Robert Ashton is a best selling business author, social entrepreneur and 'Big Society' troubleshooter.
Top 10 Tips for Business with Robert Ashton, The Barefoot Entrepreneur.
Robert Ashton: My first tip is that you have to have passion for what you want to do, you have to really be angry about something that you see as an injustice or you think something could be done far better or a way that you think people are being ripped off and that you want to change. So passion is the most important thing that you have as a social entrepreneur.
Find your audience
Robert Ashton: Next for me is audience, who are the people that you want to help and how and why? What is it that you want to do and where are those people? How many of them are there? And, are there enough to make it into a viable enterprise rather than just one or two?
Robert Ashton: Next I think is about asking yourself why. Why are you doing this? Why are you doing it to the people that you are doing it to and for? And what's motivating you to want to do these things? Are you trying to deal with something within yourself that you want to deal with or are you trying to change something outside. So really understand and be honest with yourself about why you want to do it.
Focus on profit
Robert Ashton: Next and perhaps one of the most important is profit and too many people when they look at social entrepreneurship spell profit with a 'ph' and not an 'f', it's not about being evangelical although that's important, it's about being sustainable. To be sustainable you have to make money and that money has to make you a profit. Then you have the choice of what to do to it.
Robert Ashton: Structure is the next thing to think about and only think about the structure when you've worked out what you want to do and why and how and for whom. The structure is quite important in terms of knowing what sort of organisation you are going to be, will it be a CIC, will it be a charity, will it be an Industrial and Provident Society. But don't start with structure, put the structure behind on top of what you want to do, rather than start with it and make what you want to do fit a structure that you found somewhere else.
Robert Ashton: Success comes from differentiating yourself from what else is out there and if you are a social entrepreneur you might be differentiating from a publicly funded service, from a service that comes from a corporate organisation or from another charity or from another social entrepreneur. But you have to have people who are doing similar things to you so you can be different because the difference is what will make you visible to your customers, to your clients, to your funders and your supporters.
Never miss an opportunity to sell
Robert Ashton: Selling is something that some people find difficult, some people think it's unpleasant but actually if something isn't sold then nothing happens. Anybody who sells will tell you that their best friend is someone who was once a cold call. So selling is what it's all about, you're always selling, never miss an opportunity to sell whatever you're doing. Social entrepreneurs have to sell just as much as people selling anything else so sell, sell, sell.
Feel comfortable with what you're doing
Robert Ashton: Social entrepreneurship is rather like having a bath, you don't want the water too hot or too cold, you want it just right. If you start to feel uncomfortable in the organisation you're creating or in the work that you're doing, if it makes you feel uncomfortable then it will make other people feel uncomfortable to. You will lose authenticity and you will also lose business and focus so only do it if it feels right and if it doesn't feel right, change it.
Robert Ashton: Change is the only constant, so whatever it is you're doing, however well you're doing it, you constantly have to be looking for new ways to do things better, to do things faster, to do things more effectively and for less money. So constantly look to change, never become complacent.
Robert Ashton: Finally, you spend a lot of time working and social entrepreneurship, like any other sort of enterprise has to be enjoyable and has to be fun. You have to enjoy it and if you don't enjoy it then others won't either, then it won't work. Make sure it's fun for you and make it fun for the other people you work with.
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