For charities with an entrepreneurial eye looking at setting up a trading subsidiary, or even making the full shift to a more 'enterprising' model, there is a tendency to focus on the tasks that need to be done. But our personal strengths, resilience, communication and influencing skills that are essential ingredients to get an enterprise off the ground are often undervalued. That raises a few questions.
Seizing the opportunity
Trading is no panacea for organisations set up in a charitable model. Swapping grant dependency, major donor fundraising and membership subscriptions for the mercy of the markets is not something to take on lightly. Adding trading to your income mix comes with a raft of new tasks and responsibilities. There's bidding for tenders, stock checks, another set of company finances and reporting to keep on top of, understanding new markets, and possibly spending a lot of time selling stuff. A strategic question faces you at this point:
Is trading a distraction from your social purpose, or a great way to achieve it sustainably?
How did you react emotionally to this last paragraph? Did you notice? Read it again if not. These words may have thrown a bucket of water on your enterprise ideas, or stoked a fire inside you to get past the latest set of doubts and blocks, and just crack on.
Entrepreneurial vision and energy, determination and dreams, are an essential starting point if you are to invest time and money in this move. So too is the logical head, awareness of managing financial risk and the practicalities of implementation. Seeing the commercial opportunity, and having the fire to pursue it, are just a few of the qualities you will need in your team. The question then becomes:
Have you, your board and your staff spent time understanding not only your skills, but your mix of qualities and personalities?
Bringing others with you
Building on your own strengths as a leader and manager will focus you and also help you identify the people you need around you.
Involving and influencing people at all levels of the organisation may take time but people need time to reflect and adapt, and they need to be able to see how their role fits. This is where confidence and clarity about the vision for your organisation's enterprise and the impact it could have are as important as the list of tasks the team needs to do. Leading change involves trust in you, the idea and the team. To help you lead, do you understand:
What is your team's motivation for change, involvement in decision making, and what your board or colleagues need and when by to make critical decisions?
Investing in ideas
With the decision to start trading comes the need to secure investment and a true test of courage. The second the money is in your account, the calculating and taking of risk is met with the responsibility for getting the job done and ensuring the social and financial return is delivered. Courage and self belief are undervalued qualities, yet you will draw on them the most when deciding to go beyond your resources – a typical entrepreneurial trait. This is when peer support can be invaluable.
Do you have a group of trusted peers you can share your darkest moments and toughest challenges with, and gain insights, perspective and strength in return?
Launch or tipping point?
If fact, social enterprise should come with a health warning. Through the launch, pilot and growth of any organisation you'll have the graft of making it happen and of changing the world! Your best chance of avoiding burnout as a result of this busy-ness is to practice self-care and master the use of varied leadership styles.
Do you know your preferred leadership styles, how best to use others, when and with who?
'Good leadership' is cited as a critical success factor for businesses the world round, and closer to home in the Scottish Government's 2010 review of successful social enterprises. Understanding the subtleties of your own leadership is not just about confidence in a vision and being able to communicate it – it underpins the way your enterprise develops, feels and succeeds.
If you can take time and space to trade the task list for the chance to reflect on your leadership challenges, the next questions are yours to ask.