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StartSE 246How to start your social enterprise 

From a guide by SEUK and NatWest

Social enterprise is all about combining business with social justice, and using business and enterprise as a force for good and a way of making change.

It is estimated that there are over 70,000 social enterprises in the UK, ranging from new start-ups at the grassroots through to large multi-million pound organisations with thousands of employees. It is a diverse and exciting movement to be part of, and they change people’s lives in lots of different ways: through creating jobs; through preventing environmental waste; through reinvesting profits into community activity; through developing new services to help the most vulnerable.

Well-known examples of social enterprises include the Big Issue, Belu Water and Divine Chocolate. Social enterprises exist in the space between traditional charity and mainstream business.

They are different from traditional charities in that they:

  • Make most of their money from selling products or services
  • Don’t rely on volunteering, grants or donations to survive.

They are different from traditional businesses in that they:

  • Have a primary social mission or purpose similar to that which a charity may have
  • Don’t exist to maximise profit for shareholders
  • Don’t exist to make owners very wealthy
  • Measure the social impact and difference they make

Social enterprises may not be for everyone. People can run 'traditional businesses' and have a social mission and in some ways there is more flexibility in that approach. If you are considering starting a social enterprise, Social Enterprise UK and Nat West have just updated a guide to help you consider all the steps.

Here is a summary of the top tips and key actions for you to refer to from the guide:

  1. Get clear on your mission - it will help you plan and communicate what you want to achieve.
  2. Check the market - is there a problem or need for what you are proposing? Who is going to pay for it?
  3. Keep an eye on the money - most businesses that fail do so because they lose sight of the money: don’t avoid this, and get a handle on it from the start.
  4. Measure your social impact - but keep it simple at the start, and make sure it’s useful to you to grow and improve.
  5. Find the right people - the best social entrepreneurs build great teams of supporters and staff, rather than doing it by themselves.
  6. Good governance is important - think about who you want involved and what you want them to bring.
  7. Sales and marketing aren’t dirty words - they are just ways to reach people so that you can win business and create more change. Know what your USP is.
  8. Pick the legal structure after you have thought about your mission, activities, money, impact and governance - all are important factors in picking the right one for your enterprise.
  9. Write a plan - but keep it simple and short. More important is starting to try out things in reality, and see if people will use your product or service...and pay for it.
  10. Get networked in the social enterprise movement, locally and nationally.  

Access the guide here.

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From a guide by SEUK and NatWest, 06/09/2017

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