lJcak3w9Many of us dream of running our own business.  In fact, according to a recent survey by Barclays, as many as 10.9 million Britons harbour a business idea only to never follow through. The survey of 2,000 UK adults revealed that 33% of 18-34 year olds said they have had an inspirational business idea, but left it at just that.

True, the notion of starting a business can be daunting to most of us, but what about those people who dream about running their own business and tackling society’s biggest challenges at the same time? They are called social entrepreneurs, and we think they are amazing.

Social entrepreneurs have been around for years, but it is in the last ten years that the social enterprise sector has emerged as a real force for good. Essentially, a social enterprise is a business but its ultimate purpose is to alleviate society’s most pressing issues: unemployment, skills shortages, homelessness, climate change, you name it. 

Importantly, and unlike charities, social enterprises want to generate profits in addition to social impact, as it is these profits that allow it to become sustainable and help even more people. But contrary to a private business, profits are re-invested into the business or go directly to a community of need, and cannot be distributed for private gain.

Here at Firstport, we help hundreds of people every year who are thinking about starting a social enterprise. We like to think that we do what it says on the tin- being their first port of call for business advice, seed funding and connections. And the range of social enterprises we have helped is huge: sandwich shops, cycling hubs, community bakeries and even a letting agency.

As you can probably gather by now, almost any business can be a social enterprise. So, if you are inspired and want to know more, or if like another 10 million people, you are already harbouring an idea, here are my top tips to move your idea forward:

  1. This may seem obvious, but tap into all the support that may be available to you. There are local, regional and national organisations (like us) here to help you along the way, so make sure you make contact!
  2. Work hard on getting your business model right. The success or failure of your start up may depend on understanding how your business works inside out. 
  3. Don’t set a company up (yet). May entrepreneurs think that they need to set up a legal structure first and work on the business model later. I would suggest a reverse approach- figure out your business model and then find a structure that allows you to deliver it.
  4. Go out and network. You have probably heard this a million times before, but it’s crucial that you talk about your idea and meet people who can help you make it happen.
  5. Check out funding streams. As a social enterprise, you may be able to apply for grants to get you get started. For example, Firstport runs an awards programme that can help with up to £5000 of start up costs.

Finally, the best tip I can give you is to just do it, yes it will be scary, but help is out there if you want it, so it shouldn’t be a lonely journey. Oh, and if you are wondering where to start, your first port of call is right here!

Colin McMillan is Firstport’s business advisor in Edinburgh. Colin covers the East of Scotland and regularly travels to Aberdeen, Dundee, Fife and the Borders to meet with and support budding social entrepreneurs as they embark on their journey. Find out more about Firstport on www.firstport.org.uk or connect with them via Twitter and Facebook.

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