Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Not got all the answers? You are not alone

Sometimes it can all get a bit much. Despite working all hours, results can seem ever far away and if that describes you, it is time to take stock and know you are not alone. A great many people are coping with dramatic change, I am aware of this because they are talking to me about the decisions they face. Social enterprise is not excempt from the effects of the economic climate.

We in the social enterprise world have a growing body of support for our ethical business ideas but still our models are often fragile, our markets are young and our access to capital often remains limited. Interest in a business model that promotes community is definitely on the increase, but the challenge to make it pay has never been greater.

Many leading businesses were established during a recession such as Microsoft, Apple and Burger King and, closer to home, successful social enterprises like GLL, so now is not necessarily the wrong time to go for growth. But many more close, so careful consideration and collaboration are essential.

I have been advising a number of social entrepreneurs lately and I have told them not to go it alone and, as an example, to resist using personal borrowing, and look for business loans wherever and whenever possible. If you can't argue the business case to a lender, the chances are the idea is too much of a gamble. In any event running your idea in a structured way past a lender can only help in getting your thoughts and plans together. I give this advice knowing that some of our headline social enterprises were founded on credit card borrowing and personal mortgages, but those were the exceptions and not the rule, and that was then and this is now.

I am also telling people to look at their aspirations and challenges and make a list of those people they think could help them. These might be people they know or someone they could get to know through an existing contact. Three of four key people will always give you food for thought, an honest sounding board and potentially even become a future supporter. Now is the time to network and start a dialogue, even with old competitors. Everyone is under pressure and starting a conversation you would not dream of having years or even months ago may just pay off. Anyone worth their salt these days is looking for deals and ready to think outside the box about complex solutions for challenging problems.

And try to stay calm. When all about you are losing their heads, as the saying goes, a true leader stays focused. Try to remember that as passionate as you are for your business, it is business and not personal.

Remaining cool under pressure does not mean you must always know which way to go, in fact certainty is not the job at all, leadership is all about being able to assess risks and opportunities and knowing when and who to ask for help. These are the true marks of my kind of leader.

My old Dad used to tell us when we complained that life was all too much “Ogdens go forward” so let me share that with you and add: whatever is on your plate, take a deep breathe, dream the dream, ask for help, make it happen and yes, go forward.

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