What is a Social Enterprise?

What is a Social Enterprise?

Seabirds Brighton CIC gets asked this ALL THE TIME!

It’s a simple concept; a business that provides goods or services, just like any other. However, Social Enterprises reinvest profits back into their business and/or the local community. This allows them to tackle social problems, improve people’s life chances, support communities and help the environment. So when a Social Enterprise profits, society profits. Unlike a standard business, when they profit, the business owners, shareholders and stake holders profit. But like a standard business, a social enterprise must be successful in order to generate a profitable income in order to reinvest in the local community.

So, take the example of Seabirds. We are a Social Enterprise. We are also a Community Interest Company, with a social and environmental mission set out in our governing documents. We operate both a Trading Arm and a Service.

Our Trading Arm operates the same way as any other retail outlet on the open market. We sell stuff on our web-shop, an Etsy shop, at pop ups and in local small businesses. The products we sell are, for the most part, aimed at people with a social conscience that wish to buy ethical and sustainable products. We then reinvest a percentage of our sales turnover into local community-based projects that meet our objectives and funding priorities of i) local/community based, ii) sea/beach centred iii) aims to improve well-being and the environment. For 2018 we have selected Surf Solace – a newly formed charity based in Lancing. Surf Solace is an organisation that provides sea-based activities to improve young people’s mental health and well being in the local communities of Adur and Worthing in West Sussex. The donation provides an alternative, unrestricted funding stream for this newly- formed charity.

Our Service operates in the same way as any other service provider on the open market. We are in the process of developing a ‘Women’s Water Confidence’ programme. We intend to run a 6 week course for women who wish to improve their physical, emotional and mental well being.  Many women struggle to get into a swim suit, let alone a pool or the wide open sea. Yet it is exactly these women that would benefit so much from introducing open water swimming into their lives. Women’s readiness to talk about their feelings and their strong social networks can help protect their mental health. Seabirds already have an established network of sea swimmers that gain confidence and happiness from being part of a community group. The course would act as a foundation for women to join the already, firmly established swimming community-group providing them with respite from daily worries, a support network and a regular activity and meet up.

I know we will continue to be asked until it becomes more ‘mainstream’ but basically it’s about doing business for good. More details can be found on Social Enterprise UK website.

 

From wet behind the ears to wet behind the ears!

The Seabird’s natural habitat is the sea in Brighton and Hove. Not behind a desk struggling with software, Social Media and suppliers. As the weather (and sea) have warmed up this is where we have found ourselves more and more. Why? Because after many conversations over post swim cuppas and cake, three of our flock decided to set up a Social Enterprise.

The company name Seabirds was chosen as it reflects the three Company Directors and how the business was conceptualised. Seabirds are a group of women that skin swim in the sea all year round on Brighton beach. Seabirds was born of the sea (and in the sea, literally).

Over the last 6 months we have registered Seabirds Brighton as a Community Interest Company with two aims:

  1. To run a successful trading arm that generates an unrestricted and alternative funding stream for local community groups and small charities. Our beneficiaries must meet our objectives and funding priorities of i) local/community based, ii) sea/beach centred iii) aims to improve well-being and the environment.
  2. Deliver regular women’s water confidence programmes in the local community

All of this sounds great doesn’t it? Being you own boss. Working around family life and other work commitments. And it is, but who knew we were so green.

When setting up the business we thought that the experience from our previous lives, that we bought to the table, ticked all the boxes. Backgrounds in Project Management, Design and Retail. Even so the learning curve has been a very sharp arc. Sometimes a vertical climb.

We navigated our way through understanding which legal structure was right for us. Wrote a Business Plan. Applied for a bank account. Bought domain names. Launched a crowdfunder. Attended webinars and workshops on Marketing and Finance. Lot of lovely friends have helped us every step of the way, providing guidance and expertise.

Today we launched our website and online retail business. This is where the learning became steep. Every supplier we deal with wants our in-house designs in a different format from .ai to .png. Their lead times vary from 2 days to 2 months. We are still waiting for some stock to arrive. Our website host Customer Service team are super friendly and helpful but many of the things we want it to do, it just doesn’t do, or we can’t get it to do. Then we decided to launch the webshop at the same time as GDPR was being rolled out. All the while we are trying to understand twitter.

But we’ve done it! It’s Live. It’s launched. And we’ve had some sales. And we couldn’t have done it without each other. For every wobble there was a cuddle. For every frustration there was a voice of reason. For every ‘I’m going to throw my laptop out of the window’ moment there was company and cup of tea. We doff our caps to every sole trader and entrepreneur that has gone before us. The utmost admiration for people that do this alone without a supportive network of seabirds.

The next few weeks will be spent analysing google analytics and researching meta tags. Not standard language for a seabird. Nothing comes without a hashtag. Everything is a marketing opportunity. All of  it is outside of our comfort zone. But it will also include a return to our habitat. Time to take our own advice and Get In The Sea!