10 rules for creating a start up It is only when I recently got asked to give a talk to students about setting up a social enterprise that I realised I should put my experience of creating three social enterprises into some sort of coherent structure. Here are my top 10 recommendations for anybody thinking of starting a social enterprise. 1) Follow your passion You are about to endeavour on a rewarding but challenging venture in which there will be hard times. It is essential that you passionately believe in your enterprise and can promote it with utter conviction and authenticity. If you can do this you are well on your way to being successful. 2) Be bold at the beginning People invest in people. If you are passionate about your idea and can promote it in a way that makes both it and you attractive to investors then you are on to a winner. If you are in this fortunate position the danger is to undersell and under ask. Your life will be much easier if you can get a large chunk of initial investment rather than having to live from hand to mouth. Shortage of cash will cause stress and might lead to short-term decisions you later regret. 3) Trust your instincts Huge amounts of time can be lost chasing empty promises or leads. Trust your instincts, if you think something is not going to come to fruition turn your attention to other opportunities. If somebody really wants to work with you they can always come back. If you are uncertain seek advice from others with relevant experience they will be able to provide impartial guidance. 4) Cash is King Even if you have a brilliant idea and are expanding rapidly lack of cash will kill your start-up. Keeping tight tabs on cashflow is the most important thing to do from the outset. Always be aware that people will not pay on time, that there might be unpleasant VAT bills lurking just over the horizon and that things never happen as quickly as you expect. 5) Impact is more important than turnover As a social enterprise you will face the constant juggling act of ensuring that you maximise your social impact whilst at the same time having to pay bills. Measuring impact is complex, whereas measuring financial performance is relatively easy. Consequently it is easy to slip into a default position of measuring performance solely on finances which could reduce the positive impact you are delivering to society. 6) Social media has changed everything Social media has totally changed the dynamics for start-ups. It is easier and cheaper than ever to get your message out but as a result there is a huge amount of noise to cut through. Clever content is king. Great campaigns will spread your reach and influence rapidly. Ensure you use all social media channels and as much visual material as possible. 7) Look out not in Successful start-ups are agile, responding rapidly to things that are happening in society. This involves getting out and about meeting people, having conversations and being visible. All of this requires energy and some level of confidence. It is all too easy to slip into a routine of sorting out administrate stuff that needs doing in the office, rather than having an external presence – this is likely to lead to decline. 8) Do Favours Time is precious and there is always a tendency to concentrate purely on activities for which you can see an immediate return. Try not to get sucked into this trap – always looks to try and help people where you can through introductions, ideas, etc. It is amazing how many times this goodwill is returned in unexpected and positive ways. 9) Be open and honest Creating a start-up is difficult. There will be times that things don’t work out and when you genuinely wonder how you are going to pay the bills. At these times be open and honest with your key suppliers, banks, etc. Your relationship with them will be healthier and stronger if you keep them informed at all stages. 10) Look after yourself The success or failure of your start-up will largely depend on you. Exhaustion and illness does nobody any good. Make sure you look after yourself, keep trying to have fun and make sure you build in time for the things that you enjoy.