What’s so Social about Social Enterprise?

I know this is "internal only", I'm waiting for a public version I can replace it with.

I’m increasingly unconvinced by the “social enterprise” label as a distinct business model. Of the legal forms of incorporation only one has distinct “social features” (the CIC) but that’s not suitable for everyone. There are certainly many businesses trading for social improvement or with a strong social ethic running through them, just as there are businesses with strong design ethic, or engineering excellence, or any number of coherent passionate shared values.

As a branding mechanism I can see a value in being recognised as a “social enterprise”. It catches a very strong Zeitgeist and clearly flags your tribe, enabling people to make purchasing decisions.

Anyhow, on with the day. This was part of the ESRC‘s Festival of Science.

Session 1

The first session was with Katie Alcott (Frank Water), a great example of a social enterprise, and based in Bristol. It was refreshing that despite the obvious social aims and largely philanthropic ambitions, Katie had been quite level headed in starting Frank. She’d pulled together a team of 5 to launch the product, identified different legal forms of incorporation and decided that a trading company was the best way to achieve her aims.

Unfortunately there was still a bit of confusion between a Limited Company and Social Enterprise. Katie seemed to be suggesting that they were somehow different, when its actually down to the purpose and operation of the business. There are specific legal forms of incorporation that you can use (such as the CIC which was talked about in the break out session) but Frank are a Ltd with a Charitable arm.

What set them apart was their ethic and business focus. The main alternative Katie and Tom looked at was a charity but felt that this was akin to “begging” for money. Yes everyone got a warm fuzzy feeling at helping the less well off, but it wasn’t as sustainable as a business receiving revenue for a valued product or service.

Having launched the business, Katie has demonstrated very acute business development initative with their 1:200 campaign (something the other bottle water companies are following, always a good sign). They obviously have a good sense of marketing, a great design, a solid and building a tribe of followers, and are increasingly delivering the social change projects Katie wanted to.

Break Out

The break out session was to discuss what a Social Enterprise was. There isn’t a ‘template’ presented to us, we were given some examples from the Ashoka Foundation and asked to consider them. We felt that there had to be a business, rather than a charity or volunteer group, and that the principle purpose had to be some social benefit. But beyond that we struggled to come up with a binding definition, which was a recurring theme.

Session 2

The second sessions tried to ask “How do we know, as consumers & citizens, that we a dealing with a social enterprise?” and was led by June Burrough (Pierian Centre). June was very proud of her Social Enterprise Mark as it represented a line in the sand, a recognition but didn’t require her to change what she was doing. The Pierian Centre provide training & conference space in the middle of St Pauls. When she set up the centre, June was advised to take St Pauls off her address as “no on would go there for training”.

That was just buying into the prevailing social attitudes to the St Pauls area. June stuck to her guns and now has a thriving centre with executive training, homoeopathy and counselling (and a whole load more) all making use of her building. A large part of the social in her enterprise is the use of local providers for catering, training, etc. She also runs a sliding price scale so that those will less resource to pay make a smaller contribution.

The Centre is set up as a CIC so that the assets (the Grade 1 listed building) are returned to the community should the company cease trading.

Break Out

We came up with a long list of things you might want to know about in deciding if the company you were dealing with was a ‘social enteprise’ but were hampered by know really knowing enough about the Social Enterprise Mark. It also became clear that while some companies (like Frank Water) are happy to have their photos on the web and to be very ‘out there’, some other very valid social enterprises were less comfortable with that.

Session 3

Last up was Sam Robinson (eaga) asking about “What might we want to know about the human side of the benefits & changes that social enterprise promises to bring?”. eaga is quite an interesting business story outside any social enterprise context. Set up to disburse Government grants to improve home heating efficiency they quickly grew to be a large business, set up as a partnership (a la John Lewis Partnership) then floated retaining a controlling share within the Partnership Trust. With over 4,000 employees across half a dozen countries they’re not your usual little social.

It might have been Sam’s title (CSR Manager) that struck a slight discord but to me it was the disconnect between the core purpose of eaga, managing grants and installing energy efficiency systems, and the social aspects being discussed which were mainly in the sub-continent and around sanitation and education.

The far stronger story was the simple operation of eaga in efficiently using Government funds to implement energy efficiency and heating insulation in the less well of parts of the UK.

Sam acknowledged that they were using their muscle to encourage their supply chain to be more charitable. He also recognised the challeneges of just being a ‘CSR Ticket’ and integrating social enterprise into ethic of business. Whether you can do that as a plc I’m not sure. Interestingly they floated in June 2007 at a share price of 227.75 and steadily fell to 94.75 almost exactly a year later, they’re now back up around 130-140. There must be a lot of pressure on the senior management team to make up that loss in value.

Wrap up

There wasn’t really a wrap up session or final discussion. This is clearly an ongoing series of discussions and debates.

The evolving Social Enterprise Mark piloted in the South West by RISE seems like a clear encapsulation of “social enterprise” in an easy to present format that most people will agree with. The challenge will be to communicate this quickly enough, to a large enough audience that it gains currency, without exceeding expectations on what social enterprises can do.

Sir Ken in his element

Are you passionately doing something you’re good at?

That was Sir Ken Robinson‘s challenge to us (and everyone really) last night at the Arnolfini. I hadn’t seen his TED2006 presentation, you should, its just there on the right.

First of all, Sir Ken is an exceptional speaker. Very self-depreciating sense of humour, great timing, stage presence, etc. If the message weren’t so profound we might have been in the Comedy Club.

After a pre-amble Sir Ken opened by noting that he hadn’t really followed a planned career, that he’d been opportunistic whilst following his personal true north. But then do any of us follow a planned career these days?

When we write our CV we impose a narrative retrospectively, or as Sir Ken put it:

…thus I moved from being a gardener to helicopter pilot…[pause]

as have so many before me…

He boiled his book down into 2 core principles for being “in your element”:

  1. Doing stuff which for which you have a natural aptitude
  2. and loving what you do

Everyone has many aptitudes, things we’re good at, that we get. The trouble is, because we ‘get it’ we assume that its obvious, that anyone could do it. The trick is to realise that, maybe, it’s not so obvious and actually we are genuinely better at that particular thing than others.

The example Sir Ken used was Terence Tao. At two, Terence taught himself to read, by 3 he was doing double-digit mathematics, by 9 he scored 99% in the Maths SAT, by 20 he had a PhD and by 30 he won the Field Medal for Maths. Terence was good at maths, he ‘got it’.

Not everyone can be as good at maths as Terence, arguably no one is. But there are things we’re good at, that we get, that others find difficult. Those are the things that Sir Ken is suggesting we find, discover and encourage in ourselves and others. In an aside (of which there were a few) the culture of corporate & organisational development was touched upon. A very powerful case was made for thinking of the organisation as an organism, to consider development more akin to gardening than engineering.

A good gardener creates the right conditions for plants to flourish, a good manager should create the right conditions for their people to flourish.

Sir Ken then moved on to the concept of loving what you do. He related a gig he went to many years ago. Afterwards they were having a drink with the band and he remarked to the keyboard player that he’d love to be in a band and playing keyboards. The response was “no you don’t”, after a bit the clarification was that Sir Ken liked the idea of being in a band, whereas the keyboard player loved it, would be doing it even if he wasn’t playing gigs.

When we find something we love doing that plays to our natural aptitudes, then we’re in our element.

Like natural resources, human resources are often buried. They’re not always lying right on the surface to pick up and run with. That should be the role of the education system. In the TED talk Sir Ken makes the point that the education system is designed to produce University Professors. Which is fine for University Professors, but of varying use for everyone else.

Another issue touched upon was that life is not linear but our education system assumes it is. You can’t plan the future of anything (the recent weather has re-taught us that) let alone people. Schooling kids at Primary / Kindergarten to prepare them for University is madness. A 3-year old is not half a 6-year old; a 6-year old is not half a 12-year old.

Unfortunately there wasn’t much on what Sir Ken’s education system would look like or how it would operate. Perhaps that’s in the book. A lot of people are working on similar ideas, most notably in Bristol the Enquiring Minds project with Futurelab and Microsoft but the systemic transformation is some way off.

Thanks go to Bristol Festival of Ideas for organising and the Arnolfini for hosting.

Twitter + Festival + Bristol = Bristwestival

bristol-twestival

Ok, perhaps one word mangle that’ll never make it into the OED but Twestivals are taking over. At least until 12 Feb.

Organised out of London (who says Brits and Europeans don’t “get” twitter) and with a global network within days, if not hours this is a fantastic demonstration of something that simply couldn’t happen this big, this fast even 2 years ago.

Dan Martin from BusinessZone.co.uk is coordinating the Bristol contribution with very kind support and sponsorship from Sift where Business Zone is one of stable of great online magazines & services.

I helped out in my usual small way with the planning and connecting of people but thought I should also make a more definitive contribution and put my reputation where my mouth is. So I’ve thrown my metaphorical hat in the raffle with a voucher for 1 days consultancy (or 2 half days depending on what is more suitable) from me.

It is kind of exciting, not knowing who will win and what business challenges they’ll have. I just hope I can make a positive contribution.

If you haven’t signed up, please do, Bristwestival looks like being a great evening at the new Lanes Bowling Ally. Lots going on until the wee-small hours and all proceeds are going to charity mate. Actually they’re going to Charity:water so that’s nice also.

Serendipity engineering

Atticus Finch Uploaded on August 21, 2006 by Dunechaser
Atticus Finch - Uploaded on August 21, 2006 by Dunechaser

How valuable is engineered serendipity to your business? On my way back from a meeting in the Watershed I thought I’d stick my head into UWE’s new business incubator facility in Bush House. Only opened just before Christmas they already have a good selection of tenants including the usual scattering of graduate start-ups (such as Carolyn Newton from Whale Bags, a business plan competition winner).

I also bumped into Chris, Dave, and Toby from Evans & Finch. I’d spoke to Dave & Chris last year at OpenCoffee before they’d settled so it’s great to see them finding their feet so quickly. For one thing the holding page they had back in November is now funky showcase of their work.

Chris, Toby and I threw a couple ideas around for some funding they’re thinking about applying for. They had a very strong feature set (not unusual for a software / tech company) and a pretty compelling description of the benefits, which is nice to see. The challenge we were kicking around was how to bring that to bare upon the funding call.

We took a step back from the application itself and looked at the funders as clients. This lead to some great new directions for the proposal. We’ll find out how they get on in a couple of weeks.

So how does that help jbsh? Well in the short term it doesn’t. It does build the relationship with Chris, Dave & Toby (especially if they land the funding 🙂 ) which may lead to some consultancy in the future. More likely, they’ll bump into someone that needs some business planning support and think of me.

Serendipity works like that, so long as the opportunity cost doesn’t outweigh the benefit its always a good investment.

I was in town, I could have gone straight home and sorted a couple emails or helped Chris & Dave and lay the opportunity. I think helping out Chris & Dave was a better use of my time and the emails will get answered in due course.

Customer delight

In my last post I talked about business process modeling and how it could help understand the activities in a business prior to cost cutting for survival. In this post I’m going to riff on the concept of delighting your customers so they come back.

The hygiene factor in delighting your customers is not pissing them off in the first place. How easy is to buy your product & service? Does your product & service do what your customers want (when was the last time you asked)? How you handle complaints / faults / genuine cock-ups?

The easy sell

It may sound obvious but there’s a good reason why Amazon went to all that hassle over their ‘One Click‘ purchasing system. If folks give up half-way through a transaction not only have you lost a sale, you’ve now got a dissatisfied individual that will quite happily tell everyone how poor your service is.

Some companies actually make it fun to buy their products. Moo have this absolutely nailed. Not only do they get you to do a lot of the (perceived) hard work in designing your business/greeting card/post card/etc, but its a fun and engaging process. Innocent Drinks have a delightful approach to their products that makes choosing which smoothie to buy more fun than just a straight choice between ingredients lists.

Even if you’re in the B2B market, a human somewhere will make the decision to buy your product & service so at least make it a painless decision. Think about their pain points; at this stage in the econoclapse no one wants to sign off a large order over 3 years, perhaps you can get a rolling contract with stage payments. That’ll help both your cash flow positions. Know what the sign-off limit is for your primary contact and sneak under that for each stage payment.

Does exactly what is says on the tin

Uploaded on March 18, 2008 by David Clow - Maryland
Uploaded on March 18, 2008 by David Clow - Maryland

The simplest form of customer feedback is your sales. If people are prepared to hand over cash then whatever you’re doing has real value to them. If you’re giving the stuff away then it’s a time investment that acts as a proxy for cash (people returning to your app/game/etc and using it over an extended time period).

Our tagline is “advancement through integrating knowledge” which is what we do, work with clients to advance their business / organisation / research through bringing together our own multidisciplinary knowledge base and integrating with the client’s knowledge base to solve whatever problem was chosen. But if that was all we did we’d be competing with every other consultancy that ‘works closely with their clients in unique partnership, blah blah blah”.

We integrate through networking and engaging in the local, regional, national and international communities we’re a part of. We share knowledge through this blog and by publishing research papers. We support the advancement of others through OpenCoffee, offering advice and reviewing journal papers, and generally trying to connect interesting people.

What low-cost but high perceived added-value can you provide to differentiate from everyone else?

Oops, mea culpa

We all make mistakes. Some are large, some small, some public some private (though you should assume everything is public these days). How we deal with these will for many define the character and long term relationship between a client and your business. With all the social media tools at our disposal, there’s no excuse for not knowing if someone’s complaining about a poor experience. Google & twitter searches with RSS feeds for your company / product names will quickly highlight opportunities to directly engage with dissatisfied people.

Carsonified recently had a promotion where they gave away some very cool journals as part of FOWA; they proved so popular they were offered for sale. There was a mix up with the orders (it happens) but rather than brush it under the carpet or get all legal, Ryan sorted it quickly, humbly and openly on Twitter.

The internet is full of people reporting poor perceived customer service and business practice, not being part of those conversations is often seen as an admission of guilt. Are you monitoring your brand online? Are you part of the conversation?

Going Above & Beyond

Delighting the customer isn’t about huge extravagant gestures (especially not in this economic climate). Mostly its about treating customers as people and offering them unexpected delights. If your basic products, services and internal processes don’t function then no amount of customer service will compensate in the long term. But in a competitive market it makes the difference between competing on price and competing on value.

A real Live Guy

Dan Such bags a netbook
Dan Such bags a netbook

A variation of igFest‘s Moosehunt came to Bristol yesterday in the form of Vodafone’s LiveGuy, his mission (which it looks like he accepted with eagerness):

I’m travelling from the north to the south of Britain, laying down clues to my whereabouts. Your mission is to find me – and maybe even bag yourself a netbook. You’ve got two ways to win. Either Find LiveGuy in person or Find LiveGuy online.

<plug>All with the help of a very cool looking Dell Inspiron Mini 9 netbook connected to the Vodafone network and with a GPS chip giving location updates (delayed slightly for the purposes of giving LiveGuy a fighting chance).</plug>

Sam Machin catches up with LiveGuy
Sam Machin catches up with LiveGuy

Through the wonders of social media, Mike Coulter met with with LiveGuy at the start of his journey in Edinburgh. It was his blog & twitter stream that alerted me to the project. Mike then dm’d me to see if I wanted help drum up some interest around Bristol.

A few txt messsages, phone calls and emails led to an early morning rendevouz at a top secret location before the day’s excitment around Bristol. As well as bringing Liveguy and his support team (Alastair) up to speed with some of what’s going on around Bristol in the creative use of mobile & locative technology we also had a really good discussion over the future of such technologies and what you can achieve with them.

Obviously the creative and pervasive media projects going on around the Pervasive Media Studio were of interest along with the robotics research between the Universities, but what struck me was the genuine interest around communities, engagement and ways in which technology, and the service providers, can help facilitate that engagement.

Bristol has as checkered a history at public engagement as any other city but in recent years a number of really good initiatives have shown what can be achieved. The flagship is probably the Knowle West Media Centre with a huge and expanding range of community programmes covering pretty much all aspects of digital media. These are so good they’re now running a social enterprise with clients including blue chips and local community companies. They’ve also engaged in a number of innovative mobile and locative technology projects exploring the ways in which civic engagement can be facilitated by technology.

Tom Dowding also spotted LiveGuy
Tom Dowding also spotted LiveGuy

We also talked about the Connecting Bristol project which came out of the Digital Challenge. This is another area where creative use of technology is being applied to wide civic challenges. Under the wing of the City Council, but operating independently out of the eOffice on Wine St, Stephen Hilton and Kevin O’Malley are part of 10 city collaboration. As well as news about the DC10 grouping of cities, Kevin regularly posts about other initiatives and news that is of interest for those at the intersection between technology and civic change (environment, education, planning, transport, are just some recent topics).

With that it was nearly time for LiveGuy to fire up twitter and hit the streets of Bristol, and for me to head off also. I’m staying in touch with Alastair so watch this space for more announcements.

Congratulations to Dan Such, Sam Machin, Tom Dowing and the online winner, Ruth Bailey.

Disclosure: Although I knew where Liveguy was starting his day in Bristol, I didn’t know the itinerary and chose not to take part in the Find Live Guy challenge. There is no business relationship between jbsh LLP, Vodafone or the agency behind LiveGuy.

Update 1: the picture links to Picassa didn’t seem to work – so I’ve copied the images to jbsh.co.uk and linked to them here.

Models of leadership

song chart memes

One of the great aspects of working alongside Universities, is the breadth and depth of critical thinking that you get exposed to. Wednesday evening I was a guest at the Bristol Business School’s Distinguished Executive Address Series and the speaker was Karen Dunnell. Since her Wikipedia page was last edited the ONS has merged and become the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) with Karen as CEO.

In a wide ranging and refreshingly honest talk, Karen covered many of the organisational and structural challenges that she and the civil servants in her charge have faced over the past few upheavals.

The framework for her talk was the departmental model of leadership around four key factors. There are as many models of leadership as there are leaders, this is a particularly interesting one from a small company and social media perspective as I’ll try and indicate below.

Integrity

As an organisation of knowledge professionals there is a delicate balancing act between “pure” mathematical “truth” and the political need for answers to quite specific questions. In providing leadership for the UKSA, Karen ensures that each individual maintains their integrity and thus the organisation remains true to its purpose. This is encapsulated in their Code of Practice, but we demonstrate our integrity (or otherwise) in everything we say, do and (increasingly) are perceived to be saying & doing.

We’re all judged and evaluated on our integrity, the concept of Social Capital or personal brand is an integral part of a wider corporate integrity. Ultimately your integrity is inextricably tied to authority and people’s willingness to be led by you.

Direction

This is the Vision/Mission/Strategy bit that applies equally for UKSA with over 3,000 staff and a wide ranging statutory and agile reactive environment as for new start ups and growth businesses. Do you know where you’re heading and do you have a plan & the resources to get from here to there. Do you have a contingency plan?

No organisation exists in a vacuum and whether it’s Government ministers or tabloid newspapers screaming for yet another set of stats to justify their hobby horse, or economic disruptors throwing a spanner in the works; a well articulated direction provides the framework and context for the other aspects of this leadership model.

There’s a delicate balance between being an intransigent branch of the civil service and a gadfly chasing policy directives. Karen was balancing some pretty tough negotiations on what the UKSA was about and could do, against having to please political masters that control her budget.

Capability

This was more than just the capability to deliver customer expectations. It also covered organisational capabilities. Getting the best from everyone when everyone’s moving around. Although a large organisation (around 3,000 people) Karen highlighted the incredible changes that have taken place as a result of the relocations that are leading to a need to balance capabilities across staff and plan for the future (link talks about changes to legal profession but I think the challenges are identical for any knowledge/professional based business).

Results

It was very telling that this was the last on the list, yet the one that Karen felt the UKSA was strongest at. As a statistics authority you’d expect lots of measurable results. However, even the UKSA operates against Time-Cost-Quality results metrics. The interesting aspect from a senior executive perspective were the wider results matrix. How to measure the impact of an organisation (especially one that is not a profit centre)?

For Karen this was about raising the profile of the statistics service and educating the public in the role and benefit of stats in providing the evidence to inform decision making. A crucial aspect was the presentation of results in the media, not just the hard statistics but the processes and interpretation of those stats.

So what’s in it for me?

Good leadership means demonstrating integrity in everything you do, articulating a clear direction of travel, identifying and building the capability mix needed to get there, and bringing everyone along in delivering the results that stem from the direction you’re headed. This applies to running a start-up, established company, multi-national or nation.

Meet the Dragons

Uploaded on September 27, 2008 by Steve Wampler
Uploaded on September 27, 2008 by Steve Wampler

…after you’ve crossed my palm with silver.

There’s always been a healthy market in one group of people selling access to a small second group of people that a third, larger group of people value. In many circumstances this is entirely right and proper.

I was recently at the 31st International Conference on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, this was a massive gathering of academics researching the world of the small business and entrepreneur (slightly devalued by the lack of small businesses and entrepreneurs but that’s another story). Part of the value was the stellar network of UK and International academics interested in supporting and developing businesses. It was certainly cheaper than schlepping my way around the UK and most folk were already in an ‘open mindset’ to making new connections. For the academics, part of the value was in presenting their research to other academics.

On the other hand, there are plenty of networks and the like that will provide access to potential investors (for a fee). It could just be coincidental timing but I’m seeing more of these networks and events pushing themselves harder than before.

I’ve nothing against introducing people to potential investors (something I try and do in a small way around Bristol), nor have I anything against events to get people networking for business benefit (e.g. OpenCoffee). It’s the bit where you fork out hard cash for the opportunity, to possibly, meet someone that might be interested in your business. And lets face it, no one sensible is going to hand over a wedge of used £20’s on the basis of a 1 minute pitch over lukewarm coffee and limp biscuit.

I can see a valid business case for someone that can introduce me to a sizeable chunk of funding receiving a suitable fee for that service, but a fixed fee rather than an arbitrary % and that should be no-win-no-fee.

As a business development professional, I would expect to get paid for adding value to a business. Sorting out a business strategy, or identifying new markets and executing an exploitation plan, or implementing an efficiency plan following some process mapping, etc.

I can see that with the profile of Kliner Perkins / Sequia / etc comes a great deal of attention and that access might need to be managed. On the other hand, folks like Fred Wilson, Rick Segal and others are openly out there sharing their stories of how to approach them (and how not to)! So why pay someone else good money to preview your business plan and then mailshot their contact list?

So get out there and have confidence in your business. If you feel you need support with the business of building a business, have clear deliverables contractually agreed before you hand over the cash. It’s a sales channel just like any other, the only difference is that you’re selling a stake in the business (or buying entry to a particular market) rather than a website or set of APIs.

How Many? Part the Second

Uploaded on April 3, 2008 by BottleLeaf
Uploaded on April 3, 2008 by BottleLeaf

I just posted an example where I’d worked up an Addressable Market calculation based on fairly good data. Of course, this data isn’t usually available; or it’s really expensive.

One of the services that jbsh offer is business consultancy, mainly strategic growth plans and help with the business planning activity. So what’s the addressable market for that?

Well according to the Office for National Statistics there were 2.16 million business enterprises registered for VAT and/or PAYE in March 2008, compared to 2.10 million in March 2007, a 3.0 per cent increase. As an aside, the ONS also report a continued move towards incorporation and away from sole proprietor and partnerships, perhaps reducing personal exposure in the downturn?

VAT is only compulsory when the value of your taxable supplies goes over £67,000 which isn’t that high. The ONS also offer us a cut for businesses between 10 and 50 employees, in fact there are 196,560 such businesses. The number of employees isn’t a great measure of which companies that will engage our services, I’m really more interested in those with a strategic growth challenge, and the revenues to pay our fees.

This information is available in the handy pocket-sized 432 page document that ONS produce on UK Business: Activity, Size & Location 2008 (well I can download the pdf to my phone but I’m not sure I’d want to read it there). On page 172 is the data about geographical regions by turnover.

<!–

Turnover in £000’s 0 – 49 50 – 99 100 – 249 250 – 499 500 – 999 1,000 – 4,999 >5000 TOTAL
UNITED KINGDOM 378,930 543,645 600,325 268,540 168,465 155,145 46,505 2,161,555
ENGLAND AND WALES 334,810 494,765 541,430 240,595 151,270 139,560 42,090 1,944,520

Those businesses turning over less that £250k probably can’t afford us. That still leaves 573,515 which is much more attractive than 196,560 so there must be a lot of businesses with under 10 employees and over £250k turnover.

The next 17 pages detail companies by region, so for my local Unitary Authorities:

<!–

Turnover in £000’s 0 – 49 50 – 99 100 – 249 250 – 499 500 – 999 1,000 – 4,999 >5,000 TOTAL
Bath and North East Somerset 1,295 1,885 2,095 880 530 435 140 7,260
Bristol, City of 2,205 3,380 3,670 1,690 1,125 1,145 285 13,500
North Somerset 1,380 1,915 2,005 900 510 450 105 7,265

Using the same criteria as above there are 8.195 businesses with a turnover >£250k in these three regions of the UK. You can do the same thing for Standard Industry Classification codes (SIC codes) within broad regions (North East, South West, etc). SIC codes don’t work for everyone but we’re not trying to identify specific clients at this point, just gather enough data to be able to say if there is a big enough potential market to sustain the enterprise. If you don’t fit one code exactly, pick a couple that make sense and interpolate.

So it turns out that if you’re selling to businesses, there’s quite a lot of data out there on how big your addressable market is. Of course, that doesn’t mean all 8,195 businesses in this area are looking for a business growth consultant, but if we can make a compelling enough case then they could be.

What markets are you in?

Is there good data?

If you think not, leave a comment and I’ll have a go at finding some sources.

Survival planning

My London Tea Towel
Capt Tim with London Tea Towel

On a dark and stormy Tuesday morning, with tales of economic melt down on R4, I wasn’t sure if anyone would turn up to Open Coffee.

I shouldn’t have worried, Bristolians are made of stern stuff. We even had a friendly bank manager type along to see what the excitement was about.

In addition to Andy, we had Peter Weeks from Business Link and two entrepreneurs Dave Cropley and Chris Keegan from newly formed evans & finch (holding website). Joel Hughes was back hoping to show his new social canvassing app, along with Sam, Nigel, Craig, Tom, Melissa, Mark, Janice, and apologies to anyone I’ve missed!

A fresh pot of finest ground coffee and some gluten-free chocolate cake kept everyone talking and mixing until after I had to leave.

From the conversations I flitted between there was a common thread that, while the impending financial apocalypse will hit, for most businesses it’s not here yet. The exception, as Andy admitted, is for those trying to raise or extend bank finance. Survival planning was largely around three themes that also came up at a Bristol Enterprise Network event a couple weeks back (Growth Opportunities in a Recession).

  • watch the cash flow (and reduce it everywhere)
  • provide an excellent customer experience (keeping existing customers is easier than finding new ones)
  • innovate

These last two in particular are being exemplified by 3 Bristol companies. Mark and Tom at The Web People are using their new SWiM service-as-a-service management software to provide excellent customer experience and innovating by licensing it to other web development and management companies. Nigel at Katugas Research Services is providing excellent service through analysis reports and multi-lingual support, and innovating through budgeting approaches that help both their client’s and their own cash flow. Dave and Chris at evans & finch are also planning both consolidation of cash flow through longer term client relationships and a new service that is still under wraps.

It may be grim out there, and things will probably get worse before they get better, but there are still some great business opportunities out there.