Starting Up A Social Enterprise

I was recently asked to answer some questions around how I started up Project 507, the questions were a little difficult for me to answer due to the rather backwards way the company started.

Rather than giving a detailed history behind the business elements of Project 507, let me instead provide you with a handful of key insights I’ve learnt along the way;

  1. Have a clear vision and mission statement. Your vision is different from your mission statement. Your vision is your ideal, it is how you see the perfect world or situation; it’s more general and global. Your mission is what you will do to help create that vision. For example, Project 507’s vision is for a ‘just and compassionate world in which everyone feels safe, integrated and respected’ and it’s mission is ‘to change the systemic conditions generating violence by providing innovative solutions to create positive peace’.
  2. Develop business values. Every part of your business should reflect your business values so they are a very key component in the start up stage.
  3. DO NOT RELY ON FUNDING. Plan for your business to be sustainable without funding. If you rely on funding you will end up changing the mission of your business to be more flexible with current funding trends. We see a lot of social enterprises and charities in the Serious Youth Violence sector (for an example) changing missions and target audience in order to meet new funding criteria for example: Gangs, Girls in Gangs, CSE, Radicalization, Trauma etc… There is a difference between being a reactive business and a proactive one. Be proactive.
  4. Create two business plans: The idea business plan, which is what a lot of courses will have you do. This business plan is what the business needs. The second business plan is around what you actually have in regards of resource, we call this the ‘make-do’ business plan. Business start up is all about working from the ‘make-do’ business plan to the ‘idea’ business plan.
  5. Use contracts from the GET GO. Most of you will be thinking about starting business with friends or will start alone and bring in people that you know or even strangers that might believe in your vision. Make sure everyone signs a contract and has a job/work outline that is agreed on paper. Trust me on this one.
  6. Keep paper trails. Remember if it is not in writing, it didn’t happen. This is the business equivalent of no face, no case.
  7. Get a business mentor/coach. Especially someone who can hold you accountable for achieving your business goals.
  8. Go on a course to help develop your own understanding. I would recommend the London School of Social Entrepreneurs. They have both a Start Up and Scale Up course, I have recently completed the Lloyd’s Bank Scale Up course.
  9. Your business is an extension of you and the process will also act as a mirror of your internal issues. Therefore, your personal development is crucial. Learn to be reflective and analytical of your work and how you react to work situations. You may need a life coach or another mentor to help you with this. Action Learning Sets (ALS) are amazing for this as well.
  10. Time management: there are many resources out there that can teach you about time management and all the tools you can use to use your time efficiently. I would say however, most people do not stay on top of time management due to internal personal issues, which is why point 9 is important.

Please note this is for social enterprises, I also understand that it is a very brief outline, if you would like something else answered or more on a point above, ask in the comment section and I will get back to you.

This is my opinion based on my own experience from the last 8/9 years of running businesses, non-profits and social enterprises.

(P.S is it learnt or learned because I Googled it but am still confused? Sorry mum if you’re reading this!)

6 thoughts on “Starting Up A Social Enterprise

  1. Outstanding article you put together here! Very informative and well thought out.
    I shared it with my many readers from all over the world on

    Paulette Motzko

  2. Hello. Really enjoyed the article but have a question. What would you say are the advantages for a charity to start a social enterprise over starting a normal business model with all profits being pumped straight into the charity to fund the work being undertaken?

    • That’s an interesting question, it depends what type of social enterprise to be honest. A CIC would be more paper work but would also mean the SE would be accountable to someone and more transparent, which might look better. You could also start a private limited company and put an asset lock into the articles of association, which would also make it a social enterprise but you would have more control over the funds and wouldn’t be held accountable to an external body, only board of directors and share holders. It all comes down to why you are starting the business. If you are starting it to make money to invest into a charity, I would probably recommend the latter option.

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