20 questions: advice for social entrepreneurs

Craig Dearden Phillips, CEO of Speaking Up and general all-round wunderkind, is not content with running a leading social enterprise and winning awards…, so is also writing a book to be out later this year. As part of the writing process, Craig has contacted lots of social entrepreneurs / people who work in the field and asked them to answer the following 20 questions. I thought I’d post up my answers (please note that Craig asked for brevity, hence the one-line responses):

1. Why did you take the plunge and set up on your own?
[answering for previous org I used to run]. Exciting, own boss, lots of different areas, challenging.

2. What are the best and worse things about doing what you’ve done?
Best is seeing people thrive and succeed. Worst is seeing organisations doing good work fail for eminently avoidable reasons.

3. What is your one golden nugget of business advice for people during their first year of their new venture?
Focus and communicate. Focus on the next action that moves you along the road to where you want to get to each time. And communicate that journey as honestly and positively to as many (relevant) people as possible.

4. How do you cope with setbacks?
Generally, with humour (defence mechanism!)

5. How do you get funders or investors interested in your organisation?
By bringing them in to see what we do, and building relationships.

6. Is there anything you’d advise new social entrepreneurs NOT to do?
Be late for meetings with funders / stakeholders.

7. How has your role changed as the business has grown?
Widened into more areas + more responsibility

8. What have been the challenges of scaling up your business?
Franchising SSE has been tough, but rewarding. Biggest challenge for scaling up (which we’ve seen in students/Fellows as well) is communicating the ethos and culture, which is much more difficult to codify and write down than simply ‘what you do’.

9. How do you maintain energy during the hard times?


10. How do you go about finding the right people and keeping them motivated?
Spotting them some time before, and (again) building relationships. Keeping them is through an open work environment, and culture of honesty and trust.

11. Who inspires you ?
SSE students.

12. What are the key qualities in a successful social entrepreneur?
Vision, passion, persistence, pragmatism, relationship-building, self-awareness.

13. What do you look for in people who work for your ventures?
See above!

14. What do you think is the most effective way to lead a new organization?

Getting people to buy into a shared vision/ strategy, and inspiring them to do so, as well as putting in the hard graft.

15. What do you think people need to think about most when they are starting up?
Governance – legal structure – funding / investment. (All interlinked). + "Do I really want to do this?"

16. How have you gone about building a reputation?
Primarily, through consistency of message and behaviour.

17. How do you go about planning for the future?
Strategic planning, awareness of staff / recruitment issues, discussions with board etc.

18. How do you balance your social and financial goals?
Through measurement and evaluation, and debate and scrutiny internally on key decisions.

19. How do you know when its time to move on from a venture?
When you are bored of it (and vice versa).

20. What was your biggest mistake?
Ever agreeing to be part of a three-person leadership team!

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