Running A Successful Social Enterprise

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Many of the skills needed to run a social enterprise are similar to those needed to run a private sector business - some suggest 80% of the skills are common. The other 20% is what makes running a successful social enterprise more difficult, but also more exciting!  


The number of social enterprises is growing dramatically. A recent national survey found a very large proportion of start-ups, three times as high as the proportion of start-ups currently seen in the UK's small business sector. But to compete successfully with for-profit companies, social enterprises may face additional business challenges:

 -          they often employ people traditionally excluded from the mainstream labour market because they are regarded as being unreliable

-          they tend to locate in areas of high deprivation - to be closer to the local community and for affordable rents

-          they provide services for people who would not otherwise be able to afford them 


Route to Social Enterprise

There is no one route to setting up a social enterprise. Ways in which social enterprises may develop include: 

Charging for services which were previously offered free or low-cost such as training, photocopying, or office space.

Floating a project as an independent enterprise which was previously developed under the umbrella of another organisation such as community transport and furniture recycling. Increasingly this may also be a public service previously run by a local authority

Meeting a community need   - individuals or a community group sets up a business to replace lost services such as a shop, a café, a credit union for affordable loans, or a nursery.


Characteristics of an entrepreneurial organisation

Self-awareness - about staff expertise and skills gaps.

Environmental awareness - about trends and opportunities affecting the business.

Passionate but purposeful - staff are committed but share clarity about the cause.

Planning for change - plans allow 'flexibility in a framework' and are put into effect!

Fearless with figures - cost, price, value and viability are understood.

Market knowledge - and the ability to compete on quality and customer focus (not necessarily on price).

Delegated decisions- staff are trusted to make decisions.

Ability to take measured risks - seeing failure is a comma, not a full stop.


Above all, it takes the right mix of dedication, determination and skill to run a successful social enterprise. Whatever business model you choose, it's likely you'll be trading with an increasing number of social enterprises in future.