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Employment

Expert advice: How to start a community business in 5 steps

Looking for an alternative career that makes you your own boss but also gives you purpose? A community business could be for you, explains Power to Change.

Almost a fifth of UK workers say they expect to leave their current role in the next 12 months in their quest for better job satisfaction. So while it used to be pay and perks that gave a new job the edge, doing something meaningful looks set to be shifting the dial. Enter the community business.

Evidence shows that young people are more likely to engage with businesses that share values similar to their own and drive positive change in their communities.

Community businesses are an alternative to traditional for-profit businesses that are run by local people for the benefit of the community.

They are helping to address the gap in social capital between generations, working to mitigate high unemployment, skills gaps and a loneliness crisis that today’s young people are facing. They are also a mechanism to transform the progressive social intentions of younger generations into meaningful and sustainable community action.

Your job doesn’t just have to make ends meet, it can be impactful, too. Young people are out there working in community businesses roles ranging from tackling food poverty to saving LGBTQ+ spaces, building a sustainable local economy by reusing and repairing, or teaching valuable skills to develop the next generation of the music industry.

According to Susie Finlayson, interim head of programme delivery, at Power to Change, the trust that supports community businesses in England, “anyone can start a community business”.

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Here she shares her top tips with the Big Issue for taking an alternative career path by setting up a community business and making your community a better place for the people who live and work there.

1. Do your research

Firstly, what do you want to do?

Ask yourself, what services and businesses are missing from your local area? As a member of your community, you are best placed to know what your area need.

Got an idea? Want to start a business, or bring life back to that amazing looking empty building you’ve always been curious about?

Start by asking around, make sure you consult with local people and hone your pitch. Local people are the experts in their areas, they have the strongest long-term interest in ensuring that their community is thriving. They will be able to guide you, making sure you’re on the right path from day one.

Community businesses should remain agile to the needs of local people. At Power to Change we saw so many examples of community businesses pivoting their offer to meet a need at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. The ability to be flexible and shift is what makes community businesses so unique and helps them to weather challenges.

Take inspiration from other community businesses to see what is possible. You can find some examples here.

2. Explore your options

Community businesses can take many shapes and forms. From pubs to libraries; shops to bakeries; swimming pools to solar farms; community businesses are creating great products and services, providing employment, and training and transforming lives.

On top of this there are lots of different business forms community businesses can take, from Coops, Community Benefit Societies and Community Interest Companies. Explore which model suits your organisation best.

Find out more about structures and setting up an organisation, on mycommunity.org.uk.

3. Create a fanbase

Essential to your community business’ success will be the support of local people and it is important that they are able to have a say and feel involved. Look into starting a dedicated social media page or group where you can gain feedback from local people, explore options for generating grassroots support through posters and notices in other local hubs or businesses.

It’s also worth considering capitalising on existing online channels where local people congregate, for example, dedicated local Facebook pages or the Next Door app.

Consider hosting events and socials to become a community hub. Put on a film night, host some live music or run a regular welcome evening for people interested in volunteering. Taking these actions will help you to build a network of people that want to hear more about your community business.

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4. Grow a professional network

Connect with other local businesses to build a support system of people in the same boat as you. By expanding your network, not just geographically but with other people who are running similar groups across the country, you can learn from your peers, find out how they’ve overcome barriers, and get inspired by their successes.

You can grow your community business peer network by joining community business Facebook groups or by attending events hosted by Power to Change, or Stir to Action – an organisation committed to creating a more democratic economy. Later this year, there’s the Locality Convention, bringing together people who believe in the power of community.

5. Connect with people through shared values

If you’re interested in starting a community business it’s likely you embody some intrinsic values like social justice, equity, collaboration, shared power, and care for nature. Make sure you tell people what you’re all about and don’t be afraid to show your personality.

As a community business, you could try using the language of your values actively on your social media, on your website, on posters or physical media in your space, and during welcoming talks at events to help you connect with like-minded local people.

Follow Power to Change on TwitterFacebook and Instagram and for more on the My Community Business campaign visit: powertochange.org.uk

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