Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Research File: Finding funding

Any project needs funding and companies and organisations, never more so when starting out with something new. WildeHeads is totally reliant on my own meagre means and is currently not seeking funding of any kind at this point. My aim at this point is to secure work to develop revenue, but I don't rule out the suggestions I making below at some point. So what alternatives are there for organisations with no capital at all?

Grant/Award funding maybe everyone’s first choice, but it isn’t the only option particularly when it comes to starting up a business. If the economic crisis has taught us nothing else, it has highlighted the pitfall of becoming too dependent on them. So loans, borrowing from friends and family, finding an investor, securing a sponsor (or many) and fundraising on the cheap are also options.

Be aware though, that you should only seek funding from sources that fit what it is you’re doing. As it says in the excellent little book of tips from SEEE 80 Enterprise Essentials “Be a train, not an octopus. The octopus organisation drifts with the funding tide, extending a tentacle in whatever direction will attract a grant... A train like organisation knows where it’s going.” (Go to if you want a copy). In effect what this means is that it is wiser to stick to your ethos, aims and direction and not be washed all over the place as that will only serve to confuse everyone, run the risk of stretching your resources to breaking point and push you into areas that are not your area of expertise. It could all too easily spell disaster instead of providing you with the lifeline you seek.

What follows (in no particular order) are ten ideas for creative and community ventures to get you started. As ever, I try to outline the basic principles and do not in any way attempt to cover all possibilities. I simply don't have the time! I try and retweet as many as I happen across, but as I say I am only one person... and am getting busier by the day!

Perhaps too, in a recession we should adopt the attitude of prioritising our needs and avoid being greedy so that everyone can benefit, although in my opinion some enterprises merit as much support as they can get in these challenging times. Those of you who have been following on Twitter will know that I believe money only works when it is moving. Therefore it follows that if we all act as a team to get it moving again then we will actively be doing something proactive and positive about getting out of the recession sooner rather than later. Additionally it can be annoying if a supplier we are used to and get superb deals from goes under, can't it?

Please always remember, I wish to remain impartial and therefore do not and will not endorse or favour any one source over another. You are responsible for your choices and decisions, not I. When I have encountered a good source of support, trust me, I will say so. Yes, due to my time at Trestle and SEEE (among others) I have a soft spot for them, but while I wish them all the best I do know there are other companies and organisations out there who are equally as good. Enough waffle though...

Here's just a taster of some of the links that are out there...

Ten Funding Links
(12 actually if you look closely!)
  1. Big Lottery Fund and Awards for All - the distinction being the size, nature and criteria for the grants/awards
  2. - a good guide on how to find a corporate sponsor
  3. UK Sponsorship -  - a free database to help link you to sponsors. Many sponsors are looking for specific projects to tie in with their own ethos... you might fit their criteria
  4. Find Sponsorship - - as above
  5. Arts Council England - and - for all things creative
  6. UK Business Funding Centre -
  7. The Directory of Social Change - specifically for the voluntary sector
  8. Company Partners - - if you are looking for an investor
  9. Angel Investment Network - - if you are looking for an investor
  10. The Social Investment Business Ltd - - specialising in social enterprises and projects

Criteria is key but so too are Terms and Conditions. For example a sponsor may only require you to place their logo on your marketing material and if their business ethic and activities tie in with yours that’s great. What if they are not a match though? A sponsor or investor may require more than that in exchange which could involve tying you up in all manner of knots - it could end up getting in the way of what you really want to do. The same can also apply for grants/awards and loans.

Research them thoroughly and ask them directly for clear answers. Only say "yes", when you are absolutely comfortable with the Terms and Conditions. Saying “no” to the wrong type of deal will at worst mean putting your plans on hold but will mean you retain control and keep you free for the deal that is the perfect match. Avoid signing up for even a loan without checking the Terms and Conditions thoroughly first. Be careful and read the small print! 

Further sources
The above is by no means the limit of the list of funding that’s still out there. Remember that it is up to you to ensure you meet the deadlines and that you meet the criteria set in all cases.

Simply by tapping in some key words and phrases into Google you can find many more sites (e.g.  “find a sponsor” to get more results). If you are unsuccessful with one source, don’t give up, go and look for another. The more specific you are with your searches, the more appropriate the results should be (e.g. "find a sponsor UK").

You can also make use of Linked In discussion groups, ask for help on Facebook and as I've already suggested post a Tweet asking for suggestions. If you don’t ask, how can you expect a favourable answer?

Please feel free to let others know how you get on by posting a comment here or just add more links particularly if you are unsuccessful as it may be of use to others. By sharing such things we can all help each other through these difficult times. Comments are moderated so I can weed out any abusive or slanderous content and their perpetrators so they don't hit the airwaves!

Good luck out there!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Operations: Planning isn't everything

Planning is not everything, preparation is and it’s an important distinction to make. There is no point planning anything if we then don’t do any or enough preparation to ensure those plans are viable and ultimately realised.

During my working life I have learnt all manner of preparation styles and techniques, partly through training (e.g. teaching and trainer courses) but mostly by observing and taking note of how those above me have worked. There are so many approaches to take it can be confusing.

The first step comes from the idea. This might be a target set or a brainstorming of some kind to find new ideas e.g. for marketing or to resolve a problem. In either case I've found it useful to note as many ideas as possible. Methods used to note ideas include scribbling thoughts down on paper, making lists which can be adapted for group brainstorming in meetings with whiteboards or flip charts.

In groups what tends to happen then is a discussion and a vote on one of two things to explore further. All you need to do then is put them in order and get on with it or so you might think. In some situations that may well be the best option, but for some of the most imaginative ideas I advocate trying a couple of other methods.

Several years ago, back in the days when colour television was still regarded as a luxury item (yes, I'm that old), a chap appeared on BBC2 called Tony Buzan. He ran a series called 'Use Your Head' and a book of the same name was published from that series. Since then Tony Buzan has gone from strengthen to strengthen from just one of the things he highlighted as useful - Mind Maps.

These days there are even computer programmes to enable you to do a Mind Map on your laptop, PC or iPad. Not wanting to do the guy out of business, but the idea is simple. A Mind Map is just another way of noting ideas with doodles, diagrams and pictures attached. If you've not tried doing a Mind Map look them up, and have a go. I'm conscious that younger readers may not have heard of them or of Tony Buzan.

Additionally, in 'Use Your Head' Tony Buzan touched on how to increase your capacity to remember things and how to improve your reading speed. All very handy tools for the busy business person.

I could stop there as for many years that was all I used until I came across another book by a different author. Edward de Bono's 'Six Thinking Hats'.
Suddenly the world of possibilities expanded as in this book you learn that the human brain functions on several levels at the same time and he then goes on to apply that to the world of business.

I won't spoil the book, which is easy to read, but briefly he points out that we don't always think creatively or logically enough in brainstorming sessions. He points out that in those sessions we can also be having an emotional response, a fearful response and a factual response to the ideas proposed and that noticing that can be used to our advantage. These are all valuable attributes and factors that need consideration before plans can start to be formed.

You might think that it would make meetings even longer, but his method of using different acts to access different reactions can result in them being halved in time. Interestingly the Six Thinking Hats thinking is now widely used in America, but less so here in the UK. Are we missing out because of that? Could we be more successful in the UK if we adopted this technique? Who knows, suffice to say it's another tool we could all be using when we need to.

Here's the link to the deBono Group if you want to know more.

Regardless of whether you are planning in a team or on your own, you need information in the form of data; you need to acknowledge why you like or dislike every idea that's noted; you need to be aware of pitfalls etc and that's before you get to deciding what ultimately becomes the logical path to follow indeed it can help define what the most logical path should be.  

From there it becomes a questioning of logical prioritising, but if you want to know more about that... well you can always hire me!

I don't often recommend books, but these two have served me well over many, many years. I hope you find them useful too.

PS: I am hoping to secure a permission for a picture of the cover of 'Six Thinking Hats' and will update this posting to include it once that's given. I don't believe in trading illegally, infringing copyright law or not giving credit where it's due. What others do I am not responsible for.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Article: Collaborative pitfalls

It seems appropriate after my ‘Connecting you’ blog to choose this as a follow up topic to add one or two notes of caution. 

I find it is not only interesting but vital to be aware of how different industry sectors work when it comes to collaboration and projects of a mutual back-scratching nature as I was only recently reminded. One of the reasons why I love companies with a social ethic so much is that this is less of a cause for problems than it, quite necessarily, is for the private sector.

In the private sector businesses have to be extremely careful about what ideas they share, who they team up with and to what level. It becomes extremely risky to share a project if the businesses involved have any crossover services or products because they are both competing for the same client base. All too easy for others to pinch ideas, impress your competitor’s customers to steal them despite all the confidentiality clauses, terms and conditions you may put in place. Sadly there are usually ways round them for the determined (and to my mind), unethical rogues out there.

This highlights not only a huge difference when it comes to organisations in the boarder community sector (which includes the Arts, Sports, Health care, Community Services, Recycling, Transport and all manner of social enterprises), but also a vulnerability when they try to engage with the private sector.

The private sector is better placed to pinch your ideas and try to duplicate the services you offer which can jeopardise your own activities and business – and that is not the least of them of the dangers. Such is private industry’s cut throat nature. Even within the community sector it is wise to show caution and be extremely wary.

My own philosophy is that if we are ethical there can be room for us all, thereby increasing the services we offer in a myriad of different forms to the community and to businesses alike. (Hence the overall nature of my tweets recently). That way there is a choice of service for the community and that way too we collectively stand a better chance of fulfilling the needs and demands of that community or business. This is only becomes more important during a recession such as we are currently in. Some may argue that we’re no longer in a recession, but if not things remain at best exceedingly precarious.

Problems can arise even when two the community sector try to compete for the same customers. For example, imagine two sports centres in the same town. If they offer the exact same facilities at exactly the same standard even down to the equipment and are on the same street, it then becomes a case of who is more successful at marketing and customer service as to which sports centre will survive especially in such times as these. If, however, they offer different services and are distinct in how they deliver them then the community has more choice and both enterprises enhance their chances of survival because both have unique identities through their products, services and delivery.

The same in theory and principle is true of all industry sectors, but as we have an ethic in the UK that  ‘only the fittest should survive’, good examples are comparatively rare when it comes to collaboration.

One of the reasons I’ve always adored working in the community sector in its broadest sense is that it largely gets away from this. Organisations are more willing to pool ideas, brainstorm for solutions that can help the sector as a whole and collaborate on projects because most people within it have a clear sense of their own unique purpose. We share a passion and sense of responsibility for and focus on doing our best for the community we serve and are in business for. The community sector strives to utilise these elements to their maximum advantage and effectiveness so that organisations end up being supportive of each other.

A good example of this is the recent Transforming Local Infrastructures bid where a variety of organisations came together to thrash out their best ideas for securing funding for a common purpose. Admittedly a condition of the bid was that no one organisation could apply, but it illustrates how good we are at collaborating when we need to.

Such is my attitude of ‘the more the merrier’ that if there are other individuals and companies out there wanting to deliver the same kinds of services that WildeHeads offers, my attitude is ‘great’ because the community needs as much support as it can get and one person and company alone can’t do it all. In the future I hope to secure enough work through WildeHeads to take on apprentice entrepreneurs so they can learn to set one up for themselves.

A note of caution with the community sector
This is not to say though that the community sector is entirely free from having to be competitive. As outlined already too much of how you operate can be risky and ideas need to be guarded and protected extremely carefully if you want to avoid having to get into the realms of law suits over things like intellectual copyright. Then too there is of course competition for grant funding and subsidies, but overall the community sector is respectful, collaborative, friendly and supportive – a sector that I’m proud to be part of because it really does capitalise on the positive aspects of the infinite number of ways it has of delivering it’s services which enables it to adopt the ‘room for all’ attitude. Long may it continue to do so and I hope the private sector can learn from this in these difficult times.

Finally a reminder that the best way out of a recession is to keep whatever money there is moving as much as possible and that teamwork is the best way to do it. More on that anon though. Stay positive and keep connecting as that way we will always increase our chances of new possibilities. 

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Founders Thoughts: Recession fighting

Sadly since launching the WildeHeads website I've had to change and adapt plans.

The plan was to set up a new venture to assist community enterprises and initiatives with facilitation services during these trying and difficult times on a contract basis. I confess I haven't been following my own suggestions in 'Connecting You' by tweeting regularly and promoting WildeHeads.

The reason for this change is quite simple. The house move that was to result in capital to fund this venture turned out to be unwise to proceed with, so I pulled out. Without funding it's impossible to staff WildeHeads to offer the range of services as planned... yet.

It doesn't preclude me accepting contracts on a freelance basis and operating as a sole trader, but at present my personal priority is to secure work by any means. Hence my recent notifications on Linked In stating, 'open to offers'.

Ever one to find positives from the ashes of any disappointment it does give me the opportunity to build up this blogsite with postings that may be of help to one and all to help us all work through this recession. It provides me with opportunities to gain even more experience for when WildeHeads is in a better position to launch properly. In business, getting the timing right before proceeding is crucial. So while some readers may criticise me as 'a failure to start or deliver', I hope others who are more experienced will realise that my decision is a prudent one to ensure that I can deliver when asked to.

Personally I have no time for critics who do not find out facts as to me they are mere gossip mongering attention seekers with probably a whole host of psychological issues that need addressing. Their motivation for such behaviour, in my opinion, ought to always be questioned.

Of course, not being equipped with a crystal ball I have no idea as to what WildeHeads may or may not turn into in the months and years to come. If nothing else it provides me with a company name to invoice under for any freelance work I undertake. It may turn into something more than a sole-trader or may not. I hope though, that readers find the articles of this blogsite to be of interest and of some use to trigger ideas for solutions. I like to think that in that sense I am doing my bit to help us stay positive to be able to recover from the recession we are currently in and all effected by as quickly as possible.

As a survivor of the 1980s recession, one who successfully ran a company through it, my personal top tip in that regard are:

1. In as far as is possible keep money moving as much as possible and trade, consume and act as normal. Yes budget but don't stop whatever money you happen to have moving. Hoarding it will only prolong the recession and the longer a recession lasts, the harder it becomes to recover.

2. Negotiate credit terms to help your cashflow as much as you can, but be careful of interest rates and interest payments that may apply.

3. Work as team players with customers and suppliers. Time to deploy a wartime team spirit as what is a recession if not a war against poverty and collapse? We are all in this together and we all need each other to be able to survive and recover.

Examples you might want to consider include sharing resources, materials, equipment, work premises and staff. A printing requirement can come down in cost if you share the run with someone else by agreeing to the same stock and ink - the printer won't mind if it means the difference to securing work or not indeed, many printers promote this exact service.

4. Ensure you are hot on your credit control. If new clients do not pay promptly, refuse further work (even if in progress) until that payment is secured. That said, you might be able to offer 60 days credit to your regular customers for no charge as a one off arrangement if they need it, but NEVER offer 60 days credit to unknown parties.

5. Be very aware of rogues and scam-masters. There are companies and individuals who seize upon the opportunity to profit from other people's misfortune. To them a recession is a goldmine. The rule still applies, if it looks too good to be true, it generally is unless it is from a reputable body/source e.g. government grants.

Be cautious by all means, but be realistic and logical in all your decisions. Do not fall into the trap of making wild assumptions, deal in facts and seek them to base your decisions on. Be positive and above all, stay motivated and determined.

Best wishes to everyone

Mel Dixon

Research File: Banking on it

The financial crisis caused by the banks have given rise to a lot of uncertainty about the banking industry in general. People are wary as to which banks to trust if not, understandably angry. The advent of the Occupy Movement is, if nothing else, a reflection of this.

WildeHeads has no political particular agenda or affiliation other than to encourage the community in its broadest sense to connect to brainstorm for solutions. That is very much part of its ethos and purpose. In essence what people are doing is looking for new ways of doing things in the aftermath of the crisis – hence the UK government’s ‘Big Society’ idea.

When it comes to the banks themselves there are many reasons why sticking with the high street names of HSBC, Natwest, Lloyds, Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland is a good idea. For others though it might not be.

It really does come down to identifying what you require from a bank and shopping around to find one that fulfils your individual requirements. At the Enterprise2Impact conference last year at Duxford (hosted by Social Enterprise East of England and Business Link), keynote speaker Arthur Potts Dawson outlined this point brilliantly when he went window shopping for the right bank account for his business, The Peoples Supermarket.

This is particularly relevant in the case of those of you running a company or organisation with a social ethic as it makes sense to bank with someone that understands that ethic to your own satisfaction and can provide products and services that fit in with how you function. The same goes for any other service (e.g. Insurance) vital to business.
The point is that by taking time to think about what your particular needs are, asking questions and shopping around, we are all more likely to find the bank that suits us best. In the same way as we have a choice over who provides our utilities and communication services, so we can choose who we bank with.
All manner of factors can come into play, not least the legal structure of your organisation and these will help you to decide upon the right bank for you. For example, a CIC may find complete satisfaction with a high street bank or find they’re not supplying the full range of products and services that they need. It can depend on the organisation’s activities and way of trading as much as anything.
Here then are just five alternatives to think about, in no order of preference whatsoever and in no way endorsing any. The worth of whoever you choose to banks with is very firmly up to you to decide.
The Charity Bank
Credit Unions (a whole raft of them are available, so look for ones near you)
The Co-operative Bank
Finally tap in alternative banking or banks for social enterprises into a google search to find more.
Always remember that you are the customer and that banks are there to deliver the best products and services they can to secure and retain your business.

Operations: The paper free office – possible or not?

Once upon a time people thought that with the advent of computers and all manner of useful programs people began to dream of a paper free office. The concept is already fast becoming a fairytale belonging more to the realms of fantasy than reality, but why?

Ask just about anyone who works in an office environment today who has seen the transition from pre-digital to digital and they are likely to tell you that far from reducing the amount of paperwork, the arrival of the computer age has resulted in more being generated. Thoughts on why this might be the case include:

· Offices are genuinely overall more efficient, productive and therefore busier
· Computers have provided more ways to gather information more easily
· People still prefer to have hard copy that read off a screen
· People fear computer systems crashing and feel safer if there’s always a hard copy
· There’s more red-tape these days to store
· Archives in hard copy are essential for litigation procedures

The theory behind being paper free is sound enough, so much so that it should be possible to achieve a 90-99% paper free office. The exceptions include original documents needed for auditors such as receipts, insurances, certification and any document requiring an original signature including contracts and some personnel files.

With facilities such as scanning and back-up hard drives and remote servers the majority of documents ought to be able to be stored electronically alone. In the event of accident, theft, fire, flood or ‘Act of God’ the use of such devices should enable any company to survive with minimal disruption to the services and/or manufacturing processes provided. And in an age when we are all being urge to ‘go green’ it makes sense to minimise the amount of hard copy produced.

In the experience of Mel Dixon, WildeHeads founder, the extent to which companies have adopted a paper free policy varies enormously from organisation to organisation. Whereas some have worked hard to embrace it, others seem to prefer to take the opposite route of using new technology as little as possible. There have even been a couple of examples when the introduction of some computer systems being introduced for archiving records when none had been used.

The truth is that electronic documentation simply doesn’t appeal to some people and this usually (but not always) stems from a fear of change and new technology being too complicated to learn. The “we’ve always done it that way, so why change” would be fine if the world of business stayed static and didn’t evolve. To survive, and particularly in such times as these, it is necessary to adapt and evolve quickly before you organisation runs the risk of turning into little more than a living museum example of how things were done in years of yore.

This might sound that WildeHeads is firmly in favour of transforming every office into a paper free, clean desk operation, but it is not. Far from it.

Which type of person are you?
Are you the sort of person that likes to print-out a file you are working on at regular intervals so you can scribble notes or a person who prefers to wait until you feel the document is as complete as possible before you hit ‘print’?

Is this your way of working on all types of documents, files and processes or only some? Does it depend on the program used or the type of task undertaken?

Interestingly WildeHeads has worked recently in a office in which different staff were at opposite ends of the spectrum in their approach to paper free working. On one side of the office sat a desk barely visible for the amount of files stacked up on it and on the floor beside it including copies of emails which merely said “Thank-you” and the return “You’re welcome”; on the other a seemingly clear desk with hardly any paper on it and on the computer itself as few files as folders as possible.

Not only are individuals often inconsistent about when we decide to print a document, but often inconsistent with regard to what is deemed worthy of keeping on file. More than this, as the above example shows, within any organisation you can find people operating quite successfully at the opposite extremes.

Much can depend on the policy of the company and different organisations have very different approaches to hierarchy over such matters (subject for one of next month’s articles). Some company managers and even chief executives and directors can be extremely firm about being paper free or conversely about having absolutely everything printed and both stances stem from very logical reasons. To an employee moving from one extreme to the other through changing employer the change can be quite a challenge.

WildeHeads believes that both ways have their merits and pitfalls but that ultimately the reason why we are unlikely to ever realise that dream of a world of paper free offices is the human factor. For maximum productivity from any individual in any company staff at all levels need to feel they have some degree of control in how they work in order to be able to work efficiently. This does not preclude learning new techniques and organisational systems to improve efficiency, but being too prescriptive can result in leading to a serious problem with morale.

A last observation and thought... how many half empty and untouched filing cabinets and cupboards do you have in your office and why?