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Working in Partnership with Councils

Judgement Day at the #LGCAwards: We were really happy when asked to be part of the Welwyn Hatfield Council presentation to the Local Government Chronicle Awards panel in #London.  During January the team (composed of Welwyn Hatfield Council and Red Potato staff) put in the time to prepare and rehearse our pitch to the judges.  It was great to have the support of the Welwyn Hatfield Council CEO who quizzed us hard, before approving our final presentation.   Red Potato had helped the Council engage local businesses with an innovative scheme for young people to gain experience of being an entrepreneur.  The young people gained valuable experience which will help them in their future careers and the businesses gained a useful insight into the mindset of “Millennials”, as customers and potential employees.   Red Potato has conducted initial research that shows that a typical Return on Investment for businesses who participated as a staggering 81.8%! In terms of cash that means for every £100 a local business invested in the programme, they could receive benefits worth upto £500! If you’d like to discuss how we could work with your local council and local businesses to achieve similar results do get in touch.   In the meantime we anxiously await the results of the LGC judging process….

On behalf of Red Potato we wish Welwyn Hatfield Council the best of luck, for when the final awards are announced in March.

 

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Business studies courses don’t always produce the best entrepreneurs

What do flight safety information, dog treats and Ghanaian cosmetics have in common? If you said they provide inspiration for the latest crop of entrepreneurial ideas from students at a leading UK university then congratulations.

Inspiration can come from different sources – sometimes life experiences can be the reason people set up in business. Recently Red Potato helped to deliver business Bootcamp services at a leading UK university. The students on the Bootcamp came from a variety of countries, different nationalities and perhaps significantly many were not studying business studies.

The course being studied was less important than the business idea. The most impressive business ideas – think passenger safety, pampered pets and Ghana – were all solving a problem or had recognised a market opportunity. The inquisitive, innovative and in some cases idealistic vision of the students was more important than the course being studied. Crucially the best students were able to talk about that vision in everyday language -not management speak.

Funnily enough despite the students coming from all over the world, few focused on geographical markets. Instead there was a natural assumption that they would build a business which would be able to serve customers from all over the world from “day 1”.

After the initial flurry of excitement, not all the ideas will develop into sustainable long term businesses. Some would-be entrepreneurs will find more (financially) rewarding careers working for someone else and “Business studies” will give them an important career qualification for these roles. Good luck to all the students as they launch on this exciting adventure. We hope that the students will stay in touch and remain inquisitive as they decide to brave the “enormous ups and deep downs” of running their own business. Here at Red Potato we believe the value of practical entrepreneurship education is not always obvious but it can be demonstrated over the long term. That is why we are committed to delivering measurable long term outcomes by working in partnership with further and higher education organisations.DSC03679

 

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What does the business value? The 3 reasons why clear values are essential for business profitability

Jay Wheeler, Red Potato.   www.red-potato.com

Why would an independent business owner want to take the time-consuming, uncomfortable journey of developing, interpreting and running a business in accordance with clear values? Because ultimately it effects the bottom line.  This article shows why, when it comes to business values, the journey is as important as the destination.

In many corporate organisations there is a cynicism about business values. The cynicism is usually something to do with the hypocrisy of the organisation saying something like “we value and respect our employees” and then making those “valuable” staff redundant in a less than respectful way. One person told us they received an email to meet “Human Resources” to be told their role is likely to be affected by the latest reorganisation and they are on “gardening leave” with immediate effect! And there are far worse stories…

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So given this discredited approach, why would fiercely independent business owners want the additional uncomfortable process of developing and interpreting values for a variety of stakeholders – and also crucially running a business in accordance with these values?  As Keith Shephard, Policy Associate with the ELGH consultancy says, “values have to be evident in the day to day business to have any meaning…values simply imposed top down will not carry the same weight as those developed through deliberation”.   This takes time and resource – both of which are in limited supply.

In this article we will look at how “business values” can enable an independent small business (SMB) stand out in a crowded market place, and by standing out (- in a good way!) from its competitors ultimately win more profitable sales, which whether we like it or not is the bottom line for most SMBs, as this infographic from the Federation of Small Businesses shows.

First of all what do we mean by “values”? The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines values as “the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or the usefulness of something”. That though is only the first of six different definitions in the OED! If the dictionary isn’t illuminating, perhaps we can turn to our shared understanding of values. Ask a group of British businesspeople about what are British values, and you’ll probably hear things like “fair play” and “stiff upper lip”, perhaps said slightly “tongue-in- cheek”. The reason for the sheepish grin? Well most of us know that values change with time, and maybe British values should also include “instant gratification” and other more modern values to reflect the lives we lead today.

Maybe it is easier to lampoon, correction “focus”, on big corporates and their value statements. Predictably there are lots of howlers with bland statements about accountability, leadership, integrity etc. However it doesn’t all have to be corporate b.s. Virgin Media has some interesting value statements we particularly like the “insatiable curiosity”!

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Moving on from corporate enterprises, do SMBs really need explicit value statements, don’t small businesses have values as part of their DNA: If you run your own business, everyone knows you, what you stand for and what you believe. One of my colleagues, Mike Meldrum of Mortgage Mine, always ends his presentation with the words “Far too tight to let any deal go down without a fight” – and everyone who knows Mike believes him!

But what about when your SMB company needs to reach out beyond the immediate network. Do your business partners understand and appreciate your business values? When the company expands and new employees join, will they be able to say what the business stands for? This point is made by Michael Scutt, Head of Employment and Dispute Resolution at solicitors, Crane and Staples…”It’s when businesses grow that they risk losing sight of why they exist. For small businesses the challenge may be in communicating those values – which is why social media provides such a powerful tool.”   In summary if your values are also your business values, the company will always revolve around you and this could well make it difficult to expand and grow the business.

Which brings us to the three reasons why clear business values are essential to SMB business profitability:
1. Your customers want to feel some affinity with your company. If customers share some of your values they may purchase more of your products and services

2. Most businesses operate in crowded competitive markets. By having clear values you can make your business stand out from the crowd. By standing out from the crowd, your business is likely to receive more enquiries, which can be converted to greater sales

3. Clear values can help build a dialogue with your customers. For instance Red Potato has a strong partnership focus to our work, this is reflected in our values and this informs all our customer engagements.

We hope this article has helped stimulate a renewed discussion about business values and small businesses.   The article discusses the link between clear business values and “The Bottom Line”.   But is there more to business than profitability?  In our next article we’re going to look more broadly at business values  and their wider context within the communities we serve.

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How Local Strategic Partnerships can help stimulate (very) local economic change

Much of the economic debate is about the role of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPS).  LEPs have the critical mass and potential access to resources to drive change and attract major investment to an area.  So what role if any do the Local Strategic Partnerships (LSP) have?  At a time of pressure on public sector finances, some local authorities are wondering what contribution the LSP makes to local wellbeing.   Perhaps one answer is for LSPs to remain hyper local and focus on economic change for individuals and neighbourhoods.    What follows is a brief description of how one LSP has addressed this challenge.

The Welwyn Hatfield Alliance (LSP) is located centrally in Hertfordshire, England.  The Borough includes the new towns of Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City aswell as several large villages, overall the population was estimated to be 114,400 in mid 2010

The Council has had to reduce its overall budget, at a time when demand for some services has increased due to the effects of the economic recession.  The focus of the Council is to provide strong community leadership.   This includes helping local people to compete for local jobs and supporting local business.

Action

Red Potato worked with partners from the Welwyn Hatfield Alliance (Local Strategic Partnership) to bring a new perspective on youth unemployment and entrepreneurship.   The aim was to replace, “silo” based economic development with a business driven campaign to improve the local economy and entrepreneurship.

Result

This is what we have done together:

  1. Set up a work placement scheme in which those on work placement are supported by an accredited mentoring programme
  2. Attracted FTSE100 CEOs to discuss with students their vision for business
  3. Local schools and college students have competed to raise the most money from a business idea for local charities
  4. Engaged local small and medium sized employers in apprenticeship schemes
  5. Attracted new employers to be involved in local Jobs Fairs

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Are we asking the right questions about growth?

Much debate about the nature of capitalism, post Euro-Zone crisis, credit crunch, and decline in company ethics.

For many years we have blindly followed a model which rewards consumption and a “throw away” society.    If there is anything positive about the current economic crisis, it is that we are now thinking more about how we have got to the situation where banks are too big to fail.

Maybe we need a different model, which rewards companies and organisations for the social good they create.   Not so idealistic when you look at some of the really innovative social enterprises which are operating across the world.