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Helping your community enterprise to survive and thrive

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What is a community enterprise?

A community enterprise is a sustainable business that meets a need in a community by relying on people buying what you’re selling – whether that’s products or services. The things you sell, or the activities required of you, to create your products and services, or both, will help you meet that need.

Each participant of Village SOS gets a guide to creating a successful Community Enterprise. We’ve pulled out some of the elements to help you start thinking about your idea. As with all tools it provides a framework for helping you think about what’s important and, as with all tools, the right one is the one that works for you in terms of developing your ideas. However, whatever the tool you should be very cautious if you find yourself with broad areas you don’t have answers to.

Making the most of your assets

Assets come in all shapes and sized some tangible some intangible and some more obvious than others. Whether your assets are buildings, equipment, land, people, heritage and history, two key questions need answering. What do we have? How could we use it to benefit our community?

Selling the vision

When you think you have a good idea that’s viable you need to get the rest of the community behind you. You will probably need them as customer or supplier to make your business model work and you will also want a few able compatriots to lend a hand along the way.

Hatching your plan

This is where you commit the details to paper to provide you with a clear plan and a roadmap to get you where you need to go. It should test the need and that market exists for your idea, that your solution is the right option and the practicalities stack up – do you need to turn over the GDP of Luxembourg in your first week or recruit more volunteers than the Olympics? Probably time for a rethink.

Capital Ideas (finding the money)

The idea is this is about your start-up capital, the money you need to get your enterprise off the ground. It then generates its own income to keep going. Tradition grants can be an option. Loans, particularly those designed for community enterprises with low rates can be a good option.   Shares can be a great way of raising capital but also an opportunity for the community to own what you are doing in a very real way.

Cash-flow is often the killer of many small businesses, so alongside any start-up costs you need to have sufficient operating capital to make sure you can pay people whilst you are waiting for others to pay you.

Building a brand

A brand is more than a logo. It’s about how people think and feel about what you are doing. What is it that makes you different and why should people buy into (hopefully in cash terms) to what you are selling? Once you have this, marketing is about letting the people you are targeting know about that message. Don’t think if it just in terms of advertising - there are lots of ways to market what you do, from loyalty schemes and press releases, to running events and sponsorship.

The small print

In many other frameworks this might be given titles like governance, licenses and permissions and is often at the very start. It’s still important to make sure you are set up in a way that is run safely and legally. Legal structure will be important to ensure you are able to trade in the way you want and maximise the benefits whilst minimising your liabilities. For many used to being involved in community organisations, tax and VAT will be considerations for the first time.  Depending on what you are trading there may be a range of rules you need to follow. This is certainly an area worth getting advice on.

Keep on running

Believe it or not, setting something up is often the easy part. Keeping it going can be harder. Your enthusiasm and that of your team and the community is one of your greatest assets. How will you keep people engaged and motived for the long-term? Alongside this are the nuts and bolts of your operations that will make sure you operate as efficiently as possible, know how well you are doing and stay the right side of the law.

Joining the dots

Once you are running successfully you may start thinking what’s next, it’s also important not to stand still if you want to stay successful. A great way to develop is by linking up with others. Are there ways you can support each other by cross-promoting, sharing suppliers, people or customers? Is there an opportunity for you to expand, either by delivering different products to your customers, or increasing the number of customers you have? And can you help inspire another community and share what you’ve learnt?