Making Social Entrepreneurs Succeed

Year after year, 7.3 million tonnes of food are thrown away in the UK – all while 8.4 million families are struggling to put food on the table. In 2013, two friends from London had enough of statistics like these. They decided to act. Thus was born the idea of Snact, making healthy snacks out of fruits that would have otherwise gone into the trash cans. 

It wasn’t long until they faced the same problems all start-ups encounter sooner or later. They needed a defined business model and investment. Not an easy challenge for Ilana Taub and Michael Midge-Dixon, who had had little experience with entrepreneurship beforehand – so they decided to look for help.

This is how they came to us at Hatch in 2014. They put themselves in the hands of our Incubator program for twelve weeks. After that, their business model was unshakable. They managed to raise £ 13,500 via a highly successful Crowdfunder campaign. Today, their fruit jerkies are sold in supermarkets across the country and they successfully launched their 2nd product last year on Crowdfunder too!

Unfortunately, not all good ideas end up with as much success as Snact. Like food, a lot of them simply go to waste. In fact, only 20% of small businesses ever make it past their first 18 months. 90% of them fail within their first three years without dedicated holistic support.

This problem is even more serious for one group of entrepreneurs in particular: Social Entrepreneurs.

Defining what exactly a social entrepreneur is can be difficult. On a surface level, they often couldn’t be more different. Verterra, an internationally operating manufacturer of dinnerware made from banana leaves is just as much a social enterprise as the small & local London sharing platform Library of Things. But there is one thing that unites them: the aim to help people and create social or environmental impact while also generating revenue. Just like a traditional business would do.

The demand for them is there and rising quickly. In 2017, the UK was already home to 471.000 social enterprises employing about 2.27 million people – 7% of the country’s total employees.  But true to their mission, the impact of social entrepreneurs far exceeds cold economic statistics.

They create value by bringing together communities or alleviating the environmental stress human activity places on our planet. They come from all backgrounds of life, including disadvantaged, and are much more likely to be female or ethnic minorities than leaders of other SMEs. And it is not least because of this that they work where it is most needed: Almost a third of social enterprises are operating in the top 20% of most deprived communities in the UK.

However, social entrepreneurs have to overcome tremendous challenges:

Funding

Social enterprises are neither conventual commercial ventures nor charities – they sit somewhere in the middle of the chart. Ideally, this can mean that they can receive income from both trading and donors or social financing – most successful social enterprises do. On the flipside, for many others, it can be very difficult to receive either of them.

Generating enough revenue from the sale of social goods or services is not always easy, while a lot of donors or institutions are wary of giving funds to organisations they deem to commercial – many social enterprises that are not run as strictly non-profit entities can fall under this label. Government programmes are slowly waking up to the opportunity of social entrepreneurship, and some initiatives can be eligible for public funding or government grants, but developments are happening only slowly.

The opposite problem arises for many social entrepreneurs who are trying to get corporate investors on board. Here they face the stigma of social institutions not being able to offer a sufficient return on investment – even though 75% of social enterprises are managing to generate a profit, standing at just about the same rate as other SMEs (78%).

 

 

Check the article THE INCONVENIENT TRUTH ABOUT SOCIAL INVESTMENT

 

Lack of Networks and Business skills

Frequently, social entrepreneurs have a very different background from founders of traditional businesses. They often did not go to business schools and neither did many of their peers growing up. Their different experiences can represent a huge advantage, both for them as well as society, but it also means they are underprepared for some of the challenges of entrepreneurship. And without a network of acquaintances who are knowledgeable in the field, there are not many places of help and support available.

Like many SMEs starting off, social enterprises additionally have problems accessing sale channels and finding customers for their products. Making the world and your prospective clients aware of yourself is everything but easy on the very limited budget most of them have. As a result, the internet becomes a powerful and in some cases indispensable tool for them – the cost of access is negligible, and with the creativity and resourcefulness a lot of social entrepreneurs possess, they’re often able to make their name heard with clever marketing and appealing products. Like our friends at Snact or the people behind Beam, a mission-driven business in London specializes in helping ex-rough sleepers into employment by helping them crowdfund their way back to work!

 

”They often did not go to business schools and neither did many of their peers growing up

Their different experiences can represent a huge advantage, both for them as well as society,

but it also means they are underprepared for some of the challenges of entrepreneurship.”

 

 

Another strategy employed by many is to look to a local community. What almost seems like a throwback to times long gone by, they simply go out and talk to people personally to build awareness and a base of loyal customers and supporters.

That’s what Rebecca Trevelyan and her friends did when setting up the Library of Things in South London. The principle behind the initiative is simple: Instead of borrowing books like you would from a normal library, the Library of Things allows you to borrow tools and devices you might need once every few months but are quite expensive to buy and own.

In the weeks leading up their launch, the young entrepreneurs simply went from house to house, knocking on people’s doors, telling them their stories and asking them whether they maybe had some unused tools they could donate. 

When the opening date arrived, people came by the dozens, both as lenders and donators.

Unfortunately, however, stories like this, showing the potential of social entrepreneurs are still more of an exception than the norm. For many of them, the lack of business expertise and networks is simply too much to overcome.

Providing help and a network, to social entrepreneurs

So how can we solve those problems? That’s the question we ask ourselves every day.

One of our answers has been our Incubator program – as used by Taub and Midge-Dixon from Snact. Through twelve weeks of workshops, one-on-one coaching and mentoring, we aim to provide social entrepreneurs with everything they need to succeed. This includes:

Educating entrepreneurs on a wide range of topics: business model planning, marketing, building and improving pricing structures, cash flow management, etc.

Including practical elements besides the theoretical input. To make sure the entrepreneurs know how to apply their knowledge. 

Along the program, members need to meet experts in their field. Workshop teachers as well as other entrepreneurs. Getting to know other people in a similar situation as they are, with often the same struggles is without a doubt one of the most beneficial effects of an incubator programme. Meeting people well-qualified to help them. Building a network of peers and mentors.

Now that we also work with 55 East we have a dedicated space for entrepreneurs. It changes the dynamic to get a space with a solid network. it is certainly where the collaboration happens, as working side by side with other entrepreneurs creates a positive ecosystem and makes their challenges easier to overcome. 

 

We assist the entrepreneurs with their funding. We are providing access to finance opportunities via our networks of investment intermediaries.

Of course even with a dedicated support, getting off the ground remains a difficult challenge. Coming back to the figure from earlier, 80% of small business not surviving beyond their first 18 months sounds disheartening. But fortunately, it’s only half of the story. Because of joining an incubator program, 87% are still alive and kicking even five years after their launch. Expertise and support can make an incredible difference – and we want to provide as many entrepreneurs with it as possible.

 

How Twitter Lists can help you save time and grow your business

Whether you are starting your own business or are just thinking about it, chances are you already have a Twitter account. But how about Twitter Lists?

And How much do you actually know about them, if anything at all?

Often overlooked, Twitter Lists can be a great asset for businesses.  They help you manage Twitter more effectively and certainly have an important role to play when it comes to developing your social media strategy.

At first glance, they are simply a way to organise different accounts – you can add a descriptor for each list you create, making it either private (only visible to you) or public (visible to all, notifying accounts as they are added).   

But don’t be fooled.

Twitter Lists are much more than that.  And here is why;

 

They keep you on top of trends

By creating a list of users who regularly share breaking news within your industry, you can keep on top of relevant changes and updates relatively easily – it also means you can react to them efficiently.  

 

They save you time

It’s virtually impossible to keep pace with Twitter, especially if you are scrolling through an unfiltered feed.  By checking on the feed of each list separately you can absorb the information faster and in digestible chunks – without any clutter.

 

They help you keep an eye on the competition

Competitor activity is important for many reasons, and Twitter Lists allows you to do this easily and anonymously. Make sure you check what (public) Lists your competitors have as well as which ones they subscribe to!

 

They facilitate engagement

Consider creating a list made up of loyal customers, participants of Twitter chats, and bloggers who share your content and generally support you. Engaging with them will become much easier once they are grouped together, allowing you to nurture your relationships more effectively. You are also less likely to miss their activity if they are on a List.

They highlight brand awareness and increase followers

Well curated Twitter Lists can attract new followers as well as subscribers to your Lists. You might also find that accounts that you save under your Lists start to follow you too.

 

They give you a cleaner feed

By keeping track of accounts that are of interest to your business without having to follow them, you can keep your feed much more targeted and relevant to your brand.  

 

They help you add value to your own customer base

Think about what your business offers its customers.  Now consider the types of information that are of value to them and relevant to your offering. Could you add it to a Twitter List?  For example, if you own a vegetarian cafe you could have a number of public curated Lists covering topics such as seasonal produce, health benefits, recipes, favourite food bloggers, and your own local distributors. By creating lists that carry relevant content to your customers you can increase your followers and engagement.

 

They can balance your follower ratio

Everyone knows it takes time and effort to grow your Twitter following, but young businesses can initially suffer from showing low follower numbers against very high following ones. You can use Twitter Lists to avoid this.

 

They can increase your SEO

It is a fact that Google judges your importance according to the type of content you display.  The more high value, high-quality content you have, the more likely they are to link to it and share it themselves. Blog posts, competitions, articles, events, news, interviews, podcasts and images are all part of the content mix. Well defined Twitter Lists can help you identify and curate the best quality content available to add to your own and share it within your feed.

 

And finally, Twitter lists make you more focused

By consistently creating well-defined Lists, you will find that your engagement will become sharper and you will be less likely to add profiles that don’t fit into your List(s) or business objectives.

 

So, have I managed to convince you yet?  If you are still unsure how to get started here are a few Twitter Lists that you should consider;

 

  • Prospect clients –these are people you want to work with, so best to make it private.
  • Competitors – another list you might want to keep private.
  • Influencers – these can be businesses, bloggers, industry leaders, or profiles with a strong voice within your sector/area/industry.
  • News and Trends – include journalists/bloggers/writers/ Industry bodies who are active in covering relevant themes, events, etc.
  • Aspirational brands – personally, I am a big believer in monitoring businesses that inspire you.  They don’t even need to be in the same industry as you, but often following brands you admire can open your own path to try different things.

 

Now is your turn to give it a go!  

 

Start small, but keep adding, tweaking and streamlining your Lists – just don’t forget to check them regularly, and engage of course!

 

Good luck.

 

If you are a small business owner and you need business advice and training we offer classes in South-London.

Check our programmes.

 

 

credits:
Pic 1 – Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash
Pic 2 – Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Social Enterprise Incubator Series: Sales

In our Social Enterprise Incubator Series, we follow 15 incredible social entrepreneurs who are leading the road to change with our Incubator Programme.

Get a glimpse into their challenges, developments and lightbulb moments as the cohort shares their experience over the 6 month programme!

 

“I want you to sell this chair to me.” My heart sunk when I heard these words as the thought of trying to persuade someone to part with their money (even when it’s just pretend) freaks me out. Not ideal when you’re a business owner! The chair selling scenario was one of the role-play exercises sales expert Gerald Vanderpuye used to demonstrate the ways we tend to approach sales. We go in for the big hard sell talking about the features of a product and why the customer should like it.

Thankfully, this session taught us that there is another way. Gerald highlighted the importance of really getting to know our potential customers. We can do this by reaching out to them and remembering to talk less and listen more, ask questions to learn about their lives and find out about past behaviours that are relevant to our product. When we do this we can figure out if a person really cares about the problem we’re trying to solve and know whether to pursue further conversations from a sales perspective.

The next challenge is to find out where our potential customers are so that we can have these conversations in the first place. My life coaching business is aimed at people who are seeking more joy and creative flow in their lives and want to feel more fulfilled in their work and relationships. This sales session has tested me to think about where these people are hanging out, what media they are accessing and where they are online – the next step is to start to be seen in these spaces too.

 

Watch this space as we share more posts by the incredible changemakers on our Incubator programme!