A question we get asked a lot is ‘What exactly is a social enterprise?’ and increasingly we have heard people saying things along the line of ‘I was thinking about becoming a social enterprise but I don’t really know enough about it.’
So, we thought we would do a blog about some of the resources and information we have found useful at Good Wolf as we have gone on our social enterprise journey.
First, definitions! If you asked me what is social enterprise I would say…
‘Social enterprises are businesses that operate on a not for profit basis. That doesn’t mean they don’t make money, but it means that the business reinvests its profits for positive social outcomes. It’s also likely that the way that the organisation is run, and/or the products or services they provide are also contributing towards positive social outcomes.’
This is how Social Enterprise UK define social enterprise;
“By selling goods and services in the open market, social enterprises reinvest the money they make back into their business or the local community. This allows them to tackle social problems, improve people’s life chances, support communities and help the environment. So when a social enterprise profits society profits.”
One of the decisions you need to make if you want to set up a business that has social, charitable or community-based objectives is what you want the business structure of the organisation to be. We spent a bit of time checking the difference between charity, limited company, community interest company etc, and decided to form a limited company, with our social outcomes written into our articles of association.
The gov.uk website has lots of information on social enterprise and how-to setup.
Whether you started something a while ago that slowly and sneakily turned into a full on social enterprise or you have an idea and a bucket of enthusiasm it is neither too late nor too early to think about your business plan. Ours is a document which changes, although the work we did at the start provides the foundations, we do revisit it and develop sections as we go. I found this free resource ‘A Business Planning Guide to developing a social enterprise’ from Forth Sector Development a useful way of laying out our plan. It starts right at the beginning with ‘What is social enterprise?’ and, whilst some bits felt more relevant for me than others, it gave me a road map and I knew I wasn’t forgetting anything.
Social Enterprise UK – this is the national body for social enterprise organisations. Apply to be a member and you have access to various resources, support and information. Their updates, campaigning and directory have all been interesting and helpful. We agreed early on that, where possible, we would buy local or social or both and the directory they keep has helped us with this! If the social outcomes of your organisation are an important sell for your services or products then being able to proudly display the social enterprise logo on your marketing might be a big plus. I think, for someone new to social enterprise, this could be really helpful in building up your identity and celebrating what you and others are doing.
You are probably not on your own! Social Enterprise happens everywhere and there are many great networks which link social entrepreneurs together and provide good training and funding opportunities. Where we are based we have started to find out more about our local social enterprise scene such as the Croydon SE Network and Croydon Works, we’ve attended some network sessions on procurement and the future workforce which has been really great for meeting people as well as giving us some good ideas to work on.
We found out about our local area through talking to people about what we did when we were meeting new people through our work but there is a certain amount of right place right time with this method. Your local council is a good place to start to look at how the local support and infrastructure for social enterprise is delivered. If all else fails, typing into google ‘*town name* Social Enterprise’ should get you started, I would also recommend having a look on the SEUK website for what is happening in your area!