Blog makeover

Monday, 1 December 2008

As you may have noticed, I haven't been posting very regularly and I think the blog was also looking a little tired. So firstly I have done a spring clean, courtesy of a new template from dzelque at It is a bit lazy but I did really like this look and would welcome any comments on it. I have also produced a number of new podcasts which should be published over the next few weeks and a raft of new virtual seminars. So (touch wood), Christmas and beyond should be a hive of activity for the site and the blog.


How to get NHS proposals funded - or confessions of an ex-commissioner

Monday, 6 October 2008

This is based on a presentation I recently gave on how to get services commissioned by the NHS.

Firstly a number of observations:

1) Most NHS funding streams are still process-based rather than outcomes-based so it is much easier to get funding to improve a process than improve an outcome
2) Most NHS funding sources are oversubscribed by a factor of at least 10
3) Most pilot projects are not given mainstream funding at the end of the pilot

Health initiatives tend to impact in one of the following 2 areas:

a) Quality improvements - Improving the quality of the patient experience or outcome (e.g. improved symptom management, more information, greater convenience, improved morbidity, improved mortality, etc)
b) Process improvements - Changing the process of healthcare delivery (e.g. reducing the need for outpatient or inpatient activity, increasing the number of patients a healthcare professional can support, remote monitoring of conditions, etc).

In my 7 years' experience in NHS commissioning, they are likely to get funded according to the following priorities:

1. Process improvements with a proven reduction in expenditure
2. Process improvements with a possible reduction in expenditure or a proven improvement in key performance targets
3. Process improvements with a possible improvement in key performance targets
4. Quality improvements with a proven impact on mortality or morbidity
5. Quality improvements with a possible impact on mortality or morbidity
6. Quality improvements or Process improvements with increased user satisfaction

Where this talks about proven, this needs to be based on evidence collected during the pilot stage and ideally:

• Using a commonly accepted measurement technique (e.g. health economic evaluation such as QALYs, marginal or full cost pricing, etc)
• Performed by an independent 3rd party, ideally a University department
• Using measures which have a historic record of success with the target commissioner (i.e. look at what they have funded in the past and why)


Firestarter Podcast 14 - Part 5 of Creating a Nurse-led Social Enterprise in Health

Monday, 30 June 2008

This is the Firestarter Podcast which is the world's first podcast for social enterprises in health. This podcast is the first of a 5-part workshop on "How to create a nurse-led social enterprise in health" run by Dave Dawes from Entreprenurses Community Interest Company. If you would like to attend future versions of this free course, please click here.

The podcast covers:

  • Money is important but it isn't worth focussing all your attention on
  • If you plan carefully, you can have a business collapse and keep your house and start a new social enterprise
  • The fear and the risk is manageable and you get the chance to save the world
  • Getting in touch with real quality of life
  • For some people the risk is so great they are too afraid to make the leap
  • Explaining the change and innovation curve:
    • a) Innovators (about 2.5%)
    • b) Early adopters (about 10%)
    • c) Early majority (about 37%)
    • d) Late majority (about 37%)
    • e) Laggards (about 12.5%)
  • Your first paying clients will be innovators and you should market to them through personal contact
  • You move to early adopters through their contacts with innovators and by proving that your service works
  • You shouldn't use mass media or traditional advertising until you are at the early majority stage
  • There are lots of potential NHS commissioners - much more than just your local PCT
  • You need to be careful when you are planning your escape

Podcast 14 - This can be downloaded here (32 Mb)

The music is "Fire Dance" by djbouly and is brought to you under a creative commons licence.


Firestarter Podcast 13 - Part 4 of Creating a Nurse-led Social Enterprise in Health

This is the Firestarter Podcast which is the world's first podcast for social enterprises in health. This podcast is the fourth of a 5-part workshop on "How to create a nurse-led social enterprise in health" run by Dave Dawes from Entreprenurses Community Interest Company. If you would like to attend future versions of this free course, please click here.

The podcast covers:

  • Introduction to marketing
  • Why marketing isn't just advertising and public relations
  • How to work out your start-up capital from your market information
  • How to pick your co-founders and why they need to be as dedicated to the business as you
  • The Napkin Business Plan
    • a) What is it you will do?
    • b) What is the market and demand?
    • c) Who are your competitors?
    • d) What is your pricing?
    • e) How much will you make?
    • f) How much will it cost?
    • g) Who is your founding team?
    • h) How much start up capital do you need?
  • It is rare to set up a social enterprise without using 1 or 2 as start-up fundin
  • If you run a social enterprise you risk losing your house
  • Why your house is still at risk even with a company limited by shares or guarantees
  • Why you will almost certainly need to personally guarantee any business loans or overdrafts
  • Sources of start-up funding (from easiest to hardest to get):
    • 1) Your money (savings or personal loan)
    • 2) Borrowing from friends and family
    • 3) Banks (overdrafts and loans)
    • 4) Grants
    • 5) Equity
  • It is rare to set up a social enterprise without using 1 or 2 as start-up funding
  • Dealing with £95,000 of personal debt
  • There isn't a risk-free way of keeping your house whether you are an entrepreneur or not
  • Dealing with fear and guilt
  • Why you want to be very very fussy about who your bank manager is
  • The smaller you start your social enterprise, the easier it is to raise money and the easier it is to learn quickly from mistakes.

Podcast 13 - This can be downloaded here (21 Mb)

The music is "Fire Dance" by djbouly and is brought to you under a creative commons licence.


Firestarter Podcast 12 - Part 3 of Creating a Nurse-led Social Enterprise in Health

This is the Firestarter Podcast which is the world's first podcast for social enterprises in health. This podcast is the third of a 5-part workshop on "How to create a nurse-led social enterprise in health" run by Dave Dawes from Entreprenurses Community Interest Company. If you would like to attend future versions of this free course, please click here.

The podcast covers:

  • Who has the power and control on your social enterprise?
  • How many directors should you start with?
  • How members can overturn the decisions of the directors and even remove them - the "Doris the Cleaner" effect
  • Why founders are sometimes sacked from their own board
  • Who do you want to be accountable to?
  • The interesting clauses in Entreprenurses CIC - the "nuclear button"
  • Fundraising is much much easier as a registered charity (and Dave's 204 rejection letters)
  • Why social enterprises fail (and 50% of them do in the first 4 years)
  • The main reasons that social enterprises fail are Cashflow, Tax and VAT issues, Too low profit margins, Keeping unproductive employees and Market shifts
  • Why cashflow is the number 1 cause of social enterprise failure
  • Why you need to choose your bank manager very carefully
  • The most common tax mistakes businesses make
  • What social firms are
  • Why most business plans are a load of tosh
  • The best plans are created between the 1st pint and the 7th pint
  • The barstool test for your mission statement

Podcast 12 - This can be downloaded here (33 Mb)

The music is "Fire Dance" by djbouly and is brought to you under a creative commons licence.


Firestarter Podcast 11 - Part 2 of Creating a Nurse-led Social Enterprise in Health

This is the Firestarter Podcast which is the world's first podcast for social enterprises in health. This podcast is the second of a 5-part workshop on "How to create a nurse-led social enterprise in health" run by Dave Dawes from Entreprenurses Community Interest Company. If you would like to attend future versions of this free course, please click here.

The podcast covers:

  • Pros and cons of different legal structures of social enterprises
  • Setting up a company can be quick an easy
  • Guide to Community Interest Companies and asset locks
  • The key difference between "limited by shares" and "limited by guarantee"
  • How equity investment works and why it won't work with some company structures
  • There is no perfect model and how to judge your legal adviser
  • How to judge a business advisor
  • Why most directors get struck off

Podcast 11 - This can be downloaded here (31 Mb)

The music is "Fire Dance" by djbouly and is brought to you under a creative commons licence.


Firestarter Podcast 10 - Part 1 of Creating a Nurse-led Social Enterprise in Health

Sunday, 29 June 2008

This is the Firestarter Podcast which is the world's first podcast for social enterprises in health. This podcast is the first of a 5-part workshop on "How to create a nurse-led social enterprise in health" run by Dave Dawes from Entreprenurses Community Interest Company. If you would like to attend future versions of this free course, please click here.

The podcast covers:

  • What is a social enterprise?
  • Definitions of social enterprise and how it is different from the public and private sector
  • What is your underlying business model?
  • The difference between corporate social responsibility and social enterprise
  • Finding profitable areas to work in
  • Are social enterprises competing unfairly with the private sector?
  • Will the NHS support a long-term profit-based model?
  • The problem with being commissioned by only one organisation (monopsony)
  • The economics of fair trade and social enterprises
  • How do you measure your social good?

Podcast 10 - This can be downloaded here (34 Mb)

The music is "Fire Dance" by djbouly and is brought to you under a creative commons licence.


Meeting Bob Geldof at the Nesta Innovation conference

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Well what can I say? Meeting Bob Geldof has always been one of my life's ambitions and today I managed to do it :)

Anyway, I am getting a bit ahead of myself. I have been at the Nesta Innovation Conference all day and they have had Tim Berners Lee (inventor of the internet), Gordon Brown (some politician) and Bob Geldof as keynote speakers. Although they did play U2 as he walked onstage which makes me suspect that the organisers are not as fimiliar as I am with his discography (Best album - "Deep in the heart of nowhere" althpough not much of a commercial success).

Bob has been a hero of mine for many years primarily because of what he acheived at Live Aid and Live8 but more because of the way he acheived it. His autobiography "Is that it" covers this in a lot of detail but in a nutshell he (and the original team) acheived some amazing things through just keeping going, breaking lots of rules, innovating on a shoestring and sheer bloody-minded arrogance.

Anyway his speech was really good and the video of it is at this site and he came up with the best quote of the whole conference from George Bernard Shaw:

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. All progress, therefore, depends upon the unreasonable man."

The highlight for me though was the chance to meet one of my inspirational heroes and so I worked out the route between the stage and the speakers area and strategically placed myself. I thought this is just a timing thing - what can go wrong?

Well a full bladder from too much coffee went wrong. After his speech there was a round table discussion for 90 minutes and with 30 minutes to go, I knew I wouldn't make iit. But then I saw a photographer pop out through a nearby door and I thought "I'll follow him". So I nipped out and tried to return thoroughly relieved. Then this petite cute security guard said "you can't go through those doors, you need to go in at the back". I had come this close and I wasn't going to lose my prized spot through overzealous security, so I simply went past her fast enough that she couldn't grab me before I got inside (by which time she gave up). It was an interesting scenario with this girl telling me I can't go through a door, me telling her it will be fine and all the time walking through the door.

Then 20 minutes later, the session ended and Bob walked offstage following my predicted route (I would have made a great stalker) and he then found a smiling social entrepreneur standing in front of him with an outstreched hand. He shook my hand, I told him how he had inspired me as a social entrepreneur, we spoke for a few moments and then he went offstage and I wandered around grinning like someone who has finally met one of his lifetime heroes.

Days don't get much better than this :)

Note: Photographer: Rob Kennard


A new framework for analysing social enterprises

I have been looking at various frameworks for categorising social enterprises and have noticed that a lot of them distinguish between grant and contract income. I think there are flaws with models which only look at whether funding is trading or grants in terms of public sector commissioners. Many of these commissioners (whether they are Primary Care Trusts, Strategic Health Authorities or Local Authorities) often use terms like contracts and grants interchangeably in terms of the third sector and often for varying political motivations. For example, a Local Authority may specify some outputs for a piece of funding and regard this is a contract. Even though the funding rarely covers the full cost of those outcomes and so is not really a true contract but a grant towards running costs, many social enterprises describe this as contract-funding to differentiate themselves from more charity-like third sector organisations which are dependent on grants and fundraising.

I have developed a different framework (called Funding Base Analaysis) which doesn’t differentiate between grants and contracts but the source of that funding. This is particularly useful in looking at social enterprises which work in areas such as health, social care, transport, regeneration and other areas with a high public sector presence. The model looks at the percentage of turnover that an organisation receives from public sector commissioners compared with organisations and individuals who are not public sector commissioners. This is plotted on the horizontal axis and is then compared with the percentage of profit of turnover on the vertical axis. In this way, organisations are allocated to one of size quadrants as in the following diagram.

Using this framework, the characteristics of the 6 quadrants are as follows:
A – this tends to be where the commissioner-funded third sector organisations operate. They receive most of their funding from public sector commissioners but generate little or no surpluses or profits.
B – is similar to A but generating reasonable profits.
C – is similar to A but generating high profits.
D – this tends to be where the publically funded charities and voluntary sector organisations operate and social enterprises that trade directly with the public and/or other enterprises (social and private). They receive little or no funding from public sector commissioners but generate little or no surpluses or profits.
E – is similar to D but generating reasonable profits.
F – is similar to D but generating high profits.

D, E and F have tended to be the areas where Fair Trade organisations have tended to operate historically whereas the majority of social enterprises appear to be in the A, B and C quadrants. One of the interesting aspects of this framework is that where organisations are has nothing to do with aspiration or perception but simply financial variables which can be externally monitored and verified (the profit:turnover ration and the percentage of turnover from the public sector).

The usefulness of this framework is that it predicts organisational behaviour, success factors and sources of competition. A, B and C organisations depend for their success on the patronage of public sector commissioners who are rarely recipients of the service. Their focus tends to be on delivering outcomes that commissioners want and measuring performance indicators that are important to commissioners and if there is a conflict between what the recipients of the service want and the commissioners, the commissioners will tend to win. D, E and F organisations on the other hand depend for their success on the satisfaction of the customers who receive their services or products. Their focus tends to be on making the customer happy and they measure performance indicators that are important to the customer as well as to internal benchmarks. A and D organisations operate in a relatively uncompetitive market as there is little to attract an outside organisation into this market. C and F organisations operate in a highly competitive market as outside organisations (particularly private sector ones) see these areas as high profit opportunities.


Firestarter Podcast 9 - Social entrepreneur bloggers

Saturday, 17 May 2008

This is the Firestarter Podcast which is the world's first podcast for social enterprises in health.

This is an impromptu podcast from the Shine Unconference Last weekend. It features a host of social entrepreneur blogger, including:

The podcast covers:
  • Meeting and networking with people via their blog
  • Making time for creating and following blogs
  • How blogs can raise the profile of your social enterprise
  • The role of blog comments and blog readership
  • Corporate vs personal/informal blogging styles
  • How to start blogging (typepad, wordpress, etc)
  • The pros and cons of Twitter (the scary world of microblogging)
  • Is mobile blogging the next evolution?
  • Finding out that lots more people read your blog than you thought
  • Dealing with information overload and using blogreaders and RSS feeds
  • Using blogs to share ideas, develop ideas and create collaborations
  • How UnLtdworld works
  • Why some people like blogs, other like podcats, others like forums, others like twitter - the role of people's personality preference and learning style

Podcast 9 - This can be downloaded here (35 Mb)

The music is "Fire Dance" by djbouly and is brought to you under a creative commons licence.


Shine 2008 Day Three

Sunday, 11 May 2008

I think I am starting to get the hang of the buidling now and there is now a very relaxed somewhat chaotic feel to the event :)

What seems to be happening now is that embryonic conversations that started on day one are now feeding off each other and I am collecting a bunch of "back burner ideas" such as "could we run free healthcare that has nothing to do with the NHS", "what if Mecca was run a social enterprise", "are all co-ops social enterprise or does it depend on who the members and community are", "can you monetise your content through web-based models", "is the traditional capitalist growth model flawed" (e.g. should you growth or find a good size niche and stay at a sustainable level.

(Pause for lunch)

I have just come out of a really cool session on web 2.0 and had a really interesting and really passionate discussion with a load of people with cool ideas. Hopefully we will carry this on on the blog they are setting up and I will signpost it from here next week. We covered issues like ownership, authenticity, the relationship between business and their customers/users and generated equal amounts of heat and light. I met David Wilcox at the event who is a fellow ENTP and blogger/podcaster/social reporter etc and we had a really great thrash though about whether Web 2.0 is real or whether we are all being "blown off by the technorati" :)

I am now in one of those surreal workshops that I ended up whilst looking for a coffee that is a talkoake session??? So now I am being videod while I am blogging about what the guy with the video camera is talking about. It is all far too self-referential for a sunny sunday afternoon. I love the looks I get when I am blogging in sessions and I do find this much more comfortable on my mac than on my blackberry, although I think I might get into mobile blogging and even maybe Twitter (which does like the crack cocaine of the web 2.0 world).

Overall the 3 days have been really cool and wonderfully anarchic and unstructured (I keep expecting a "free hugs" campaign to break out any any time). There have been some amazing conversations in a very weird building and my head is full of ideas. I think I need to spend some time is a nice quiet introverted space to put some of these thoughts together and trying to move some of these into reality. There is a bit of me that wishes this hadn't been a weekend conference as I think I am going to be pretty knackered tonight and tomorrow and I have got work to do :(

As an aside, I have now decided that Rowena Young does not exist. I think she is like Godot in the Beckett play "Waiting for Godot". Everyone talks about her (and how bright and amazing she is) but I have been to a number of events recently where people say "you've just missed her" or "she is around here somewhere". I wonder if she is some form of social construct or even a mass delusion. I might put "being in the same room as Rowena" on my bucket list (things to do before you die!). I don't think I will post again until a few days after and I have followed up all the wonderful contacts that I have made, put the podcast up and added comments to all the blogs of bloggers that I have met.


Shine 2008 Day Two

Saturday, 10 May 2008

So here we are on day two of this fascinating event. I had breakfast this morning so my blood sugar is far healthier even allowing for some late night drinking the night before.

The first workshop was by Siobhan from Nesta who probably thinks I have been stalking her recently. This became a really amazing brainstorming event looking at entrepreneurship and innovation for the elderly. This is currently the most amazing discussion so far and I came away with some really interesting ideas (such as running Mecca as a social enterprise, a not-for-profit nursing home, a social enterprise around incontinence, etc). There were some really sparky people in the room and all our ideas kept building from each other and I just can't spend enough time in environments like that.

I have just wandered into another accidental workshop which seems to happen a lot. Some of the workshops seem to be cancelled and rearranged at short notice and it is frustrating a few of us. So I wandered over to What If (who are being highly recommended) but they had gone for lunch, so I wandered through to Kim's presentation on fundraising from the Foundation of Social Improvement. I had come across her at Voice 08 and this is a really interesting workshop. At the ENLF we botched up our fundraising and I sent out 205 letters and got rejected by 204, most because we weren't a registered charity. It got to the stage where I dreaded opening the post because every day I was getting bucketloads of rejection.

She is presenting a really good 7-stage model which seems really solid and practical. I am not going to replicate it here but I would definitely recommend talking to them or going to their website. I might try and do a podcast with them later although I keep saying that to people all day :(

Once again they are being very tolerant about someone who is typing away on their blackberry and I am sure the person next to me thinks I have a dreadful email addiction. Anyway, I need to go and grab some food in a minute and I hope the pub crawl tonight is a little bit more organised (as I think we lost a few people who couldn't find anyone).


Shine 2008 - Later that day

Friday, 9 May 2008

Well the web-based seminar and the blogging seminar went well (even if I did get lost finding it). Both were great and I met some bloggers in the flesh for the first time who I have only met virtually.

I think we are really missing a trick monetising web-based social enterprises and I think advertising-based models are fundamentally flawed. I have just had some interesting discussions about cross-fertilising ideas from "the long tail", "the four hour workweek" and some of the American East Coast business models. The gist of them is how we take niche pieces of content and learning and monetise them via podcasts, pdfs/lulu, blogs, etc. It would be good to pull a bunch of web-based social entrepreneurs together to explore this and I will bring my podcasting gear tomorrow to try and capture some of this.

Anyway the whole event is unfolding quite well although I think it depends on how comfortable you are with little structure. Some people seem to be struggling but I love this kind of space. I have just realised that I haven't eaten anything today and I am now starting to get a bit peckish. That and having my business ideas pulled apart and reassembled by some of Ashoka team has definitely knocked the old blood sugar.

I am now sat at the back of a discussion which I am not entirely sure what its about but it is very popular (and means I can blog in the background without looking too rude). I think this mobile blogging is getting a bit like twitter and I will reflect when I get back about whether this is at all useful or whether it is becoming "Dave's Stream of Consciousness".


Shine 2008 First Impressions

Well I have finally arrived and this is definitely a very quirky event :) It has the wonderfully quirky feel that large gatherings of social entrepreneurs tend to have. We have this badges with coloured spots on that would have far more use for me if it wasn't for my colour-blindness!

Anyway I have managed to find a coffee (all organic and fairtrade naturally!) and sat in my first session. It is on "emotional intelligence" and is being run by which seems like an interesting organisation. I am having to bite my tongue a bit as I do think a lot of the literature on emotional intelligence is a load of cr*p although some of the peripheral discussions on things like head/heart and intuition are really interesting. It is an interesting example of how labels and titles can really set up wrong expectations of a session. So I am sitting on my inner critic and am filling in a psychometric like a well-behaved delegate ;)

Actually the psychometric isn't bad and I might adapt this for the nursing leadership site ( Some of the other people seem to be getting a lot out of it though so I will definitely not be naughty :) I do wish they would relabel this though because the emotional intelligence is grating and it really has almost no evidence base (sorry Mr Goleman but do enjoy all the royalties).

The next session is on blogging and it would be a bit surreal to blog during this. As an aside this mobile blogging lark is quite addictive and I really must avoid twitter as I can see it eating up your life. It is also nice to be in a group with facilitators who don't challenge the fact that you are typing away on your blackberry (although us auditory learners have no problem following this).



This is a test to see if my mobile blog settings work :)

And it does :) Yay!


How to give up your day job

I get asked this a lot at the moment and I think its probably a sad indictment of the state of morale with many nurses. Often people have a great idea for a service or a new social enterprise but don’t know when the right time is to leave. From my experience over the last 5 years, I think there are 3 distinct phases you need to move through and (for the record) I completely botched this myself and survived the first year by the skin of my teeth.

Stage 1 – The planning stage (still with your current employer)

The 1st stage needs to be complete before you do anything about leaving. First you need to work out your business idea and by that I mean the idea or service AND a way that this can be run at a surplus. Often people have a great idea but haven’t worked out how much it will cost to run, where the income will come from and the “napkin costings”. Once you have a business idea then you need to develop contacts with commissioners and potential purchasers and look to raise the start-up income. You may even be able to start delivering the work at this stage even though you are still holding down a full-time day job.

Stage 2 – Early growth (part-time with your existing employer)

This stage starts when the new enterprise can pay AT LEAST half your current salary. Until you have brought in half your salary then you are still at stage 1 and it is incredibly risky leaving your job while you are in stage 1. Once you have enough income to support yourself on a part-time job then you need to start negotiating with your current employer about moving to a part-time role. Tim Ferris has some very detailed strategies for this stage in his book “The four-hour workweek” and I can heartily recommend this to anyone at this stage. This transition can be tricky and you need to carefully think through a number of issues such as conflicts of interest, indemnity insurance, workload balance between the two roles, work-life balance, etc.

Stage 3 – Full-time entrepreneur

You can move to this stage when your new enterprise can pay AT LEAST your full-time salary. A reserve of 3-months salary is the bank is ideal but it needs to be able to complete support you. At this point, you should hand in your notice and it is possible to waive your contract’s notice period if both you and your employer are happy to do this. One of the other possibilities at this stage is for your new enterprise to second you from your current employer although you will definitely need advice if you are looking at this route. The big advantage of this is that you may be able to keep your pension and it may be slightly less risky than being a full-time entrepreneur (although if you are that risk-averse, being an entrepreneur may not be a very comfortable existence).

The key to this process is that it is not dependent on your personal aspiration, your current work situation or how good your business idea. The stage you are at is ENTIRELY BASED on how successful your enterprise is. Given that 50% of new enterprises fail within 4 years, it is also a way of testing how good the idea is and whether it can financially support yourself without risking everything on it. If you leave prematurely and the enterprise is not as successful as you hoped (or even if you hit the dreaded cash-flow problems) then you may end up taking on personal debt in order to survive as the enterprise cannot afford to maintain you.

It is also easier to grow your market, do your business planning, make business contacts without the enormous pressure of wondering where this months mortgage payments are coming from or shopping for Netto’s no-frills baked beans and wondering what exactly were the frills in a tin of beans.


How to create a hundred ideas

Monday, 31 March 2008

As I have blogged about previously, in a knowldege economy your value is dependent on the quality of your thinking and the quality of your decisions. One component of that is coming up with lots of different ideas and that seems to be something many people really struggle with. So here is my 7-step guide to creating a hundred ideas for any given problem.

1) Get the right environment

By far the worst place you can generate good ideas is sat round a table, during work hours, in your work clothes and with no music. Yet this is where people spend hours every week in meetings. The 3 places that most people are most creative are the 3 Bs:

  • In Bed
  • In the Bath
  • In the Bar
These are the most creative environments you can be in and these are excellent environments for generating new ideas. Bed and bath tend to be best for free-idea-association and letting your mind wander and play with ideas. Bars are best for bouncing ideas around with other people, preferably with good music and good alcohol involved. It is no coincidence that most business ideas are generated over lunch or evening drinks.

In order of priority, from worst to best, this is where I would convene a group if I wanted to generate lot of good ideas:
  • The office at work
  • Workplace meeting room
  • A meeting venue outside your organisation
  • A cafe or coffee bar
  • A stimulating creative environment (such as an art gallery)
2) Get the right group

If everyone in the group is the same gender, the same race, the same age and with similar academic background, then you will get very similar suggestions and ideas. As well as going for diversity in age, gender and age, it is useful to get people from different professional backgrounds and a good mix of introverts and extroverts. This will pay dividends in the diversity of ideas and suggestions.

3) Clearing the idea constipation

The first 10 ideas you will have will usually be approaches that have been used in the past or "standard responses" to a problem. So if there is a financial crisis in a hospital, you will often hear vacancy freezes, stop agency nurse spending, stop training spending, bed closures, mergers, etc and these ideas are always the worst.

There is a kind of idea constipation which occurs and you need to clear the initial blockage before the good ideas flow freely. That is why it is worth aiming for 20, 50 or a 100 ideas because your first 10 will very often be the poorest ideas. Typically when I am working with a group and they begin evaluating all the ideas, it is often the ones at the end of the process which are considered the best.

4) Mindmapping and brainstorming

The real advantage of mindmapping and brainstorming is that it promotes non-linear thinking. Our brains are designed to connect disparate ideas and work in a non-linear way and mindmapping and brainstorming are processes that closely mimic the way our brains work.

5) Spark don't judge

One of the real dangers is that you begin evaluating the options early on, whether it is a quick evaluation (i.e. "that won't work" or "we've tried that") or a longer evaluation (where you begin earnestly debating a single option). Both of these processes will slow down and potentially stop the flow of ideas and will mean you are stuck with your earlier (and worse) ideas rather than the later (and best) ideas.

6) Go for the crazy

Often crazy and zany suggestions will make your brain come up with several other ideas and suggestions. They can also start new trains of ideas, such as "if this problem was an animal, what would it be" or "which superhero could solve the problem". Humour can work really well here, as can using visual images, toys, etc.

7) Keeping an idea journal

As you get better at idea generation, you will find your brain will naturally generate more and more ideas. I keep an idea journal which contains every creative idea that I have had over the last 7 years. I am now up to 1,080 ideas and they include such thoughts as:

Who in your life is allowed to interrupted you whenever they want - the larger the number of people who have that power, the lower your happiness and your quality of life?

Why do we give hundreds of pounds worth of our time away without thought when we would never give money in the same?

What if an off-licence was run as a social enterprise?

Is your career in the hands of someone else? Can someone make your work life miserable on a whim? Do the people who make decisions about your future and your life really care about you? Do you think these people are idiots?

Periodically I review these ideas and often they spark new ideas, new presentations or I find links with other projects I am involved in.

So I hope this helps you come up with lots more ideas and get the most out of groups and meetings. If all else fails, at the next meeting you have to go to, take some vodka and an iPod player and (assuming you still have a job the next day) you might be surprised just how much creativity is around and inside you.


Presenting for funding

Thursday, 6 March 2008

I am not going to write about generic presentation skills here but presentations that are specifically designed to get someone to give you money. That could be a contract, a sale, a loan, venture capital, a grant, etc. The one thing all of these types of presentation have in common is that at the end, you want someone to give you money. Applause is nice, laughter can be good, even warm appreciating smiles can make you feel successful but unless you walk out of the room with a big wodge of cash, your presentation failed. The purpose of these presentations is to get money and whether you get money at the end is the only outcome in town.

I don’t know when I first got really interested in the science and art of presenting but it has been something I have been passionate about for at least a decade. I suppose that is how I fell into teaching other people presentation skills and so I have seen hundreds of people present at conferences, workshops and when they are bidding for contracts. There seems to be some sort of implicit assumption that presentations for contracts or funding are essentially the same as presenting at conferences, workshops, seminars, etc and I think this is completely wrong.

So before I give you a few pointers, let me talk about the 5 worst mistakes that people make when they are presenting for funding. I have seen all these mistakes in action as a commissioner, member of judging panels and as outside observer and they always make my heart sink.

The 5 worst howlers:

1) Presenting too much information

This is the most common mistake and one of the most deadly. Dave’s law on presentation skills states that “THE LONGER YOU WORK ON YOU’RE YOUR PRESENTATION, THE WORSE IT WILL BE”. After seeing literally hundreds of presentations over the last few years, I have seen very very few exceptions to this rule. The reasons are quite simple - the longer you have to work on a presentation, the more stuff you will try and put into it. My heart sinks when I see slide after slide full of bullet points and text. What people don’t realise is that the only important thing in a presentation is what people can remember an hour or two later (usually when they are deciding what to fund). They will remember 4 or 5 things about your presentation at best, so if you presented 30 ideas using 400 words, they will forget 80-90% of what you told them. All those words and ideas have ended up in a psychic bin - if it isn’t in their memory, it was a complete waste of air.

Now if you turn that on it’s head and think I want them to remember 5 things and these are the 5 things, then you can present those 5 things really well. Tell a story. Use some really big graphics. Do a presentation with only 5 sentences or even better 5 words. Merlyn Mann (One of my productivity heroes) has a style of presenting based on Guy Kawasaki’s approach where you use large images and a few words. He coined the famous 10-20-30 rule, in that a presentation should have a maximum of 10 slides, last a maximum of 20 minutes and all the fonts should be at least 30pt. Blow them away with your 5 really well-made impact-filled points or ideas and leave them wanting more information (not wondering how many more slides they have to sit through).

2) Not understanding the people you are presenting too

What do they people you are presenting to REALLY want? Not what you think they want but what really drives them? What do they get excited by? What are their biggest problems? What have they spent their professional lives working for?

If you see the people you are presenting as simply “managers” and think that all they are in interested in is money, your presentation is very likely to fail. Recently I sat through a presentation as a panel member when someone tried to present to me what social enterprises really are and how we really didn’t understand their needs. 30 seconds on Google will have told him that I have spent the last 5 years running social enterprises and that that is not a great presentation tack to take with me.

If you don’t know who the panel are, what drives them, what the biggest problems they face and what they want from you then you shouldn’t even be standing in front of them. If you do know these things then what you can do is present your proposal as a SOLUTION TO THEIR PROBLEMS, using stories that you will know they are interested in and as a way of making their lives easier and making them look impressive to their bosses and peers.

3) Leaving what you want till last

This is a subtler mistake and is where presentations for money differ dramatically from “teaching” presentations. If you are trying to teach someone something, then you usually start with a background or context, then build up a narrative and end with a conclusion. If you are presenting for money, you need to tell them what you want FIRST.

Have you ever had one of those cold-callers at home in the evening that starts off asking how you are and how your day was? If your brain is anything like mine, you are thinking all the time “what do you want”? Until I realise what it is they want, I am going to frame everything the say from the viewpoint of trying to find out what they want.

A typical presentation often goes like this:

Hello, I am here to talk to you about Glossophobia (look it up on Wikipedia). The panel think “how much money do you want”?
We have been working in the field of Glossophobia for 17 years (“how much money do you want”?)
Our track record is ……. (“how much money do you want”?)
Our proposal is …… (“how much money do you want”?)
In conclusion, we want £30,000 for this project.
The panel members now think “£30,000 to address Glossophobia - that sounds reasonable”. Now what is the idea again?

Until you tell them how much you want and they make a mental calculation of whether or not that is even sensible, they will take in almost no other information. So start with it. Your opening slide should be “We want £30,000 to address Glossophobia”. Assuming that the panel think this is reasonable, they will now be intently interested in what your solution is and actually paying attention.

4) Trying to sound the way you think business people should

This is a particularly common issue with nurses for some strange reason. It is almost as if they have an image in their head of what business managers should sound like and then try and do a really bad impression. When they start using management jargon and business-speak they often sound very unconvincing. Some of the most powerful presentations I have ever seen (and which won contracts) often focused on patient stories and community anecdotes that brought the idea and the proposal to life.

The people you are presenting to won’t know the community or group you are working with as well as you, or understand clinical care as well as you, so bring it to life for them. Let them see it through your eyes and try and express your passion to them. It is an area where you know much much more than they do and you can communicate that with real passion and sparkle.

5) Not knowing your finance

My son won’t watch Dragon’s Den with me in the room anymore because he is sick of me yelling at the telly (and scaring the puppy). Everytime I see a budding entrepreneur who doesn’t know their turnover, or doesn’t know their last year’s profit or their sales target for next year, I really get cross. I have never met a serious entrepreneur (social or otherwise) who didn’t know last year’s turnover and profit and have a pretty good idea what this year’s would be.

If you are bidding for funding, you need to know the financials in your proposal and they have to be realistic. I can spot a padded bid a mile off and so can most funders. If the project costs £15,000 then ask for £15,000 and defend your costs. Don’t try and bump it up to £50,000 because that is how much money they have or you will look ridiculous (or worse a liar). I tell people this all the time and they still present costings you can drive a coach and horses through.

I can guarantee that if I am offering £25,000 then nearly all the bids will be for about £25,000. If I was offering a £100,000 then EXACTLY THE SAME BIDS would come in for £100,000. So two quick pointers:

A) forget the bid amount and work out what you actually need to do your project. If you pitch for exactly that (especially if it is a lot less than they are offering), you stand a really good chance of being funded and you will stand out from the crowd.

B) Any cost with three zeros at the end looks suspicious and any with four zeros at the end is made up. Nothing costs £10,000. If you don’t know what it really costs and think it is around ten thousand then at least put some random numbers in it. Say 3 …. errr …. 7 ….. errr 4. So now I am going to ask for £9,374. It just sounds believable. If you ask for £10,000 they will think your pitching and will try and knock you down to say £9,000. If you say it will cost £9,374 (equally made up figure) they will assume that you have very detailed and precise costings.

So in summary:

1) Present 4 or 5 ideas and present them well
2) Don’t overprepare the presentation
3) Tell them what you want first
4) Sound authentic and talk about what you know and what you are passionate about
5) Find out what they want, what their problems are and who they really are
6) Know your costings


Firestarter Podcast 8 - Community Interest Companies part 2

This is the Firestarter Podcast which is the world's first podcast for social enterprises in health.

This week's podcast features an interview with Adrian Ashton looking at the pros and cons of Community Interest Companies (CICs). This is part 2 of the interview and was recorded at Cafe 72 in Todmorden - the most child-friendly cafe we have ever seen :)

This podcast covers:

  • If you need to raise funding in the early stages, being limited by shares is extremely useful
  • The legal structure you will need to be in the NHS pension scheme
  • Why CICs are being pushed .... sometimes inappropriately
  • CICs cannot be established for political activity or for campaigning
Main cons of being a CIC - part 2 
  • The power the regulator has to remove directors, appoint directors and dissolve the CIC without any consultation
  • The regulator can overule the wishes of the CIC's own community
  • The power the regulator has to restrict your trading activity
  • The power the regulator has to instigate civil proceedings (i.e. sue people) on your behalf without your consent
  • The asset lock restricts the level of interest payments to an outside investor or institution
More from Adrian at

Podcast 8 - This can be downloaded here (19 Mb)

The music is "Fire Dance" by djbouly and is brought to you under a creative commons licence.


Reflections on Voice 08

Friday, 29 February 2008

For those of you that have never been, Voice is the annual UK social enterprise conference. This year (Voice 08) was in Liverpool and is one of my two must-attend conferences of the year (the other being RCN Congress).

For me it does 3 things:

1) It connects me with many of my social entrepreneur contacts, some of whom I only see once a year. Most of us are running around trying to grow and develop our own social enterprises, so it is nice just to have some time to reconnect, swap some gossip and drink fairtrade coffee (which Voice is always swimming in).

2) You meet some really interesting people. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a terrible collector of business cards and love finding new people to add to my network. Most of what I do is put people in touch with other people, so the more interesting, talented and cool people I know the better. Occasionally you meet a potential client but actually it is a much richer source of potential collaborators and people who spark interesting ideas and possibilities in your head.

3) It gives me a space to kick ideas around over food, coffee and ideally wine with some of the most interesting social entrepreneurs around. I saw at least three new business models emerge in the bar on Tuesday night (to the extent I didn't even notice the earthquake) and I will blog about some of these in the next few weeks. It is an amazing space for creative, quirky and very bright mavericks all of whom are passionate (and even angry) about trying to make the world better.

Anyway, if you have never been, I would strongly urge you too and the organisers this year created lots of opportunities and space for networking and just kicking ideas around.


How the EPOCH business model will increase your turnover or your money back

Thursday, 14 February 2008

What I am about to describe is the EPOCH model which is freely available for you to use under our creative commons licence. It is free so if I doesn’t work you won’t get any cash but I will give you your time back, maybe by coming round and doing some gardening or cleaning your car or sorting out your web page :)

First of all, the EPOCH model is a 5-stage process to help your thinking and discussion and understand your current earnings potential as well as possible new income streams. You can work through this on your own, you can work through this with your board, you can involve staff, users and stakeholders and you can even ask someone like me to come along and facilitate it.

The EPOCH model asks 5 questions and each question feeds into the subsequent question. The 5 questions are:

E – What are you EXCELLENT at?
P – What PEOPLE could benefit from you doing the things you are excellent at?
O – What are the OUTCOMES on the people who are you are doing your excellent thing to?
C – Who would COMMISSION you for these outcomes?
H – HOW MUCH would these commissioners pay for these outcomes?

So let’s go through these one step at a time.

Step one is E – What are you EXCELLENT at?

This is often a hard one for people. They know what they do and what they want to do but have never really given much thought to what they are excellent at. Let’s say you run a community cafĂ© – is your food or drink excellent? By which I mean is it much better than your competitors? Could I come along and easily replicate what you do? If the answer is yes – you are in trouble. If I can come along and replicate it to the same quality then you can only really compete on price and you are going to spend the rest of your life cost-cutting, penny-pinching and trying to undercut your opposition. That isn’t a life! If that’s all you can do, jack it all in now, sell your car, buy a one-way flight to a tropical beach and spend the rest of your days sipping rum from the bellybuttons of Nepalese madiens – it will be far far more rewarding.

The other issue is that what you are excellent at may not be what you are currently doing. You may have real talent as a facilitator, or a chef, or a trainer or a gardener and you may work in the accounts department. Your excellence is often in the areas of your passion and spending time doing what you are really excellent and passionate at is the beginning of real personal happiness as well as business success. So think of the whole organisation as well as the people within it and tease out the areas of real passion that you are really good at and crucially better than your current and future competitors.

Most organisations and people I have worked with can tease out at least 5 things they are excellent at – keep going until you have at least 5 (but the more the merrier).

Step two is “P – What PEOPLE could benefit from you doing the things you ?”

Don’t think of this as the people who are you are currently delivering services to but much much wider. If you are excellent at gardening, who could benefit from someone being excellent at gardening? People with gardens, businesses with gardens, housing associations with open spaces, parks, the National Trust, companies who sell gardening equipment, people who want to develop compost heaps in their garden, colleges looking to train people at gardening, organisations looking for outdoor work placements, nursing homes, sheltered housing, hospitals, etc.

You should be able to come up with AT LEAST 10 groups of people or organisations who could potentially benefit from EACH thing you are excellent at. So now you should have at least 5 things you are excellent at and at least 50 groups of people or organisations that you could benefit.

Step three is “What are the OUTCOMES on the people who are you are doing your excellent thing to?”

So for each group of people or organisations that you have identified, you need to work out the outcome you have on them. Again many people find this really hard as they are so used to describing their processes and being commissioned for their processes.

Let’s take the gardening example again and work through some of the people and organisations we identified earlier:

  • What would the outcome be of us providing gardening for people with gardens? Well a neat and tidy garden would be an obvious one. If you worked alongside the people themselves you could also increase their fitness by providing gentle (or vigorous) activity.
  • What would the outcome be for businesses with gardens? A more professional image for their organisation might be one. Providing work for local people or local social enterprises could be another (under their corporate social responsibility programme).
  • What would the outcome be for housing associations with open spaces? A more professional image could be one. Increased local resident satisfaction could be another. Winning additional contracts (based on their environment and appearance) could be a third. Providing a compost facility (maybe with a food recyclying scheme) could be a fourth.

Now we could go on, but already we have identified the following outcomes that you could achieve. And if this is an area that you are genuinely excellent at, then you could achieve the following outcomes BETTER THAN OTHER ORGANISATIONS CAN:
  • a neat and tidy garden 
  • an increase in fitness by providing gentle (or vigorous) activity.
  • a more professional image for a business
  • providing work for local people 
  • a more professional image for a housing association
  • increased local resident satisfaction 
  • additional contracts (based on their environment and appearance
  • providing a compost facility (maybe with a food recyclying scheme) 

If you work through all 50 people and organisations from step 2, you should now have over 100 possible outcomes that you can deliver.

Step four is “Who would COMMISSION you for these outcomes?”

Now the key here is to work out who would be interested in the outcomes from step 3. Again we will work through some of the gardening examples:
  • Who would be interested in paying for a neat and tidy garden? Well the public themselves would be one. Possibly the relatives or carers of elderly people might be another.
  • Who would be interested in an increase in fitness by providing gentle (or vigorous) activity? Again the public themselves. Also local general practitioners might be interested. Maybe other organisations such as Age Concern.
  • Who would be interested in a more professional image for their business? Business owners could be one. Estate departments might be another. Possibly the local Council.
  • Who would be interested in providing work for local people? Local businesses might be interested as well as public sector bodies such as Job centres, New Deal for Communities, local Councils, etc.
  • Who might be interested in a more professional image for a housing association? Housing associations would be an obvious one. Perhaps also a national or regional network of housing associations could be interested in providing this for their members.

If step 3 provided over 100 outcomes, you should now have developed over 150 potential customers who would be interested in buying outcomes that you can deliver BETTER THAN YOUR COMPETITORS. These are 150 potential businesses and 150 potential income streams (and possibly several hundred if you are being really creative).

Step five is “H – HOW MUCH would these commissioners pay for these outcomes?”

This is where you have to do some market research and will involve time in the library, time ringing up competitor organisations and time on the web (proper time on the web mind – not levelling up your Night-elf Druid on World of Warcraft!).
Again I will work through a few gardening ones and at this stage you should have 150 to work through:
  • What is the going rate to maintain a neat and tidy garden?
  • What do people pay to increase their fitness?
  • What would GPs pay to keep frail elderly people active?
  • What would a local business pay to maintain a professional image?
  • What would the local Job centre pay to provide meaningful and sustained employment for someone on long-term benefit?
  • What would a local housing association pay to increase resident satisfaction?

Notice that in all of these, you are not selling gardening. If you try and sell gardening then you are limited to daily rates and people focus on the process not the outcome. You are selling a neat and tidy garden, fitness, keeping the elderly active, sustained employment, resident satisfaction, etc. Gardening is simply the route to the outcome but you are selling the outcome. If it is worth £5,000 for someone to be given a sustainable and meaningful job then that is the value of what you do and this is often significantly more than the hourly or daily rate of your process.

So now you should have over 150 potential income streams and the value of each of those income streams.

So what’s next?

Well this is where you sit down as a board, a management group or with your members and decide which of these business you want to explore. You should be able to compete in these because the starting point is your excellence, i.e. what you are better than your competitors at. Which business you choose to move into is as much about your values, your ethos and your mission as it is about income and profits – or at least it should be if you are a social enterprise and now you have a whole heap of possibilities to discuss, debate and mull over (preferably over food and almost definitely with glass or two of wine).


The myth of audited accounts (or how to save money on your accountancy fees)

I was having a discussion yesterday with a group of nurse entrepreneurs and we were all comparing notes and strategies – particularly during the start-up stage. One of the really interesting discussions was about whether or not you have to have audited accounts or not.

Now for the uninitiated, you may not even realise that there are two different kinds of accounts – audited and unaudited. Put simply, audited accounts are prepared by an accountant and are then audited, which is process whereby they check a random number of transactions have been processed accurately. So for example, they may check that your £200 travel expenses on the 31st December was really a business trip or a taxi back from some disreputable nightclub in the heart of the city. Unaudited accounts are also prepared by an accountant but they take your word for it that the transactions are all correct.

One of the other big differences is the cost. If you want audited accounts you have to (surprise surprise) pay some to audit them. Often you pay several people to audit them including a senior accountant (the auditor) who signs them off as audited. This can easily add several hundred pounds (if not several thousand pounds) to the cost of preparing your accounts.

If you have come from a public sector background or a large private sector company, it is easy to assume that all accounts have to be audited as that is just the way things are always done. Many people don’t realise that you may be able to have unaudited accounts which still meet all your legal requirements but can save you a lot of unnecessary expenditure – particularly in the early days.

So what are the pros and cons? Well the most obvious con is the costs and the hassle – it is much easier and cheaper to produce unaudited accounts and in fact I have only prepared unaudited accounts for the last 5 years as a social entrepreneur. The pros are that some public sector funders (but by no means all) want them and at a certain size you have to have audited accounts whether you want to or not.

Initially we were worried that our unaudited accounts wouldn’t be taken seriously and we would have to go and get them audited. Over 5 years though, we have secured £50,000 of bank lending, £60,000 of venture capital and over £250,000 of public sector contracts all by using unaudited accounts. In all that time, n-one has even asked us why our accounts were unaudited let alone asked for them to be audited.

So what is the legal position? Well Companies House provide some really useful guidance information at Companies House and Business Link (who do have their uses from time to time) have some additional info here and here

In a nutshell, you can choose to only produce unaudited accounts if:

a) you have a turnover of not more than £5.6 million and
b) you have a balance sheet total of not more than £2.8 million.

On a more practical level, if your business would really notice the saving in accountancy costs of several hundred pounds (and you can only dream of having a £6 million turnover) then you are probably exempt from having audited accounts.

What I would say to people though is make sure you are ready to be audited, whether or not you are planning to have audited accounts. Firstly it is good practice and secondly, your members can demand an audit (depending on your legal structure). In practice, this means keep all your receipts, cheque books and bank statements in a simple system so that you can prove what that £500 taxi ride was for if anyone ever asks

So if this little nugget of advice has saved you a few hundred pounds or even a few thousand pounds, you can show your appreciation by buying me a pint at Voice 08 or RCN Congress. I will be the balding fat bloke propping up the bar coming up with innovative and entrepreneurial ways of getting a free pint from my dear beloved readers :)


Firestarter Podcast 7 - The pros and cons of Community Interest Companies part 1

Monday, 11 February 2008

This is the Firestarter Podcast which is the world's first podcast for social enterprises in health.

This week's podcast features an interview with Adrian Ashton looking at the pros and cons of Community Interest Companies (CICs). This is part 1 of the interview and was recorded at Cafe 72 in Todmorden - the most child-friendly cafe we have ever seen :)

This podcast covers:
  • The history and development of Community Interest Companies
  • Why you should never chose your legal structure based on someone else telling you that's what you should be
  • Companies limited by guarantee are not a bad default structure
  • CICs are a "bolt on" to existing limited company structures
  • The key elements of a CIC
  • Limited by shares vs limited by equity
  • Why children should not be listening to this podcast
  • Limitations on the community you are set up to benefit
  • Issues around the asset lock and how you can incorporate this in any company
  • Co-ops are not legally defined in the UK
Main pros of being a CIC
  • Kite-mark that you are a social enterprise
  • Provides assurances with public sector commissioners
  • The CIC regulator is very helpful and supportive
Main cons of being a CIC - part 1
  • Much more bureaucracy in setting one up and in annual reporting
  • The Chair has much more power than the other Directors
  • The role of alternate directors
More from Adrian at

You can subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes if that is easier,

Podcast 7 - This can be downloaded here

The music is "Fire Dance" by djbouly and is brought to you under a creative commons licence.


Why is most free business support so terrible?

Friday, 8 February 2008

One of the things that first got me interested in supporting other social entrepreneurs is how bad our experience of free business support was. I'd better not say Businesslink or they might get uppity - oh bugger I just have done it! I mean in fairness, they are not all bad and there are some fabulous business advisers out there. But it's like kebabs - there are fantastic kebabs and kebab shops out there but most of the ones I have had at 4am on a Saturday night in Manchester were terrible (even allowing for the copious quantities of Irish cider in my belly). Free business advisors are like that - for every one that is fantastic (in all they kebaby and extra chilli sauce glory) there are dozens that are really really awful.

The first time I went to a social enterprise conference and met other weirdos like me (or social entrepreneurs to the uninitiated), I realised that nearly everyone had had the same experience. Especially in the bar, there was hardly anyone who had a good word to say about them. The other week I met a social entrepreneur who said one of their life's ambitions was to find a social entrepreneur who had had a good experience with free business support. Even ministers and senior national people would admit that the service is "patchy" (which is about as damning as they ever get)

So why is this?

Well I think there are 3 main reasons:

1) Most free business advisers have never started a business

I have never found any firm statistics but it seems that the majority of business advisers are ex-bank managers. Maybe this is the holy grail in banking that you work for years in a bank and one day (if the god's smile on you) you may be elevated to the status of business adviser. Or maybe it's the bank restructuring that is throwing lots of talented bank managers out on the street. Either way, very few business advisers I have met have ever run a company, let alone founded one, let alone founded a social enterprise. Now I am not saying that people who have never set up a social enterprise have nothing useful to offer social entrepreneurs but their advice does sometimes across as virgins trying to teach people how to have better sex. People who have been involved in established businesses are ok but they still don't really understand start-ups (they are still virgins but at least they have sat and watched people have sex). Often their view of business comes from textbooks or courses and as we know, running a business is very different from how it is presented in books.

2) They have a complete monopoly in any given area

One of the most frustrating things is that if your local business support is rubbish, you can't go to another one. It is the worst kind of monopoly. There are about a dozen different areas I could easily travel too and I would happily travel to a really good adviser but you aren't allowed to. They get shedloads of cash to provide local services and if your service is bad - tough! Now I am not a huge advocate of market forces but if business support was funded on how many people used them and those people could choose from a number of alternatives, then gradually the really awful ones would get starved of cash. They would then either have to improve their service or get out of the game entirely.

3) The research says that they provide a really excellent service

This is the one I really don't get. I have seen presentations at conferences and workshops where people present surveys showing that over 90% of people rate the service as excellent. In my generally-rose-tinted-view-of-the-world don't think they are lying, so I really struggle to understand why nearly everyone I meet across the country thinks the service is awful but the customer surveys say they are excellent. Maybe they only survey people who keep coming back and who presumably find it useful, or maybe there are small business (rather than social enterprises) who really do find it useful? Or maybe people are just too damn polite? Or maybe they are liars, maybe they manipulate the survey results or maybe the questions are phrased like:

Question 1 - How would you describe your local free business support?

a) Amazing
b) Fabulous
c) Great
d) Really helpful
e) Patchy

Question 2 - Would you rather receive free business support or have a rusty poker inserted up your anus?

a) Yes I would definitely rather have the free business support
b) Yes I would probably have the free business support
c) Just how rusty is the poker again?

So ...... so ..... so what? So did I fill in the recent survey on business support to social eneterprise? No. I suppose I should have but to be honest I don't think it will acheive anything. Free business support is a multi-million pound industry and there are too many people making too much money for there to be any serious challenge to the system. The people who use the service have no power and no choice and the funders have never been on the receiving end of the survey, so there are no real levers for change. I did go to recent event with social entrepreneurs, Businesslink people and the Office of the Third Sector and in fairness the Social Enterprise Coalition did reflect the experience of many social enterprises (in much politer language than me) so you never know. But I am not holding my breath :)

On a more positive note though, if you do find a really good free business advisor the treat them like a cherished lover - value them, use them and pump them vigorously for every last drop of knowledge and advice. Also tell your friends about them and spread the word that you have found a good one. Feel free to post their contact details in the comments section and I will do whatever the opposite of "naming and shaming" is to them.

By the way, if you are coming to the Voice 08 conference this year (which is a really great conference by the way), then do your own straw poll and if you can find 5 social entrepreneurs who have had a really positive experience with business support, then I will buy you all a pint. It would be nice if you came up and said hello anyway but I will be on the lookout for groups of six entrepreneurs searching for me and looking for a free drink the way social entrepreneurs do.


Firestarter Podcast 6 - Central Surrey Health part 2

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

This is the Firestarter Podcast which is the world's first podcast for social enterprises in health.

This week's podcast features an interview with the staff of Central Surrey Health which is the first of the large-scale NHS community organisations which evolved into a social enterprise.

This podcast covers:
  • Staff-ownership models vs community-owned models
  • How to engage staff & dealing with unions
  • The change management process
  • The highlights from the first year's acheivements
We are currently putting the finishing touches to our RSS feed and our iTunes connection which will make it easier for you to download the podcast, subscribe to updates, etc. In the meantime, you can access our first few podcasts here:

Podcast 6 - This can be downloaded here

The music is "Fire Dance" by djbouly and is brought to you under a creative commons licence.


Firestarter Podcast 5 - Going from grant-funding to contract-funding

This is the Firestarter Podcast which is the world's first podcast for social enterprises in health.

This week's podcast features another interview with Chris Dabbs, the Chief Executive of CHAP (Community Health Action Partnership) and co-ordinator of the NHS Networks' Social Enterprise Network. 

This podcast covers:
  • The problems with being grant-funded
  • Moving from a "dependent needs-based mentality" to an "independent strengths-based mentality"
  • How to start the process
  • Developing contacts among commissioners
  • Generating income from several different types of customers and organisations 
  • Turning creativity into enterprise and business solutions 
  • Why there is no shortage of money (but often a shortage of good ideas!) 
We are currently putting the finishing touches to our RSS feed and our iTunes connection which will make it easier for you to download the podcast, subscribe to updates, etc. In the meantime, you can access our first few podcasts here:

Podcast 5 - This can be downloaded here

The music is "Fire Dance" by djbouly and is brought to you under a creative commons licence.


Firestarter Podcast 4 - Central Surrey Health part 1

This is the Firestarter Podcast which is the world's first podcast for social enterprises in health.

This week's podcast features an interview with the staff of Central Surrey Health which is the first of the large-scale NHS community organisations which evolved into a social enterprise.

This podcast covers:

  • Where the model and the idea first come from
  • The key discussions and questions in the early days
  • Involving front-line staff
  • The two-year journey from the idea to going live
  • Getting the organisational and legal structure right - the co-ownership model 
  • The reaction of staff to becoming co-owners 
  • How the co-ownership model works and the relationship between the Members and the Board
  • The big lessons learned from the transition process from NHS to social enterprise
We are currently putting the finishing touches to our RSS feed and our iTunes connection which will make it easier for you to download the podcast, subscribe to updates, etc. In the meantime, you can access our first few podcasts here:

Podcast 4 - This can be downloaded here

The music is "Fire Dance" by djbouly and is brought to you under a creative commons licence.


Firestarter Podcast 3 - Stan Thekaekara part 2

This is the Firestarter Podcast which is the world's first podcast for social enterprises in health.

This week's podcast features a presentation by Stan Thekaekara who is the Chairman and CEO of Just Change and a Fellow of the Scholl Centre for Social Entrepreneurship. This was recorded at the Social Enterprise Coalition's Health and Social Care Forum and the podcast covers:

  • What is a free market?
  • The social and economic impact of the collapse of the tea market in India 
  • The limitations and problems with Fair Trade
  • The role of human relationships in trade
  • How Just Change brings the producer and consumer together to regain control of the market
  • What if we let customers decide the price of Fair Trade products?
  • The relationship between apples and hospitals 
We are currently putting the finishing touches to our RSS feed and our iTunes connection which will make it easier for you to download the podcast, subscribe to updates, etc. In the meantime, you can access our first few podcasts here:

Podcast 3 - This can be downloaded here

The music is "Fire Dance" by djbouly and is brought to you under a creative commons licence.


Firestarter Podcast 2 - Stan Thekaekara part 1

This is the Firestarter Podcast which is the world's first podcast for social enterprises in health.

This week's podcast features a presentation by Stan Thekaekara who is the Chairman and CEO of Just Change and a Fellow of the Scholl Centre for Social Entrepreneurship. This was recorded at the Social Enterprise Coalition's Health and Social Care Forum and the podcast covers:

  • The history of the Land Rights movement in India 
  • Stan's personal journey as a political activist and as a social entrepreneur
  • How tea changed the whole economic base of the villages
  • How social enterprise reduced infant mortality and pregnancy-related deaths
  • Building a community hospital in India 
  • Creating an affordable health insurance model 
We are currently putting the finishing touches to our RSS feed and our iTunes connection which will make it easier for you to download the podcast, subscribe to updates, etc. In the meantime, you can access our first few podcasts here:

Podcast 2 - This can be downloaded here

The music is "Fire Dance" by djbouly and is brought to you under a creative commons licence.


Firestarter Podcast 1 - What is a social enterprise?

Firestarter Podcast 1 - What is a social enterprise?

This is the Firestarter Podcast which is the world's first podcast for social enterprises in health.

This week's podcast features an interview with Chris Dabbs, the Chief Executive of CHAP (Community Health Action Partnership) and co-ordinator of the NHS Networks' Social Enterprise Network. This podcast covers:

  • What is a social enterprise?
  • The difference between social entrepreneurs and social enterprises
  • Why social enterprises often have to get rid of their founders
  • How to find entrepreneurs in your organisation (Hint: they are often the weirdo troublemaker)
  • Why entrepreneurs often make bad managers
  • What drives social entrepreneurs
  • Chris' "Mrs Buggins Test"
  • "Creative commons" and sharing ideas 
  • The added value of social entrepreneurs
  • Why NHS Networks is a fantastic organisation 
We are currently putting the finishing touches to our RSS feed and our iTunes connection which will make it easier for you to download the podcast, subscribe to updates, etc. 

Podcast 1 - This can be downloaded here

The music is "Fire Dance" by djbouly and is brought to you under a creative commons licence.


Are we all knowledge workers now?

I can remember first coming across the term "knowledge worker" about 10 years ago at a conference and assumed it was the latest management buzzphrase imported from a consultancy or Ivy League professor. It turned out to have first been coined by the management guru Peter Drucker nearly fifty years ago and he used the term to describe "anyone who works for a living at the tasks of developing or using knowledge"

So what has this to do with networks?

Well putting aside the rather jargony label, I think there is some real depth to the concept. If we think of knowledge workers as people who add value to an organisation primarily by the quality of their thinking and the quality of their decisions, then this term probably applies to most of the people reading this. But if most of our value to the organisation is the quality of our decision-making, then how we do we know whether we are making high quality decisions or poor decisions and how do we learn to make better decisions?

There are 3 components to a high quality decision:

1) Having real clarity on both the problem and desired outcome

2) Generating a wide variety of options

3) Choosing the option that is most likely to produce the desired outcome.

This seems obvious and simplistic and yet it is rarely practiced within the NHS. In many of the NHS organisations I have worked with, managers tend to work with ill-defined problems, come up with one or two solutions (which have usually been tried before) and then quickly choose one. In the high-pressure world of today’s NHS, decisions are often made in minutes and solutions tend to be one of a handful that managers use over and over again. Even on development programmes and in workshops, people are uncomfortable spending more than 10 minutes on a decision or generating more than 10 options, even if they then spend weeks or months trying to implement a poor decision and dealing with the subsequent problems.

The next time you have a problem to solve, try setting an egg-timer and allow 20 minutes to generate as many potential options as you can and don’t stop until you have generated at least 30 different options. Typically when I work with managers on this process, the best options tend to appear towards the end of the list when the brain starts thinking more laterally and starts connecting with other ideas and associated areas.

If you want to become a real expert at this, networks are an invaluable decision-making aid. Firstly members of a network can help you bring clarity and focus to your problem simply through the act of them trying to understand exactly what you mean. Secondly, you can find out a whole range of options simply by asking people how they have seen this problem solved elsewhere and the more diverse the background, role and organisational types of people in your network, the more numerous and diverse the options will be.

One of the most useful networks that I have found is NHS Networks which is a genuine network of networks and can help you solve clinical and organisational problems. So if you want to take the fisrt few steps to being an expert knowledge worker, set that egg timer, visit www.networks.nhs and open your mind to a new world of possibilities.


One of my heroes recently died

January 11th 2008 was a really sad day for me as one of my inspirational heroes died that evening.

Many people may never have heard of Sir John Harvey-Jones but he was the man responsible for me becoming an NHS manager. He was the Chairman of ICI and did a TV series called Troubleshooter where he went into companies and organisations and helped turn them around.In 1990 I watched an epsiode of Troubleshooter on the NHS and decided there and then I wanted to be an NHS manager.

I can still remember the episode as if it was yesterday and somewhere in the attic I have a well-worn VHS video of that episode. It was in the first year of Maggie's NHS internal market and he visited a Trust and looked at the management and the staff of the hospital. The Chief Executive lived behind his desk, communicated with his staff through memos and was obsessed with cutting costs and government targets. Sir John spent a lot of time with nurses, care assistants, porters as well as the management and was bitingly scathing about the way the hospital was managed. He said that the core business of a hospital is providing patient care and that the role of managers was to support people delivering that care to do the best job they could. The Chief Executive argued that he "probably communicated too much with staff" and Sir John replied that if the staff could not repeat his message then he hadn't communicated at all. He showed the Chief Executive and Chair to be incompetent bureacrats who had no understanding of care, had completely flawed priorities and were completely removed from the core business of the organisation, which was the provision of care.

That programme had a profound effect on me.I felt that it was scandalous that idiots like that were running the NHS and believed I could do a much better job. At the end of the episode the Chief Executive and Chair were both removed and I almost jumped up and cheered. Sir John emphasised that excellent management was about undertsanding your core business, supporting the people who deliver that business and solving people's problems. He described management as an act of service to people not an act of control or domination. He totally understood money (he turned round ICI from a loss-making organisation into generating £1bn in annual profits) but explained that money was a tool not something to be fixated over or worshipped. He was the personal embodiement that management was an honourable profession, that it's focus was to serve and support others and that it could change care for the better.

As a 1st year student nurse, telling people that I wanted to be a manager was greeted with scorn, derision and plenty of insults. Everyone thought management was about egos, ambition and earning lots and people laughed when I said I wanted to make the NHS better and management was the way to do it. Many of my fellow students used to insult me and referred to me as "the manager". Interestingly I had many similar reactions from managers when I said that I thought management was about supporting clinical staff, making care better and trying to make the world a better place.As a staff nurse I remember never seeing the Director of Nursing or Chief Executive on my ward ever and when I became a manager I made sure that I visited every single clinical area I managed every single day. The ward sisters soon got irritated with seeing their manager every day (especially as I always ate a chocolate) but I made sure I knew exactly what their problems were and every problem that they told me about I tried to sort out there and then.

Even as a Chief Executive, Sir John's lessons always stayed with me and I often thought "what would Sir John" do and tried to live up to his message and example by seeing my role as supporting all the clinical staff within my area and trying to help them do their job better. It was also great that he was a jolly fat bloke with outrageous ties who never took himself too seriously :)It feels to me today like an era has ended and I wish I had written or said this to him directly. I once bumped into the Chief Executive from the episode at a conference and I nearly went up to him and told him that he inspired me because he was such a crap manager (but I didn't quite have enough bottle).

So that night I opened some wine and toasted the memory of the man who showed me that management can be a powerful expression of service and that good management can make a real difference and improve the lives of patients and staff. He probably should have the last word so I would like to sign off with one of his better quotes:

'Leadership is the priceless gift that you earn from the people who work for you. I have to earn the right to that gift and have to continuously re-earn that right.'


Where have all the nursing heroes gone?

Recently I was running a workshop and asked the nurses present to identify their nursing heroes. The usual suspects came very quickly (i.e. Florence Nightingale, Mary Seacole, Edith Cavell, Margaret Sanger) but they couldn’t identify any from the last decade let alone 50 years. That started me thinking about why this was the case. These are nursing heroes but they have almost acquired a semi-mythical status and are seen as somehow “nothing like us”.Why couldn’t these nurses think of any modern nurse heroes? Is it that there haven’t been any great nurses in recent times? That seems unlikely. Figures like Trevor Clay, John Goodlad, Christine Hancock, etc have had a major impact on nursing but their names do not seem to trip off the tongue of today’s generation of nurses.When the exercise is repeated at a personal level (i.e. people are asked to name a nurse who inspired or supported them), nurses can often recall a particular ward sister or tutor or care assistant who touched their lives. Sometimes through their words and sometimes through example, nurses carry the inspiration of these personal heroes into their everyday practice. They recall them with smiles and affectionate memories and produce wonderful anecdotes and clinical stories.

So why does this inspiration happen at the personal level but not at the level of the whole profession. Why aren’t there the equivalents of Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, Bob Geldof, etc who are celebrated in nursing? In an age of satellite television, the internet, mobile technology, etc it is easier than it has ever been to pass stories around and yet we don’t tell stories of great modern nurses.Maybe we should have a Nurse Heroes Day where we all have to find a modern nurse hero and simply tell other people about it. There could be small celebrations in clinical settings across the country where we tell great stories about modern heroes that can inspire as well as Florence, Edith, Margaret and Mary did to their generations. In colleges across the country, student nurses could hear stories about modern nurses who have changed practice, influenced institutions and governments and moved the profession forward. And perhaps, just perhaps, this may inspire the nurse heroes and heroines of the future.


So why does everyone want to be a social entrepreneur?

It may seem very strange for me to be cynical about the drivers to be a social enterprise. I have been running a successful social enterprise for over 3 years, am an active member of the Social Enterprise Coalition, am heavily involved in the NHS Network’s Social Enterprise Network and evangalise at pretty much any opportunity on why social enterprises are (potentially) fantastic. So why am I getting a bit cynical?

There has been a huge sea change in the NHS over the last 12 months. A year ago, the mention of social enterprises would result in a puzzled expression from most NHS managers. Six months ago it seemed to be the buzzword of the moment following the publication of the white paper and everyone wanted to know what a social enterprise is. Now it seems that more and more PCTs are very very keen to create social enterprises (even though they may have some strange ideas about what one is). So why is this and why are many of these probably doomed to failure?

There seem to be 3 popular drivers for NHS organisations wanting to become social enterprises:

  • Looking impressive to political masters
  • Trying to stay one-step ahead of the next organisational restructuring
  • Pure cold-blooded knee-trembling fear
Driver 1 - looking impressive to political masters. 
Social enterprises are sexy and the current ministerial team is very very keen on there being lots more social enterprises. There is always a desire for boards to want to look cutting-edge and be seen to be the most modern of the modernisers. This was seen in the first wave of NHS Trusts, the first wave of Primary Care Trusts, the first wave of Foundation Trusts, etc and there is clearly a bit of a race to be in the first wave of “NHS Social Enterprises” (even though these have been in the NHS for nearly 30 years).

Driver 2 - trying to stay one-step ahead of the next organisational restructuring. 
NHS managers love nothing more than trying to read “the political tea leaves” and there are very clear messages that the Department of Health would love to see large numbers of NHS staff create social enterprises (even if the recent judicial review from the RCN saw some of the guidance being watered down). There is feeling that today’s optional transformation may become tomorrow’s compulsory transformation and the history of NHS Trusts shows this to be well substantiated. Some managers feel that if they push for an early transformation to a social enterprise model then this will give them more control over the pace, the structure and the management arrangements.

Driver 3 - pure cold-blooded knee-trembling fear. 
Sadly, the most common reason I often hear from people keen on becoming social enterprises is “this is the only way to protect the service”. There is a very real fear in the NHS that overseas organisations and some private sector organisations will be given more and more primary care and community services to manage. Whether this is real or not is largely immaterial, the fear of this happening is very real and is widespread. Some managers feel that the only way that they can keep their services intact is for the whole service to move into a social enterprise, managed and run very much as it is run now.

So why are organisations created for these reasons doomed to failure? First of all, there are many fantastic reasons for creating a social enterprise and for nurses who want to provide new types of services free from beauracracy it can be ideal. Social enterprises can enable you to run services the way you feel they ought to be run and will allow you to be innovative in an extremely personally-fulfilling way. But there are risks. Social enterprises are businesses and it is harder to run a successful social enterprise than to run a successful traditional business. There are three characteristics of a social enterprise which could cause you real problems if you can identify with any of the three drivers:

1) Your staff may control your organisation. Most organisational models involve your staff becoming members or stakeholders of your social enterprise and this means that they have ultimate control over the appointment and removal of directors and can change the organisation’s way of working and long-term strategy. If you are pushing the move to become a social enterprise because of driver 1 (looking impressive to political masters) and your staff are not keen (or worse are openly hostile) then your staff may stop you forming a social enterprise or may remove the entire board at the earliest opportunity. How many managers would comfortably allow a free vote of their staff that could result in their removal? If your staff are totally behind this move then them having control of the organisation could be fantastic but if they are reluctant or hostile, this could cause you massive problems.

2) There is no way back. Once you make the transition to becoming a social enterprise, you will no longer be part of the NHS. Even though you may still receive NHS pension benefits and have your terms and conditions transferred across, your organisation may never be able to return to the NHS ever again. Whereas most NHS Trusts are rescued if they get into serious financial trouble, private sector providers will be allowed to fail and become insolvent. If you are pushing the move to become a social enterprise because of driver 2 (trying to stay one-step ahead of the next organisational restructuring.) then this may be your last ever restructuring. If your social enterprise fails, then it will fail and the NHS is extremely unlikely to bail it out.

3) It’s a lot lot scarier than life in the public sector. Running your own business can be a very scary experience. Entrepreneurs as a breed are very comfortable with risk and are happy to trade increased control and freedom for increased risk. If you are the director of a social enterprise, you may well be asked to use your personal security to secure lending and external finance. Most organisations require external finance in the early stages of their life and your lenders will want personal guarantees from the directors before they lend you their money. In a nutshell, if your business fails, you could lose your house and become bankrupt. Every time an invoice is late or a contract is changed, you may find yourself months or weeks away from personal financial ruin. If your driver is driver 3 (pure cold-blooded knee-trembling fear) then you may find life far more scary as a social enterprise.

If you are still interested, then being a social entrepreneur may well be right for you and whatever happens, it will be a fantastic journey.


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