterprise is important, but don’t forget also to get out of the bat cave and make sure the outside world knows what you’re all about, what you need and how you can help.

Invisible Woman:  Be one sometimes! (or the invisible man) Disappear.  You’re going to feel like you’re on a toboggan run, especially in the first few months as the enterprise, and the workload, builds.  Make sure you take time out to reflect, disappear to the park or the coast, and consider your original aims and outcomes, are you achieving what you wanted, what else could you, or should you be doing?

The Incredible Hulk:  It’s OK to Get Angry Do you know what?  I’ve been playing this game since I was 16 and it still makes my blood boil that some people think it’s ok to exclude disabled kids.  In the early days of being a CEO, I was probably too polite about this, or I minced my words or filtered my conversations. I learned anger over social injustice can be channelled as passion and if you’re passionate about your cause then others will be.

Don’t believe everything the Hulk says, some people will like you when you’re angry!

Fantastic Four (or twelve): Get a Fantastic Board If you need a board, get people with a good mix of skills and experiences – not just people who like you or are like you because they may not stretch you enough or help with your thinking or strategy.  Think about the skills that are most useful to your enterprise and target your recruitment in those areas, this should help you get a fantastic board – even if they can’t turn into fire, skate on ice or go invisible.

Wonderwoman: Don’t Try and Be Her  You’ve probably started a social enterprise because you’re passionate about your cause and prepared to put the hours in, but it’s important to have a life as well and still make time for other hobbies and interests, family and friends.  Don’t bite off more than you can chew or take on too much; no one wants to burn out in their first year.

Brave Heart:  Follow Yours Finally, and only because this presentation was given in Glasgow, be brave and follow your heart.  Stay true to your aims and values, remember why you set out to start up a social enterprise in the first place when you could be living an easier life or earning more money doing a “proper” job.