Today (17th March 2021) marks the 7th birthday of Creative Optimistic Visions. A community Interest Company I had the pleasure of founding due to my lived experiences as a young person. As a huge fan of the Harry Potter wizarding world, seven is considered to be the most powerful number. Reading further into this briefly, with respect of spirituality, geography and science I was amazed at how powerful this number was.
Therefore, I would like to share with you a short blog with my reflections and tips as a Founding Director which I hope you may find helpful and have some kind of shared meaning.
1 – Know your exit strategy when you begin.
I will never forget my first ever session with my business mentor David Williamson in my front room. He knocked on my door with a back pack full of training materials and a flip chart stand ready to go full steam ahead as I fed my five-month-old son (this was quite embarrassing as I was breast feeding – but needs must!). Anyway…he asked me briefly what my idea was, and then asked me, “What is your exit strategy?” I was completely shocked at this as I hadn’t even started on my business and only just learnt about the term social enterprise. However, the point being, I did not know it then, but choosing to be a social entrepreneur, as like a lot of other professions, is a life choice. You commit your life to creating social change. This is what makes us so good at what we do, but it can also be to our detriment, as we sometimes do not know when to protectively interrupt and take a break.
Identify your end goal, and plan backwards from there. That way you have a time frame to work within, if we keep planning forward, the goal may never be in sight.
2 – It’s all about value
Another tip from my valued late friend and mentor David. ‘Value’ noun, the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something. By this I refer to the value of you, your expertise, your time, energy, sacrifice, and what you offer as a social entrepreneur. Quality is everything, it is hard to put a price on what you, or your services are worth. So, ask yourself, what is the real value, worth of your product or service?
I have come to learn over the years, that as a small organisation, we need as many contracts and or funding we can get. However, not all people value what our organisation is about, and therefore I will say no to deliver a service where this value isn’t celebrated; quality is everything. I will not undermine the quality of our service for someone to be able to tick a box in theirs if they do not fully value the importance of what we do, even if we do need the funds. Value is not always about money, There is is great value in the work we do at no cost to others. Investing our time and energy in someone or something, thinking of the bigger picture and what could flourish from the opportunities presented to us.
3 – Ensure you have a personal and professional network
We need people we can talk with about anything even if it is awful or small. Being a social entrepreneur can feel lonely at times. The buck stops with you (and the board) but as a founder, you feel you are responsible for it all. To be responsible, we have to have an ability to respond, and I have come to realise over the years I do not have the ability to respond to all aspects of my business. That’s why I have a strong professional network that I can seek council from, get perspective. They provide me with their skills that I quite simply do not have the head space for, but enough understanding to know how and where their expertise fit in with the overall plan.
Your personal network is so important, family and friends I found have been very patient with me at times. They have shared the good, the bad and the ugly of it all. Without them I would be lost. They understand, and help me wobble my head when needed. All too often I have had those moments where I have wanted to give it all up. The weight of everything has felt unbearable at times, I am fortunate to be loved and cared for. To be reminded of my purpose, and to keep on going.
4 – We all need a critical friend and or mentor
Throughout my journey as a social entrepreneur, I have been blessed with the support of critical friends and mentors. We need those people that will ask us the “so what” question. People who will challenge in a positive way. This enables us to reflect, and put things into perspective, refine our ideas and actions. This will not only help you stay real, and true to your game, but it will support you when it comes to business investment, grant and growth opportunities.
5 – Expect the unexpected
There are many hurdles that come with starting up and running a social enterprise, and they come in many shapes and sizes. Whether it be the turn around and unexpected workload for what you thought would be a quick business opportunity, for it to not then flourish. Or (in my case) being triggered when delivering training or supporting a victim of crime similar to my own experiences. To constantly working to a very small run way, knowing your staff have families and your business may run out of cash in a matter of months with no reserves. I stop, feel, think, look at my choices and take action. I remind myself that I have got this far, the comebacks are stronger than the setbacks. This action also involves many cups of tea, phone calls, cigarettes, tears and gratitude. With the occasional, I am done for today, let’s try again tomorrow.
6 – Time management
Time management is key, not only to get your work done, but also to schedule in ‘you’ time. I do feel a little hypercritical as I write this, as it’s something I am getting better at. My thoughts going into 2021 were, some people and some things, can wait. It does not all need to be done now. I do not want to look back on my time and regret times I have missed out on with my kids because I chose to work. However, like I say, being a social entrepreneur is a life choice, we do work long hours, so balance is really important. Communicating this effectively with my family and friends has helped. It helps and gives me ‘permission’ to take time out.
I have also learnt, when doing funding applications, cost models etc, to put in a realistic amount of time. Cost it in, this is how much it costs, if you choose to give your time in kind to support an application and or project etc, fine, but don’t dismiss it. Your time, and the time of your team is one of the greatest assets in the business.
I think I could write a whole blog post on all the pointers I have made above, and so much more. Upon reflection of time, this is something to be factored in with respect of your services and your people (beneficiaries, service users, etc). COV aims to create real life change by enabling people to keep themselves feeling safe by our teachings of the Protective Behaviours Process . By feeling safe, I refer to this as a whole, with respect of encouraging growth and life’s wonderful adventures, to supporting individuals that are subjected to abuse, and everything in-between. However, to create this change, the most precious gift we can give to someone is our time. This means you will have a lesser reach, but far greater impact with the people you work with.
7 – Reflection and Growth
There is one model I like to refer back to when looking forwards or backwards. That is the Conscious Competence Ladder created by Noel Burch in the 1970’s. Looking at the different stages of the process enables me to pin my journey so far as a social entrepreneur, as well as knowing full well that I can be on any stage of that ladder at any time, and that this is OK. This again, helps give myself permission to be unconsciously competent – I don’t know what I don’t know, but now I am aware of what I don’t know, so let the learning journey begin.
The final stage of this ladder is unconscious competence, a master in your discipline, but with this, there is a risk of complacency. I find taking the time out to reflect (which I need to do more of) enables us to identify our ability to respond, to upskill, to delegate or let go. Being open and honest with yourself in areas where you can do better, or the opposite, have confidence that what you do is good enough!
As a founding director, I wear many hats, and juggle so many different things, from strategic, operational and direct delivery (and everything in between). It is easy to get lost in the doing, and not to take a moment to reflect on just how much of an impact I and my wonderful team are making collectively.
So, there they are, 7 little sprinkles of magic, that I hope you find helpful. Blogging is something new to me, I have a lot to say, but prefer to say it in front of a room full of hundreds of people than online. I feel far more vulnerable online. However, this is all part of the journey. If you like what you have read, please give it a like or comment. This is an area I would like to develop for growing the social enterprise
Many thanks for reading.
Stacey – Jade