Tales of a Start-Up Social Enterprise - Learning to Pivot
Like me, if you grew up in the UK school system, and you’re a woman, then you may well best associate this cry with the school netball field. It was the shout of the fierce P.E teacher, standing on the sidelines, tracksuit on and a whistle round their neck, to whichever student netball player had just unwittingly found themselves with the ball.
If you’re at all familiar with the game of netball, you’ll know that once that ball is in your hands, the foot you landed on to catch it must remain firmly stuck to the ground. Which means if you end up with the ball, but faced with an army of defence players in front of you, you’re kind of stuck for options about where to throw it to get it closer to the goal. So what do you do? Pivotttttt!!! That’s right, lift your mobile foot and spin around to a point where you can get a clear line to a team member, and get the ball over to the them so that they can take it forward.
Since starting Bloom, re-learning to pivot has been one of the most important things I’ve had to do. Learning to keep agile, to keep moving, and to keep finding the next best way to get the ball closer to the goal - even if it’s not the quickest route or the way I pre-planned in my head.
You see - when you start off with dreams of starting up something - anything really, but particularly a social enterprise - you see the problem before you and you see the solution that you want to make happen. You get a little bit of funding (in my case a Start Up grant from the Lloyds Social Enterprise awards), and you get going with building your ‘thing’. It’s all so simple, right? Wrong!!
Pretty soon I realised that the path to my fully functioning social enterprise, that was wonderfully and effectively supporting long-term unemployed people back into work, was not going to be easy. Pretty soon I realised that commercial property in London was way more expensive to rent than I thought. Pretty soon I realised that raising start-up funding is hard work. Pretty soon I realised there’s a limit to what you can do when you’re working a 4-day a week job too. But pretty soon I would see the bailiffs at my door if I gave up my paid job while Bloom was just in it’s early stages…!
In the early days, I spent a lot of time, even months on end sometimes, dreaming of my ‘big plan’ and getting massively frustrated that I wasn’t getting there. ‘If only someone wealthy and generous would give me all the money I needed for a staff team and a commercial kitchen', I thought. THEN I would be able to do something. Or if only I could get one of these free empty shops that councils let out sometimes, THEN I could make it work. Or if only I could be successful in writing a big funding bid, THEN things would start to happen. I spent a lot of time thinking along these lines.
But then something changed. I can’t remember exactly what, though I do remember being inspired by a classic quote from the legendary Martin Luther King (NB- if you are starting out on your own thing, you need a LOT of inspirational quotes to keep you going!):
And suddenly my netballing days came flooding back to me: ‘Pivvotttt!’. I could hear the cry from the sidelines. I could see the goal in front of me, where I wanted to be. But right now I couldn’t get straight there. I needed to look at the options open to me, pivot around, survey the landscape, and take the next best step that would keep me moving towards my goal… even if that meant throwing the ball sideways, or even backwards. If I didn’t throw the ball at all, I definitely wasn’t going to get to the goal. But if I kept moving there was still a chance to get there, even if it meant going the long way round.
I found the question, ‘what do I have in my hand’ very helpful. And it’s one I’ve come back to time and time again. When I definitely couldn’t afford to rent premises straight off, I realised I could launch ‘pop-up’ cafes instead. When I outgrew that but still couldn’t find an affordable retail unit, I realised I still had a bit of a cash and occasional use of a kitchen space, and I could use that to start delivering events catering instead. When I couldn’t yet launch a fully functioning business offering work experience placements, I realised there was a church kitchen I could use to run training courses in the meantime. And right now, as those training courses come to an end, I’m starting again to look in my hand and to think about where we might need to pivot to next…
But one thing I do know is that we’re closer now to the ‘big goal’, than we would have been if I’d have kept sitting at the kitchen table waiting for the right resources to fall in my lap. At each hurdle, faced with the defence team in front of the goal, I’ve been learning to pivot and to just keep moving forward. It’s not been an easy lesson to learn, but it’s been one of the most important for me. So if you’re faced with a similar situation today, I wonder what might happen if you asked yourself: ‘What do I have in my hand today, and how can I use it to keep moving forwards towards my goal?’