It’s been five years since NatureSpy was officially incorporated and formally recognised as a social enterprise and we’ve achieved quite a bit in the last half decade…
- Established ourselves as the UK’s trail camera experts
- Built relationships with some of the world’s foremost conservation organisations
- Been awarded two Heritage Lottery Fund grants and a Local AONB grant
- Carried out hundreds of workshops and training days
- Assisted and supported the research of bears, lynx, wolves and wild cats
- Formed partnerships with like-minded wildlife research groups in the UK and Europe
- Launched an online store
- Advised large NGOs on camera trap research projects (as varied as elephants to tropical seabird nests!) on a weekly basis
- Appeared on BBC News, ITV National News, BBC Radio 2 and various other radio programmes
- Developed the world’s first accredited camera trapping training course
- Captured the first footage of pine marten in Yorkshire for over 35 years
- Donated roughly 200 camera traps to a number of global research projects
For a small team we’re pretty happy with NatureSpy’s accomplishments to date, but we wouldn’t have been able to do most of these things and had the impact we have without being a social enterprise.
Social enterprises are much more recognised today than they were even five years ago, but people are still unsure of it really means to run a social enterprise and we get asked a lot ‘‘are you a charity??’’ or ‘’are you a business??’’ Well the short answer to that is we’re sort of both.
We thought we’d do a quick-fire question post of the most common things we’re asked about what a social enterprise really is.
"Social enterprise: a growing movement of business that exist to change the world for the better" - Social enterprise UK
What is the difference between a social enterprise and a business?
Social Enterprises are run as businesses. We treat our business the same as any other business, we aim to earn money and make profit. But, and this is a big but, once our business costs are paid for (i.e. salaries and outgoings) we reinvest our profits to help achieve environmental or social change.
For us, this typically means we look at developing projects (or supporting other organisations projects) that focus on wildlife conservation or people’s connection to nature. Other social enterprises work to improve people’s life chances, create jobs, or improve communities. Social enterprises go a little further than just a business with a conscious, they are essentially created to help people and the planet.
In a nutshell, we’re different from a traditional business in four main ways:
- Like a charity, a social enterprise has a clear social mission – the aims and objectives for our social mission are written in to our Memorandum and Articles of Association
- We don’t have shareholders or owners so maximising profit to make individuals wealthy isn’t our aim – the interests of the company are driven by our social mission
- We’re transparent with our business operations from how we function to how we reinvest our profits and the impact we’ve made
- We reinvest 100% of our profits back into projects that help our social mission
What is the difference between social enterprises and charities?
As similar as we are to a business in our aims of making money, we’re equally similar to charities in that we’re entirely non-profit. However, how we generate income to achieve social and environmental impact is different to a standard charity.
Charities typically rely on, well, charity – donations, grants and volunteers all help them to function and achieve their goals of doing good work but social enterprises don’t rely on external aid. The bulk of our income comes from selling our products or services, which is supplemented by grant funding for bigger projects or goals. The approximate figure is that a social enterprise should make more than 50% of their money from trading.
How do you become a Social Enterprise?
As social enterprises can work under a number of legal structures, they are regulated by their appropriate legal body (i.e. Companies House) and as such there is no official social enterprise regulatory body.
For your business to be classed as a social enterprise, it must function with three main principles:
- Have clear social and/or environmental aims which are written in to its governing documents
- Earn the majority of its income through trade
- Reinvest the majority (at least 50%) of the profits to aid the social mission
Our Social Enterprise Business Tips
Here is a couple of tips from our own experience to help get you on the track of social entrepreneurship:
- Know your business
- Be an expert in your field, product or service. Research the market and your competitors but don’t be put off – it doesn’t matter if there is already businesses like yours out there, you just need to be the best.
- Find free help
- We were very luck in Wales that we pitched our business idea to the Wales Co-Operative Centre, and it was accepted. From this we got a one-to-one mentor who took us through the whole process of setting up our business as a social enterprise and helped write our Memorandum and Articles of Association. Look for free help, coaching and internet guides. Social Enterprise UK has tonnes of free information and resources about setting up a social enterprise so that would be a great place to start.
- Nail down your social mission
- This is most likely something you’re already passionate about and want to make a positive impact in. Once you’ve got your mission, narrow down a couple of aims that will help you achieve it. Remember that your business decisions should always have this mission in mind.
- Be prepared to cover your own costs and be an expert in everything!
- Like with any new business, prepare for the fact that you may not earn any money for a long time when first starting up, and however skilled and knowledgeable you are about your service or product, you’re going to need to be skilled in much more. This could be anything from website design, content creation, SEO, stock management, social media, branding & marketing, volunteer management, accounting, health & safety policies, customs, import duties… the list is long!
- Remember to measure your social impact
- Keeping track of the good work you’re doing and the impact you’re making is important for both you, your followers and your customers. How you choose to measure this can be kept quite simple but having a tangible number or record of what you’ve achieved is good for quick snapshots and a guide of your progress. E.g. you’ve employed 2 people, rescued 5 homeless dogs, planted 100 trees.
- Think about your legal structure
- You may be starting off on your own as a sole trade or unincorporated but if you have future plans to apply for grant funding or employ staff you will need some form of legal structure. It can get quite tricky to understand but the table in this guide shows you what your options are in an easy to understand format.
We think social enterprises really are the key in achieving the ultimate work-life balance and if you’re just starting up with a Soc Ent, we wish you the very best of luck!