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6 secrets to putting your social enterprise start-up idea to the test

August 27, 2014

In the social enterprise world, the key to unlocking investment lies in a great business plan. But what makes a great business plan? It’s the ongoing process of testing your concept that helps you build, refine and know your model inside out and gives you the confidence to back your idea to the line.

Time spent testing a social enterprise idea is time well spent – and not just because it’s better to find out your enterprise idea is a stinker before you’ve invested too much.

Don’t want to waste time testing because you’d rather get busy doing? Here are 6 things about idea testing that might change your mind.

1: TESTING IS MARKETING

Testing includes stepping away from your screen and talking to customers and suppliers and testing whether a market exists. The sooner you get realistic responses to your idea, the faster you’ll find out if your market is genuinely willing to pay for your solution. And if they are – you’ve just met your first customers!

2: TESTING GIVES YOU THE CHANCE TO TEST YOUR METTLE

Just as important as talking to your potential customers is being brutally honest about whether you have the will and skill to pursue social enterprise. Starting up any business is a game of persistence, resilience and general chutzpah – and it often requires a completely different skill set to fundraising, running social programs or working in a corporate structure. By testing your idea and being open to the learning that comes from that, you’ll be much better placed to take the idea through execution to financial sustainability.

3: TESTING SAVES MONEY. INVESTING IN A BAD IDEA COSTS MORE – EVERY TIME

While testing your idea takes time and possibly money, it’s nothing compared to what you’ll spend trying to fix the problem further down the line. This year in our incubation program (The Crunch), one enterprise uncovered an issue within their business model and industry that could not be overcome. Despite the disappointment, a potential savings of $4.5 million was made through testing – proceeding without this work could have been catastrophic for their organisation.

4: TESTING DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN’T ALSO BE TRADING

Entrepreneurship is not a linear, step by step process but an iterative one. Some of the best start-ups are nimble and adaptable to change. A number of enterprises in this round of The Crunch are already trading – and the pace at which their business models and service offerings have changed and improved through the program is thanks to the sharp focus on testing and the space allowed for this process of improvement.

5: THE RIGHT SPACE TO TEST

Sure I’m biased, but the evidence backs me up. Incubator programs – and there are a number available to social enterprise – can be an effective method to both build organisational capability and move through the testing process at a fast and directed pace. By its very nature an incubator “hothouses” an idea and brings together all of the right people, information and questions so that you can test as quickly as possible.

6: TEST AND MOVE ON

At some point you have to put a line in the sand and move forward and allow your mistakes to create space to innovate. Some of the most inspirational and aspirational stories of innovation have come from the failed attempts along the way. Social Enterprise Innovation Award winners Thankyou Group survived distributors going bankrupt, product recalls, and trouble with bottlers and distribution deals with several major retailers falling through before finally gaining some traction in the retail market. With each set-back comes another lesson leading you to the formula for success.

Every social enterprise starts with a dream, an idea, but not every idea becomes a social enterprise. If you are pursuing social enterprise, make testing part of your process – the faster you can test and, if required, fail, the quicker you can move forward with the right idea and enterprise.

Author:

Katie Wyatt, The Crunch Program Manager at Social Traders
Katie is the program manager for Social Traders’ flagship start-up incubation program The Crunch. The Crunch is an intensive, six month process of feasibility testing and planning for start-up social enterprises. Round 5 of The Crunch is now recruiting committed teams – to secure your funded place, you must attend a Warm-Up event.

Get feedback on your social enterprise idea!

Social Traders is now looking for enthusiastic and committed teams to participate in their incubator programs that include a component of idea testing: The Crunch (for start-ups) and THRIVE (for established enterprises). These intensive programs for start-up or established enterprises provide specialist advice and facilitation to support enterprises to become financially viable and achieve social purpose through trade.

Take your next step to social enterprise success by participating in a Social Traders’ Warm-up eventthis September, as the first step into these programs.

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