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I stumbled across the concept of social enterprise when trying to find a more fulfilling way to live my life. After almost 25 years of commercial, competitive sales and marketing I’d had enough of winning market share this year, only for it to be won back by my rivals the next.
It all seemed rather pointless and even when I had my own marketing agency; the projects we were hired to deliver paid the bills, but left the world pretty much untouched. OK, so more people were taking holidays on yellow coaches, rather than on blue ones. But did it really matter? I was just another middle aged guy who could sell and write marketing copy.
And then I spotted how some people were running businesses that where it was as important to make a difference as it was to make a profit. They called themselves social entrepreneurs and put people first. They had passion and a determination to lead positive social change, rather than just talk about.
I spent the next few years freelancing; using my sales and marketing skills to make a difference. I won a reputation for doing what appeared impossible. I made a few mistakes, made a living and changed quite a few lives along the way. I even wrote a book to help others learn from those early experiences.
But I kept learning and on reflection, would write that book very differently today. There’s just too much bullshit talked about social enterprise. There are simply too many people who make it seem complicated, often because they have courses to sell or funders to satisfy.
In 2013 I put my reputation on the line and started a social venture myself. It sets out to create opportunity for young people failed by the education system. We challenge convention and do things very differently to the commercial players in our marketplace.
I realised that social enterprise is just a phrase, not a science. What matters, is having a stack of helpful tips, set out in an easy to read format, free of jargon and saying it like it is.
That book is being written right now. That’s why you’re reading this, so that you can think, hmm, that sounds interesting and pledge your support. You don’t need to ditch the day job, at least not yet. This book is packed with things you can do right now, as well as all you need to know if you decide one day take the plunge and throw your all into changing the world.
Learn from my experience and by-pass the pitfalls. Life can be better sooner than you think because from tomorrow, you can start to be the change you want to see.
Everybody wants to be more successful. But not everybody describes success using the same words. I describe myself as a social entrepreneur because for me, making the world a better place is as important as making a living. You probably agree, or you'd not have picked up this book.
But you might also say that's OK for me because I've earned enough over the years to no longer need to put earning at the top of my ‘to do’ list. That's true, but if I look back over my life, helping others has given me more satisfaction than being nasty because I want to make money.
Maslow, in his well-known hierarchy of needs, pointed out that if you are desperate for food and shelter, you're not likely you give much thought to the needs of others. But once you’ve got the basics covered, you certainly will become aware of the impact of your actions.
So even if you've not yet started a social enterprise, you will already have, but may not have noticed, many of the attributes of a social entrepreneur. No commercial transaction is sustainable unless all participants benefit in some way. The simple fact is, that the more you do business in a way that benefits others, the more business you will do, and the more you will benefit too.
Like autism, social entrepreneurship sits on a spectrum. It’s not a case or you are or you’re not. It’s a case of where you find yourself on the social entrepreneurship spectrum.
Barry Allard worked in the housing department at Norwich City Council. He started a project that helped homeless people gain independence. After six years, with the Council’s approval, he spun the venture out as a community interest company called LEAP which he now leads.www.norwichleap.co.uk
So having said all that, here's your first checklist. It's to help you build your confidence for the giant leap you feel compelled to take. It need not be very big, not for now anyway. It needn’t be a leap into the unknown, but more a step into your future. But first, you need faith, so, here goes.
I describe myself as a social entrepreneur, business author and campaigner. I choose to work independently and spend a lot of my time helping people overcome the barriers that others have placed in their way. I’ve been quite good at it over the years, even though I say so myself. I have something of a reputation for making things happen after the so called experts have given up and gone home.
I also love writing and this is my 20th book. It’s the first with Unbound, who have what I reckon is an astounding business model. They also have a pretty cool base, in an old canal-side warehouse. Writing with Unbound gives me a connection with you my reader no other publisher can equal. To put it simply, you and I can chat as I write the book that then drops through your letterbox.
I’m always learning and enjoy challenging both myself and the conventions that so stifle innovation. I’m a Fellow of the RSA, and running for election as a Trustee this summer. I’m also Patron of my local Relate charity, a vice patron of the Community Foundation I helped set up, and a Trustee of watchdog outfit Healthwatch Norfolk.
And as if I don’t have enough to do, I celebrated my 60th birthday by buying myself a piano and starting lessons. I can promise you I can write far better than I can play!