Category Archives for "Self-Employment"

Belief in Yourself, When No-One Else Shares that Belief

In this final post about self-employment, I explore self-belief. Belief in yourself, when no-one else shares that belief.

The truth is, everyone is better than I am.  They are better than I am at one or more things.  I am also better than any person at one or more things.  If I focus on the former, I shall feel under pressure.  When I focus on the latter, perhaps less so.

However, where I am better at something, it depends on who I’m compared with.  This is not a recipe for superiority.  The way I see it, we all have something to contribute on a small or large-scale and this may vary depending on context.

Your Market

Your market is the people who benefit from your unique contribution.  In this sense everyone has a market, even if their market is one person.  A carer may primarily care for one person, for example.

So, your market is those who hear what you’re saying, understand it and want your help.  You need to express your offer clearly and help people connect with you to decide whether working together will be mutually beneficial.

You also need to communicate clearly with people not in your market but may know people who are seeking your service.  Arriving at a clear statement of what you offer takes time.

You need self-belief while you work out your offer to your market.  In the early days, when no-one is interested, it can be difficult.  You know you can do the job and need to believe enough to persuade others.

Your Offer

Remember, if it feels like no-one believes in you, you must not share their belief.  You need the belief of your market only; their understanding of your offer matters and not really anyone else’s.

I find it most difficult handling, often well-intentioned, peer assessments of my offer.  Most of what they tell me is helpful but sometimes I’m not so convinced they are right.

For example, it has become clearer that my offer is primarily for coaches or consultants; people in business because they have something they believe will benefit others.  So why, they say, do I continue to bang on about community and the local economy?

I don’t talk like other marketers and there are at least two reasons for this:

  • First, many coaches and consultants share my values. Indeed, this is my signal to people who are on my wavelength.  People who agree with me that Sheffield City Council’s policy to cut down 75% of the city’s trees is an attack on the local economy, are likely to agree with me about other things too.
  • Similarly, I know lots of marketing jargon; eg sales funnels, lead magnets. I try not to use this jargon in my marketing because it is not where I start.  Many marketers sell their knowledge and expertise.  I start with my client’s business.  We learn about it together, we plan their marketing, which can involve a range of approaches and then we can work on implementing them together.  The aim is to help the client work out how to market their business.

We all need to find the language that will be heard by our market.

Self-Confidence

I’m largely self-taught.  I’ve followed many courses and worked on various projects and built a portfolio of experience.

I don’t have fixed views on what is viable.  My experience informs my views.  I may ask a client whether they have considered an alternative approach or thought about their offer in a different way.

I have my views on what works and the pattern of support I offer is to some degree predictable.  But the real value is in the ways we adjust the approach to the client’s needs.  We do that by exploring the client’s business at a depth they have not experienced.  They describe their business in detail and I respond to that description.

Am I right?  I am the right choice for my clients, so far.  I am not a good choice for the business-person who knows exactly what help they need.  They may be better off with a specialist.  Most people who freelance rarely find opportunities to share about their business in depth.

So, yes I believe in my business.  I need that belief to keep going.  If my self-belief falters, I could go under.  Self-belief matters to me and to you.

How do you hold onto your self-belief?

How to Practice Self-Motivation

Life as a freelance can be isolated.  This can be an advantage, with fewer distractions and freedom to get on with the work in your own time.  But it can be hard over the long haul and so today, I share some thoughts about three dimensions of self-motivation.

I should begin by describing my circumstances.  I live alone and I know that makes a big difference.  I find it hard to imagine the detailed practical issues someone faces working from home in a family setting.

Boundaries in those circumstances are likely to be harder to put in place and to maintain.  I can imagine opening my office door and finding three cats, a dog, a toddler and spouse, all waiting for my attention.  It would soon drive me crackers!

But even so, perhaps there are aspects of my experience, other freelancers may find helpful.

Self-Motivation

I know many people have problems with motivation and so it perhaps doesn’t help for me to claim I don’t share this problem.

One key to this is routine.  I know any time of the day or week what I should be doing.  This is not compulsive behaviour, I can vary it when I need to.  The value of routine is I don’t have to think about what I need to do next.

I divide the day into three parts.  Mornings when I follow-up desk work, afternoons when I walk and meet people informally and evenings are for more desk work and meetings.

I find walking really helpful and so I walk every day.  This is for health reasons but also it is an effective way to tackle complex problems.  Away from my desk, perspective can lead to a breakthrough for some problem or other.

I am enthusiastic about what I am doing.  Most days I can’t wait to set to work on whatever I am preparing.  If bored or uninspired by what you are doing, perhaps you need a change in direction?

Self-Validation

This is a tough issue because I depend on others’ validation.  When someone takes me on as a coach, they validate my work.  When they write a testimonial, they validate my work.

However, self-validation is also important.  One reason is I believe my chosen work is unique and as such it is my responsibility.  The hardest thing is explaining my vision.  This is a challenge all businesses face when marketing, finding the language that makes sense to their market.  It also needs to make sense to those who might refer you to prospects.

People are always keen to show you the error of your ways, to point to practitioners who are highly successful because they’re not using your approach.  It may take forever to prove your approach and no-one will do that for you.

Of course you can’t fully articulate it from the outset; it takes time to find the right keynote.  You need to validate your own results.  You need to decide whether you are still confident in your own approach.

Self-Reinforcement

So, it is important to be able to hold your position.  Not because you are necessarily right but you know your underlying perspective is not being heard.

I know that my developmental approach to marketing works.  I understand how it differs from other approaches to marketing.  The challenge I have is finding the words that make sense to others and so I need their reaction.  It has taken me a long time to get this far and I hope I have almost completed my journey.

During that journey I have received a lot of advice, some of it impatient.  I have heard all of it and noted it.  Some of it I will use at a later date.  Some I have concluded is not for me.  Use it or not, I am grateful because all of it helps me know what is essential and what I need to change.

How do you motivate, validate and reinforce your work as a freelance?

Repeated Failure and How to Keep Going

Repeated failure is most peoples’ experience, especially in business.  Some people claim the secret to business success is repeated attempts in the teeth of repeated failure.  Sooner or later you will try something that works!

Complacency

However, this is no reason for complacency.  There may be more you can do to find out where you are going wrong and taking steps to tackle it.

Think about your failures and try to discern if there is a pattern to them.  You may be lacking some skill or knowledge.  There are several ways you can address a problem like this.  You may be able to train or pay someone to provide the skill.

Many self-employed people are excellent at implementing their offer but lack the skills they need to run their business.  Failures may be a good learning environment, so long as you seek help and make sure you learn from them.

Organisational Culture

It is important to understand organisations develop a culture that is difficult to change.  Even though the culture may negative, it becomes hard to change because everyone has invested in it.

So, if you are part of an organisation, consider the possibility you need to make deep changes if it is to be a viable player in the marketplace.

Patterns of Behaviour

Most of us practice patterns of behaviour we find difficult to change.  If you use a common personality test such as Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram, you will find out more about your own strengths and weaknesses.

These tests are not determinative in the sense they are saying you cannot change your behaviour.  What they do is show you how you work effectively.  You can achieve anything you wish; what is important is how you set about it.  A method that works for a different personality type, may not work for you.

Learning from Failure

Of course, it is important to learn from failure.  You can’t avoid failure, it’s built into what you do.  Use it as a learning opportunity.

Above all, ask how you can monetise your failures or the lessons you learn from them.  Your prospects may struggle with similar issues and your experience could be helpful.

This is particularly true for recurring problems, deeply embedded in the behaviour of a person or organisation.  Sometimes it takes time to understand the nature of a problem and how to approach it.

If you can hold a mirror to someone’s behaviour, help them to see a new way forward, then you are acting as a coach or consultant.  This role is crucial to many businesses and may be a possibility for yours.

How have you managed repeated failure?

Failure and How to Keep Going

Failure is a set back and often hurts, not just financially.  To some degree you get used to it.  It is perhaps best not to become too used to it because if you make a habit of failure, complacency is perhaps not the right response (see my post next Wednesday).

But if this is your first failure, how do you handle it?

Review Your Failure

First, ask yourself: Why did this happen?  Here are some possible answers, not necessarily mutually exclusive.

  • It is possible the failure is to some degree your fault. Don’t assume you are the only reason.  You need to learn lessons and so if you failed to notice something that jeopardised your business, you understand it now!  A lot of personal failure happens through lack of attention to what’s happening around you.  If you are not aware of your environment, you will continue to fail!
  • Someone else made a mistake. Usually mistakes are accidental.  The main question here is: what can be done to minimise the chances of the mistake happening again?  This means you need to discuss it and together work out a strategy in response to lessons learned.
  • Wrong time and place – this can be getting seasonal markets wrong or simply launching at inappropriate times.  Is it possible the physical location if your business is a problem?  I know of one business that failed when the Council painted double yellow lines outside their shop.
  • Insufficient information means you failed to notice some important issue. Lack of information such as management accounts is a serious lack of accountability and can have devastating consequences.
  • Acts of God have nothing to do with God – it simply refers to some accident that comes out of nowhere and has no connection with any action you have taken or failed to take. No-one can predict such events but make sure it really was totally unforeseeable. Why was your business vulnerable to this type of event.

Learn the Lessons

I’ve already referred to this in the list of possible causes.  Spend time considering what the lessons actually are.  Sometimes there’s more than one lesson.  What happened and what steps did you take to prevent it?  Were they effective?  If not, why not?

How you respond to them depends on exactly what the problem was.  If it was bad management, then usually it is possible to learn from it and try again, somewhat wiser.  Sometimes though, it is because you have an offer that is not viable.  This can be difficult.

Imagine an author whose manuscript is rejected.  The manuscript could be awful and the rejection perfectly rational.  The author may not agree but is it because they are over-rating their own work or because it is so innovative, publishers cannot see its worth?  There are stories of the latter.

Now apply that to your own offer.  You believe in it but is rejection because it doesn’t fit your market or because you are not marketing it appropriately?  Do you need to scrap it and start over, re-package it or market it differently?  Or any combination thereof?

This can become frustrating, so perhaps a way forward is to use failure creatively.  Is there some way you can build the lessons into your business and monetise them?  If it is possible many people encounter the same problem, you may be able to offer a solution.

Move on

Don’t dwell on it.  If you become risk averse, you will find endless tasks to carry out short of actively marketing your business.  You have had a setback, a setback that could have improved your offer.  So, get back in the driving seat and drive!

This doesn’t mean you forget it; all experience is valuable and you may be able to draw on it at some stage in the future.  Business can be frustrating, especially if you keep making the same mistakes.  So, we’ll look at that next time.

Please share stories of failure and your creative response to it.

How to Respond to Feedback

The first thing to say is you are lucky if you receive feedback, really lucky!  Most people don’t care enough about what you are doing, to offer even negative feedback.  Those offering malicious feedback will think twice because if they are right you are doomed anyway and if wrong, it could be embarrassing!

So, welcome feedback and be gracious about it.  Even if the feedback is negative, chances are it is well-intentioned and if the word gets out you jump down peoples’ throats when unhappy with their feedback, the chances are you’ll soon never receive any.

Express Gratitude

Be grateful for the feedback, whether positive or negative.  Express your gratitude and ask if you can quote it as a testimonial in whole or in part.  Can you attribute it, mentioning their name and business name?  You can ask for a photo or even a video of their comments.  In other words, treat it as you would a testimonial, until you know otherwise.

You can find more information about how to manage testimonials  elsewhere in this blog.  You need a strategy to gather them and they will not always be positive or even well-written but the chances are even the most negative will include something positive.  If someone has taken the trouble to write something negative, the chances are they think you’re worth the comment.

Address the Feedback

Let’s assume the feedback is negative.  Much of what follows can be similar if the feedback is positive.

Read the comments and make sure you understand them.  Make yourself read them carefully.  I often find my first impression is far worse than the feedback really is.  What are they actually saying?  Often there is something constructive and valuable in what they have written.

Ask yourself, whether the comments are valid and if so what action you can take.  Remember, sometimes people offer you a solution.  Approach this with caution.  They may say something like, “I don’t find your website helpful, why don’t you do this instead  …”

It is really important to work out what the problem is first.  Don’t assume their solution is the right one.  Even if it is the right solution, the chances are once you understand the problem, you can improve on it.

Sometimes, you may need a conversation to check out your interpretation of their comments.  If so, you may not need to respond further because you have shown you have taken their intervention seriously.

If you make changes, reply to the person who provided the feedback.  Tell them what you have done in response to it.

If they find you take a positive approach, they are likely to feel able to provide future feedback and may recommend you to others.

Finally, don’t overdo it.  Be professional about your response and once you have replied, drop it and move on.

Going Public

Sometimes you will receive feedback in a public arena.  This is very common on social media.  Let’s leave aside vexatious comments (don’t feed the trolls) and consider sincere comments that invite a response.

The difference here is people may have already seen the comment and so you need to respond in a way that shows publicly you have taken it seriously.

Thank the commenter in public.  Ask questions of clarification if you need to and then deal with the comment.  Be brief, professional and prompt.

Sometimes people have a legitimate concern although it is peripheral to your business.  Simply, apologise and promise to bear their concern in mind in the future.  If you sound sincere, the chances are you will hear no more about it.

Have you any examples of responses to feedback that backfired?  What happened and how did you deal with it?

Handling Success

Success can be just as stressful as rejection.  With success you can contemplate the joys of delivering a service to a new client but it is actually a great responsibility. So, take time to take stock and decide your strategy.

Celebration

Celebration is painful for those of us who don’t naturally take to having fun at the drop of a hat.  But taking time to pause and take stock after winning a big client is never a bad idea.  Some of my best ideas come at times of repose.  By all means take a note-book to your celebrations.  A notebook is a brilliant aid to forgetting.  Just jot down a legible and coherent note and then forget it until you’re back at your desk.

Keeping Track

If you have lots of clients, consider customer relations management (CRM).  There are several well-known packages that offer you everything you need.  Perhaps you won’t need a full CRM system when you start but bear it in mind for later.

There are other tools you can use to ease your journey.  Use Office tools, email service providers, etc to organise during the early stages of your business.  As your business grows you will need more help and you can take it on as you need it.

Don’t forget you may need a Personal Assistant as your business grows.  They handle matters like CRM and free you to pay attention to your clients.

Be Generous

Finally, don’t forget to over-deliver.  Bonuses can be a good way to build a relationship with your clients.  Sometimes you can offer opportunities that also help you out.  You know you can work together and so it is natural to invite participation in relevant activities where you can help each other out.

Besides that there are many other products and services you can offer beyond what you contracted to deliver.

However, be aware you may find it difficult to manage many spontaneous bonus activities.  Better to schedule in a few unannounced bonuses, so you can add them into your routine.

How do you celebrate business success?

Handling Rejection

Rejection takes many forms and it’s always worth taking stock when it happens.  Why does it happen?  Well, yes it might be your fault.  But it is rarely entirely the fault of one person.  The best thing you can do is uncover the reasons for the rejection and work out how to mitigate them in the future.

Whatever is rejected, eg a grant for a community project, financial backing for a business proposition, an offer made to an apparently warm prospect; you need to review your approach, make changes and try again.

In this post I shall review some of the reasons for rejection.  In later posts, I shall take a closer look at the impact of failure on individuals and of repeated failure on organisations.

Most Things Don’t Work

Over thirty years in community development, I can testify to this.  I have had my successes but in the main, most things you try, do not work out.

Yes, there are stories of someone who comes up with a new idea, launches it and to everyone’s surprise it works first time!  This is very rare.  People who achieve this often share their story and so there seems to be a lot of success about.  There isn’t; most things fail.

Usually success follows repeated attempts and periods of being stuck.  If you fail and persist, you have to dig deeper but will also have a better understanding of what you are trying to do.  The longer you keep going, the more likely you are to stumble upon an approach that works.

If it’s not working, change your approach!

So, the message is, keep going.  Every failure is a step on the road to success.  With one exception.

Don’t keep doing the same thing, if it doesn’t work.  I was recently asked to organise a meeting, even though I knew the timescale was too short to publicise it properly and bring people in.  I went ahead against my better judgement.  No-one turned up.

Let’s pause and consider this for a moment.  I’m sure it was a bad idea to run it so soon.  Is it possible my pessimism contributed to its failure?  Maybe I would have done better had I put my heart and soul into pushing the meeting.

I don’t know.  But I do know the reasons for failure are multi-factorial.  If I’d had time to market it properly, maybe my attitude would still have undermined numbers.  And maybe the event itself was not attractive.

But here’s a thought.  How can you turn a failure to your advantage?  Is it possible we miss opportunities because we focus on the immediate failure and so do not see the bigger picture?

Failure to Close

Failure to close plagues the lives of many people starting out in business.  We do  not know how to bring a business conversation to a satisfactory close.

There are two positive ways to close.  On yes and on no.

A yes, so long as it is a real yes, is clearly cause for celebration.  It comes at the end of a complex sequence of actions and sometimes we make a mistake (or several).  If we don’t know what works we’re working in the dark.  There are plenty of guides about how to close.  Use Daniel Pink’s book “To Sell is Human“, as a thorough starting point.

A no, means you need to see the bigger picture.  This might be a “no for now” or a no forever.  Whichever it is, can this person support you in other ways?  Will they sign up to your list, recommend you to others, write a testimonial?  I have found it incredibly difficult to get even these results primarily because I forget to ask (another example of failure to close!)

Bad Clients

I’m afraid some clients misbehave.  It goes with the territory.  The first thing to remember is, if you don’t feel comfortable, don’t take them on.

Misbehaviour has many manifestations.  It might range from saying yes and not meaning it, just so they can get out of the room or perhaps changing their mind and failing to tell you or apologise.  Others simply cannot work with you.  They are forever seeking insights from other practitioners and throwing their (not necessarily good) advice in your face.  Or they just misbehave.  After one particular client, I decided if a client can’t conduct themselves respectfully I will end our contract.

Bad client behaviour is not your fault.  Sadly, some people simply lack the social skills they need to conduct business properly.  If you are a client and not happy, then say so.  I have just done this with someone who is supporting me.  I’ve written to point out a weakness in their approach.  I haven’t ranted or demanded my money back or even blamed them.  All you need to say is, I followed your advice and this happened, can we discuss it?  After all, how do I know it was not my fault?  Blaming others for our own failings is a common human response to failure.

Do be aware of one other thing.  If you negotiate a contract with an organisation, you may find you are not working with the person who agreed the contract.  You don’t know if the person who manages the contract agrees with it and you may not know what internal struggles are taking place in the organisation.  This possibility may be worth discussing at the time you agree the contract.

I’m sure I haven’t discussed all the reasons for failure.  What are your stories of failure?  What have you found can go disastrously wrong?

How to Finish Your Project

It may seem odd to move from keeping your project going to closure!  But perhaps we all benefit from understanding how to finish our projects.  The community sector is particularly prone to organisations that continue well past their sell-by date.

What I say here about finishing applies just as much to businesses as it does to community organisations.   The big issue for businesses is cash flow.  Failure to make sure cash flow can bring about a sudden end to a business. Maybe cash flow is not so crucial for community organisations; it depends on how they are funded.

Equally though healthy cash flow can keep a business going even though it has lost sight of its purpose.  Perhaps most business people would see healthy cash flow as a reason to keep something going and perhaps build a new strategy upon it.  That is a good and proper response and reinforces my main point, planning is important.  If it is inevitable a business or organisations must close, then plan it.  Don’t leave a bad organisation to drift.

Planned Closure

Do not be afraid to close an organisation or business.  It is better to read the signs and close than allow your organisation to drift into oblivion.  The first thing you need to do is decide.  Then plan how you’re going to do it and do it.

Planned from the Start

Some organisations are able to plan closure from the start!  They exist to meet some goal and once it is complete, the organisation closes.  This means closure can be included in the original business plan.

There can be many advantages to working this way.  Everyone knows what they’re letting themselves in for and understands their role through to the end.  There are no unrealistic expectations and perhaps a focus on team work and not so much organisational reputation.

Of course, this is perhaps easiest where an organisation has several projects on the go and needs to keep stock and end projects once they have completed their purpose.  The organisation itself has an open-ended lifespan but plans projects with life-cycles.  Loyalty might be to a team of people and not so much to what they are doing.

Planned as a Response to Changes.

Perhaps most businesses and organisations do not have a planned life-cycle.  This is not a problem so long as they produce and interpret management accounts.  Management accounts enable managers to see trends and respond to them.  Many organisations keep going for many years because they monitor and respond to trends.

When it becomes clear your organisation is no longer viable, you need a plan.  It is not a case of keep going until the bank account hits zero.  You need to factor in the costs of closing.  Staff will need statutory redundancy notice and are entitled to redundancy payments.  It is possible to calculate roughly what these costs are likely to be and many organisations hold this sum in reserve.  This means they know they can cover the costs of closing, so long as they don’t spend their reserves.

Organisations registered with Companies House have limited liability and this is a possibility for community organisations as well as businesses.  This means members are responsible for business failure but only to a limited amount, commonly £1 or £10.  There are various ways you can manage this and it is always worth considering options where you have significant cash flow or staff.

Unplanned Closure

Without management accounts organisations are flying blind.  You really don’t want to do this, especially if you employ staff.  Handing them their cards on a Friday night, without notice is not a good place to be in.  Don’t kid yourself, you cannot steer the organisation away from bankruptcy at the last-minute.

Usually the reason for unplanned closure is cash flow gets out of hand.  On paper, you might be an affluent company, but if you have no cash in hand, you will be in trouble.  You may have plenty of clients on your books but if income from them is not available, you may find paradoxically you must close even though in time money will come in.

I’m not going to go into all the reasons why cash flow fails.  Let’s just say management accounting should pick up issues before they become critical.  If you’re not chasing your debtors, your accountant should point this out!

Forced Closure

With no planning and no monitoring you can put yourself in danger of breaking the law.  This is why forced closure is not desirable and should be avoided at all costs.  There are end creditors who will insist upon payment.  If you use management accounts you can schedule these payments into your financial planning.

The problem for many communities is businesses may be reluctant to pursue money because they know if their debtor go under, they will not receive the full amount.  You can end up with chains of businesses, where they’re waiting for someone at one end to pay their bill, so that the finance can be passed down the line.

If the business that owes the money at one end goes under, it can take down several other businesses, even businesses with which it has never had relations.  When we fully appreciate the impact on others of our own failure, perhaps there will be a greater incentive to plan and monitor performance.

What is your experience of well-managed project closure?  Do you have any advice?

How to Keep Your Project Going

How to keep your project going over the long haul is a challenge.  What do you need?  Let’s assume you’re delivering a service people want because it is a good service.  Your business or organisation is growing and you have to manage a team plus various stakeholders who want a say in it.  Here are three aspects of your business or organisation you may need to consider:

Governance

Here are three simple questions:

Who Decides?

This is day-to-day management and it should be delegated to a manager or small management team.  They will usually be employed by a project or entrepreneur.  The aim is to be crystal clear about who is in charge.

Normally, managers contribute to the strategic direction of their project too because they have experience and are closest to the work.  However, they should not have the final say on strategic direction.

Who Decides Who Decides?

There is usually a board of Trustees or Directors who appoint the project managers, to be accountable to them.  They debate and decide overall strategic direction, usually advised by the managers.

Where there is a partnership, there may be a small group who make the decisions.  The main drawback is, what happens should an individual at the top of the organisation be unable to continue in that role?

Who Decides Who Decides Who Decides?

The Board is usually appointed at an Annual General Meeting, made up of members who have an interest in the work.  For a business these may be share-holders.

Usually, a constitution of some type governs how people are appointed to the governing body.  There are many different approaches to governance of  businesses and other organisations but this general three-fold pattern is common.  Any business or organisation that doesn’t have it needs to consider how it addresses the missing elements.

Those familiar with my three function model of community development, will see parallels.  In reverse order, these three questions parallel the model’s functions of representation, planning and delivery.

Financial Control

Every business knows management accounts are important or at least if it doesn’t, it soon finds out.  Many community organisations struggle for years without financial management information.

Let’s be clear.  If you do not see management accounts, you have no idea what financial resources you have or any sense of where they are heading.

Lack of financial knowledge is a problem for businesses as much as it is for community organisations.  It is not merely about keeping good accounts but being aware of how to finance the work and how to build an asset base so the business or organisation can keep going.

Marketing

Marketing is how you tell people why you are there; explain the reasons for your existence.  It is how you communicate with your market and help them understand their problem and your solution.

You may need several marketing campaigns. Besides people who use your services, there may be others who provide resources for your use.  Suppliers, if they understand your cause, may be able to put good deals your way.

Partners need to understand what you are doing.  They can provide better support if they understand your offer.  This can reduce duplication, although in my experience, once you lead the way, there can be any number of copycat projects.

Conclusion

If you pay attention to these three aspects during the earliest stages and review them from time to time, you will minimise the issues that crop up for poorly managed organisations.  You will be in a position to respond positively to setbacks and tackle problems as they arise.

What else have you found you need over the long haul?

How to Start a Project

This is the first of ten posts inspired by ideas in the book, “Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t”.  I plan to review it at some stage!  Everything I write under these headings are my own thoughts.

What is a Project?

A project is a discrete piece of work and community development projects are usually started by local residents, who have a problem they want to tackle.  They may have approached their local authority or other agencies and found there are no resources, so their only option is to take it on themselves.

Businesses usually start a project to solve other peoples’ problems.  They won’t necessarily think of their project as a project, perhaps preferring terms like offers, products or services.

It is interesting to compare these two.  Perhaps, the business appears to be more altruistic.  Businesses certainly can be altruistic but they usually deliver their offers in return for money.  The community project is usually run by volunteers, who manage a paid worker or a team of workers.  Note someone gets paid for both approaches; the source of payment is different.

There are pros and cons to both approaches.  The community project is usually free at point of delivery and can target services for people who cannot afford to pay for them.  The business is potentially sustainable.  It aims to do better than break even and if successful can continue to deliver its offer indefinitely.

How to Get Started

Every project is different, so you need to tread carefully but there are three things you need.  You may need more than these but they all need to be in place for any chance of success.

A Market with a Problem

In community development, we don’t think about markets.  A market implies people who are able to pay for a service.  Some community projects do charge for their services but they are seldom conceived as businesses.

I’ve covered the need for a market with a problem many times, indeed my current Monday post sequence is about your market’s problem.  It is crucial you understand your market’s problem for the success of your project.  So, the market may be elderly people, who have loneliness as their problem.  They might have other problems, eg low-income, ill-health.  For whichever of these is the main problem, you must market a project that addresses the problem, eg befriending, advice or medical services.

An Idea

So, let’s run with loneliness.  The next thing you need is an idea.  You know you need some sort of befriending service.  How are you going to deliver that with the resources available to you?  Whilst befriending may be the primary need, according to your data, what else might your market need?

So, befriending could be through teams of volunteers who visit people in their homes, offering company whilst alert to other needs a customer may have.  Alternatively, it could be a lunch club.  People picked up, taken to a venue, given lunch and perhaps entertainment with an opportunity to meet others.  Or perhaps a self-help project where the customers draw on their own resources to build community.

An original and realistic idea will help you find resources.

Resources

Once you have an idea, you can find resources.  The first point to note is once you commit to an idea, it becomes easier to find resources because you and others know what you need.  Three main places to look:

  • Your existing resources. Many organisations have limited resources they can deploy to start new projects.  It’s worth noting what is available because once you choose an idea you may see value in things that you undervalued before.  See my sequence about community assets (scroll down).
  • What can you raise by announcing the idea? A business might seek partners with resources.  A community organisation might launch an appeal.  This might be for a pilot, to test whether an idea is in fact viable.
  • Seek external support, usually through grants. Businesses might be seeking investments.  Grant awarding bodies usually want evidence of innovation.  You need to be able to show how the idea uses local resources, delivers a needed service and has local support.  Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean a project has to be unique in every respect.  A lunch club can still be innovative; it depends on how you set about it and the unique characteristics of your idea.

So, get these three in place and you have a project.  The next thing to consider is how you keep it going!

In your experience, have you found you need anything else to start a project?