Bubble Chamber CIC

Developing Negotiation Skills

There is much to be gained from being a member of a Peer to Peer group, where you regularly meet with peers and share a wealth of knowledge, skills and opinions. One of the benefits is access to regular expert speakers, who can really give you a boost in their specialist areas. In Bubble Chamber’s most recent monthly meet-up of social enterprise CEOs, we were treated to a workshop with Damian Culhane, an experienced coach who is an expert in negotiation, among other business skills.

Who running a social enterprise doesn’t have to negotiate on an almost daily basis, and who couldn’t do with fresh ideas and knowledge on how to do it better? If you’ve ever ended up with a deal that wasn’t what you’d hoped for, either in work or personal life, you can hopefully gain something from what we learned during the day.

The main takeaways were:

– the need for full preparation for any negotiation
– going in with the right attitude
– having and articulating a clear rationale for the benefits you are presenting
– the importance of a Win/Win scenario
– the need to use your values and develop long-term relationships

Preparation is about both knowing who you are dealing with and what their needs are likely to be and being absolutely clear on what you want from the situation yourself. Clarity is what we are all about at Bubble Chamber, so this immediately rang true. Damian described a number of techniques you can use to ensure you have considered all angles. It’s key to be absolutely clear on what your opening gambit is and what your fallback position should be (the point at which it no longer works for you and where you have to be prepared to walk away).

And then it’s important to have trade-offs up your sleeve (so, if for instance you can’t get those on the other side of the table to accept the price you want, you can do a deal on other areas – timing, quantity etc). An example would be, if you can’t quite get your optimum price, you can give way a bit on that but increase the quantity they order. Having solid reasons for why you’re asking what you are is part of the prep.

Attitude takes us into a whole other, and potentially more interesting, area as it’s fundamentally about psychology, both yours and that of those you’re negotiating with. A basic model that Damian communicated was that you need to have a clear focus on what you want – go in with an end result in mind and don’t allow your underlying assumptions and beliefs to scupper you.

We all have thoughts and feelings about ourselves that can be either fruitful or disastrous. No matter how successful we are, we can harbour hidden beliefs, such as the feeling that really we’re not that good. If we allow these unconscious assumptions to dominate (which they will if we are not aware of them), they will dictate the outcome. If you go in to a negotiation believing, even deep down, that you’re not actually that good at negotiating, the result will be inevitable.

It’s important not to deny those feelings – rather we should be fully aware of what drives us personally – but we must focus completely on the end result we want or they will take over.

Win/Win, making decisions based on your values and putting long-term relationships over short-term gains are all key messages we promote at Bubble Chamber and are also key to effective negotiating. Get an introduction to our Core Habits of Enterprise in this video from our learning curriculum.

Diary: Our Bcorp Journey Part 3

NUMBER 122!

I’m very pleased to say that last week we heard that we have achieved BcorpTM certification and we’re the 122nd company in the UK to become a BcorpTM.

It’s been a short but intense period of activity since we started the journey a couple of months ago.  There was a brief period after the guys in the US had approved us, with a score teetering dangerously close to the pass mark, before we got final confirmation.  Now, with an overall B score of 82 (80 makes you eligible for certification), we can promote ourselves as a BcorpTM and begin the process of improving our score.

We’re a small and new company so it’s pleasing to qualify at this stage and there are lots of areas that we can increase our social accountability.  We’re now busy drawing up a plan of improvements that we can start working on for the rest of the year and beyond.

The other area that we can now focus on is becoming a part of the BcorpTM community and there are plenty of resources available, including a great online portal where you can connect with other members and share content and ideas.  It’s a bit like Linkedin but where everyone is there for the same reason and so there are no unwanted advances or wasted prospecting.  It feels really good to be part of a community of like-minded people, all wanting to create a better business world and work together.

Now that we’ve arrived at this stage it’s good to reflect on why we began this journey.

Why did we want to become B Corp certified? At Bubble Chamber, we believe passionately in the opportunity for Social Enterprise to create a unique Fourth Sector of the economy, one that that doesn’t suffocate enterprise, as the public sector so often does, that doesn’t put shareholder value before everything else, as the private sector does, and that doesn’t suffer from the cultural confusion over enterprise that can paralyse so many charities (the last comment not too controversial, I hope, but one of our values is to challenge conventional views).

The B Corp assessment has provided a framework for us to measure our success against their own rigorous standards and ensure responsible practices as we grow as a company.  We are beginning a process of embedding social impact into our everyday work, so this feeds very much into that.  The B Corp model is a great one to ensure that we are living up to our own mission and that we are continually improving and being socially accountable.

Just a week after we qualified, I find myself signed up for a BcorpTM event taking place in my home city of Bristol this week, where I anticipate meeting the B Corp UK team, other members and people interested in undertaking the same journey.

We look forward to experiencing the benefits of being a part of the BcorpTM community over the coming weeks and months and I will report on these in future posts.

See our Bcorp profile page here.  For more information on our views on Bcorps click here.

Diary: Our Bcorp Journey Part 2

In the first post of this series, I wrote about the reasons for Bubble Chamber applying for Bcorp status.  Having made the decision late in 2016 to begin this process, we spent some time completing the online questionnaire, which covers many aspects of governance, employment policy, behaviour towards the community and environment and business models.

With our completed questionnaire submitted we awaited the next step of the process, which was for our application to be scrutinised in a 90 minute telephone review by the staff at B Lab in the US of A.

The day for our telephone review came and went. We gave it a go and found that we didn’t have all the information at the ready, so another call was scheduled for when our MD Ben Freedman could be on hand to answer key questions that only he knew the answers to.  Note of advice:  make sure you have the right people and the right information lined-up before taking the B Lab call or you risk wasting your time and that of the guys at B Lab.

Having said that, Charlie Fraioli and his colleague Pooja Dindigal were very friendly and understanding and duly called us back the following week for the rescheduled review.  The questioning was very thorough, so whoever is leading the process for you, make sure they have instant access to all the vital statistics or have somebody who knows the business like the back of their hand available.

A few of the things we were quizzed about were:

Separate from a mission statement, has your company done any of the following to legally ensure that its social or environmental mission will be maintained over time, regardless of company ownership?

    Signed a contract or board resolution to amend or adopt a legal form that requires consideration of employees, community, and the environment (i.e. Signed B Corp Term sheet but have not yet adopted stakeholder consideration)
    Amended corporate governing documents to require the consideration of employees, community and the environment (e.g. Amended Articles of Incorporation)
    Has a specific legal entity/governance structure that preserves mission (i.e. cooperative)
    Legal entity/governance structure preserves mission and requires stakeholder consideration (i.e. Benefit Corp or cooperative that has amended governing documents to include stakeholder consideration)

The company’s governing papers were needed for that one.

Subtracting for inflation increase, what was the average % increase in wage/salary paid to non-executive workers in the last fiscal year?

We’re a small company so the details of that one weren’t difficult to ascertain.

Are full-time employees granted in writing any of the following options for volunteer service?)

    Non-paid time off
    Paid time off
    20 hours or more a year of paid time off
    Workers offered incentives for volunteerism (office parties, competitions with prizes, etc.)

That is included in our Employee contract, so was easy to settle.

Number of hours volunteered by full-time and part-time employees of the organization during the last fiscal year.

Nobody had done the sums on this one before, so we had to cast around and gather all the volunteer and pro bono activity of the last year.

After being scrutinised on these and many other aspects of the application, our score was adjusted and we were pleased to see that, even with a few downward tweaks, we were still in excess of the 80 points needed to qualify.

I am currently training up in the area of Social Impact (with, amongst other things, the help of training courses and webinars from the excellent Economic Change) and much of this was relevant to the Bcorp process.  Showing evidence of how you operate and the benefits to the wider community that come from your work is vital to both processes.

So, we seemed to be in a strong position at this stage but a certain amount of extra paperwork had to be submitted to back up our claims and the next few days involved gathering data from various sources and sending them through to America.  Everything was in existence but, even in a small company (and one that operates virtually) like Bubble Chamber, it was a question of speaking to the right people and getting hold of the correct information in a clear and concise way.  B Lab provide very helpful templates for filling in and uploading.

As I write, this is all in hand and duly submitted, so we are now waiting to have our revised score confirmed so that we can continue to the next stage of Bcorp qualification.  The journey continues…

Diary: Our Bcorp Journey Part 1

Do you want to be set apart as a thought leader?  Do you want to distinguish your business in a crowded market?  Do you want to associate your brand with some of the most socially and environmentally responsible companies on the planet?

These are some of the reasons that Ryan Honeyman identifies for becoming a B Corp in The B Corp Handbook: How to Use Business as a Force for Good.

Towards the end of 2016, we decided at Bubble Chamber CIC to begin this journey and we thought we’d keep a diary of progress towards this goal.  So, if we’re to chronicle this quest from beginning to end, an appropriate place to start would seem to be: what is a Bcorp and why do we want to become one?

The social enterprise movement has been around for some decades now and it’s a great thing to be part of.  We work on a daily basis with other soc ents and we’re constantly inspired by the dedication and persistence of social entrepreneurs, often working against the odds, to produce fantastic results in this country.  We’re constantly reminded that the path of social business is not always an easy one!

One thing that is noticeable is the difficulty of defining exactly what a social enterprise is.  There are a few generally accepted characteristics about it as a business model but it’s basically unregulated and anyone can call themselves a soc ent, provided they (more or less) adhere to a few principles.

The more recent Bcorp movement is very different in this respect.  Being a member means going through a rigorously assessed and monitored process and this rigour can only be a good thing for social business.  There’s no faking it as a Bcorp; you have to walk the talk and that’s an ongoing process.  Gaining Bcorp status isn’t the end of the story; it means regular re-assessments as part of a constant striving for improvement.

The Bcorp movement started in the USA in 2006 and a B Corp is defined as a company that has won B Lab certification (B Lab being the non-profit organisation that founded and administers the movement).  According to B Lab’s official website, “B Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to milk.”  The Wikipedia article on B Lab states that there are now over 1900 B Corps across 140 industries in 50 countries.  In the UK, the number now stands at 80 companies who have been granted B Corps status.

Why do we want to undertake this challenge?  Ryan Honeyman identifies 5 Reasons for Becoming a Bcorp starting with “Being part of a community with shared values”, which seems a pretty good place to start.  He goes on to say:

“The incredible value of the community came as a surprise for many B Corps.

Many said that they were originally interested in becoming a Certified B Corporation in order to take advantage of the marketing benefits, to receive discounts on products and services, or to benchmark their social and environmental performance.

Almost universally, it has been the strength of the community — and the sense of being part of something bigger than an individual business — that has become the most deeply fulfilling aspect of B Corp certification.”

Bubble Chamber began the process of becoming a B Corp in December 2016 and as we speak, we’re awaiting the first stage of assessment, having completed a 90 question survey and begun getting our paperwork in order, whilst reviewing all our processes.  We’ll be reporting back at various stages along the way.  Maybe you’re thinking of doing the same and the reports of our journey will act as an encouragement?  Whether that’s the case or not, we hope you’ll be interested in following us as we work towards B Corps status.

To date we have completed the questionnaire and the next step is an interview with B Lab, which we have booked for Friday 13 January (fortunately, we’re not superstitious!).  The questions cover a wide range of topics from Governance, Workers conditions, relationships with the Community, Supplier details, and behaviour regarding the Environment.  We’ve even been asked for details of the highest and lowest paid employees and it seems there’s no hiding in this process.  Every aspect of ethical trading is covered and we expect to be fully scrutinized and (constructively) criticized.

Do we expect to have to change as a result of this quest?  Of course.  Behind B Lab’s philosophy, and what we believe should be a part of every company’s values and vision, is an emphasis on continual improvement and increasing accountability.

We’re hoping that we’re starting from a solid standpoint but we fully expect to be tested and pushed before we’re able to join the growing community of B Corps in the UK.  To find out more, and maybe even begin your own journey, check out B Lab’s website here.

Watch out for our next report on our B Corps journey.

Bubble Chamber CIC

Social Enterprise Marketing: ROI

Knowing the return on investment for marketing activities is important for any business and is maybe more so for Social Enterprises. Why? Well, often you are working to very tight budgets and understanding what works and what doesn’t, and reducing wastage of time and money, can be crucial to your bottom line.

To put it bluntly, it could be what makes the difference between growth and disaster. You could commit a large part of your available budget to activity that just doesn’t work or you might spend no money and believe that just putting yourself out on social media (at no apparent cost) is good enough. Either way, there will need to be some trial and error in order to see what is effective and that makes measurement of your efforts all the more important.

What is Return on Investment?

Put very simply, ROI is a measure of the return you are getting on the work and money you are putting in. The most obvious example is that you spend £100 on a marketing activity and you get £200 income from it. That’s a 200% ROI (provided you don’t factor in overheads).

A 200% return isn’t very good, especially if you do factor in the overheads, in which case you may make little or no profit at all. A better return would be, say, 500% (income is 5x the cost) and an ideal would be 1000% or more. If you’re really lucky, it could be a lot more.

Ideally we’d have a hard measure for everything we did (£x generated £xx) but it’s not always that easy and the following looks at some of the nuances in determining your ROI.

I’ll say at this point that, if you want some very simple suggestions on how to begin your ROI work, jump to the end of this post where I give some recommendations on getting started. If you feel up to taking on some of the complexities of building an ROI model, read on.

Hard and Soft Returns

Hard returns are what I’ve already talked about – spending one amount of cash generates another.  It is possible, provided the numbers are sufficiently high, to give a value for any action of engagement, e.g. a click on the buy button on your website (if you have such a thing) is worth £5, given that 100 clicks generate £500 of sales. That could even be extended to a single tweet, e.g. 100 tweets generate £150, so a single tweet has an average value of £1.50.

Return on Investment can also be seen in terms of the amount of activity an investment buys. An example here would be that £x invested into a social media campaign generates the following:

  • a number of followers, likes etc
  • a number of tweets/posts created and sent
  • an amount of engagement (RTs, clicks, likes, shares etc)
  • a number of clicks to the website generated
  • a number of actions on the website from that traffic

Although these may not lead to easily attributable sales, they are metrics with some value in themselves.   Until the business is sufficiently developed to be able to attribute sales to specific areas of activity, softer returns like these may have to suffice.

Defining costs

If the definition for returns isn’t always easy, neither is that for costs. If you have a specific allocation of budget for marketing and you keep a careful account of how you’re spending it, that’s part of the job. There’s also the time you spend on it, which can be expressed in terms of what it costs, and then a proportion of overheads. Ideally you’d factor all of these into your calculations to come up with a full cost of any work you are doing. Suddenly that 500% return has dropped a bit and you find you have to make your marketing spend work even harder (which in turn means you need to be able to measure it even more accurately).

What success looks like

Here, for the purpose of illustration, is an example of a mature business, with well-established marketing practices, rigorous measurement and a profitable bottom line. Our unnamed business has the following amount of marketing activity (these numbers are based on a real business so are not made up):

  • Twitter (35k followers accounting for 4% of traffic)
  • Facebook (50k likes accounting for 8% of traffic)
  • Email (56k subscribers accounting for 10% of traffic)
  • Organic traffic (50% of traffic)
  • Incoming links/direct traffic (20% of traffic)

These all perform differently when it comes to directly attributable sales (the difficulties of assessing attribution is discussed later).   The conversion rate (the ratio of transactions : visits) is different for different activities – for instance, it’s 3.9% overall and 9% for direct traffic, 2% for email, 0.7% for Twitter etc.

Bubble Chamber CIC

Analysis of a series of email campaigns

So, small amounts of traffic can account for disproportionate sales results (e.g. direct traffic at just 20% of all website visits brings in 45% of business, while organic at 50% of traffic brings in 38% of sales). Knowing this is very important and allows you to make judgments on where you are going to put your time and money.

The company’s Twitter activity consists of scheduling 80-100 tweets per week. How does this Twitter activity perform? Well, as seen above, it counts for relatively low levels of traffic to the website (4% of the total) and it contributes even less of the income (0.5%, just a few hundred pounds a week).

Twitter is, therefore, not a very lucrative activity in terms of the money it generates but it can also be measured in softer terms – the amount of engagement with customers (typically 300 retweets per week, 400 likes, continual growth of followers etc), the value of constantly being in people’s timelines and getting them to comment on, like or share your content. If you assessed it purely in terms of income, you might ditch it as a poor revenue-generator but, provided you have sufficient resources to service it, you can decide whether it’s worth continuing because of the softer returns.

Note: there’s a further aspect of assessing social media in that you can get very different results if you spend money with the various platforms. This provides a firmer measure of social media activity because you can track the direct return on the spend.

Now, I’ve been talking about a successful business with a high ROI and it may all sound unattainable if you are running a small social enterprise but it serves to illustrate the sort of model you can build up in order to assess the overall levels of your ROI. The real-life business these numbers are based on has a turnover of around £2 million a year, by the way.

Attribution

This was mentioned above and is an important aspect of how the numbers quoted are arrived at. Attribution is (or should be) a constant problem for marketers.

If you send out an email and someone buys an item by clicking on the link, does that mean that the email has created a sale? Perhaps, but, more likely, it was one of a number of touch points. The customer might have been thinking about the item for some time and seen a number of different adverts, emails, tweets etc and finally decided to buy when they received the email. Should email receive all the credit for the sale, when they might never have bought on the strength of the email alone?

You are in danger here of attributing the sale wrongly. You could scrap everything except email because that’s the channel that converts best, whereas the sale would never have happened without the other activity (including the very “low performing” Twitter, for example).

Google Analytics, which you should have set-up for all pages of your website, allows you to apply different attribution models and it’s a judgment call on which one you are most comfortable with. But that’s starting to reach more sophisticated levels of measurement and you might like to keep things simpler in the early stages.

A further complication that should be taken into account is that Google Analytics only accounts for online interactions – it could be a phone conversation that clinches the deal or a poster outside your shop etc. The more careful you are with attributing value to different bits of activity, the closer you are likely to get to the truth. The important thing is not to take any of the numbers at face value and consider all the contributory factors.

Keep things simple but not so simple that you are reaching inaccurate conclusions because of a lack of data (or thought power).

The time element and the danger of small numbers

If a company commits to, for instance, a TV campaign in order to build their brand, they are in it for the long haul. They can’t judge the value of the spend after the first advert has gone out. It may be months before the awareness has built and the ROI at the end of the campaign may be much higher than at the beginning. In fact, it could be exponential. It’s important not to judge results too soon.

Connected with this is the danger of looking at small numbers (for instance, a website that generates only small amounts of traffic). Your first sale may come from a tweet but it would be foolish to scrap all other activity and only do Twitter on the basis of one result.   On the other hand, ditching Twitter because the following is not building fast enough or engagement is low might be cutting off a potentially useful tool in the future.

Until you’ve built sufficient data to really test a channel, you are also in it for the long haul. This is especially the case for startups, trying to go from scratch in a short space of time. There is, nevertheless, another judgment call to be made, in the meantime, about where to put your resources (carefully using whatever data is available).

The 80% rule and diminishing returns

Something else that should be taken into account is that typically with marketing your low-hanging fruit accounts for 80% of your sales. The other 20% is much harder-won. So, you may spend £500 to make your initial £5,000 but to make the next £1,250 may cost you another £500. So, diminishing returns sets in and you have to decide how much you are prepared to commit to that extra 20%. It’s important, of course, to ensure that you are harvesting your low-hanging fruit as well as possible, as that will always be the easiest and most cost-effective activity but, at some point, you have to decide whether to top up and at what cost.

To illustrate this, if you discover that the most effective source of income is through networking, you should be looking at how best to support and enhance that with your marketing efforts (which could include a whole range of activities) rather than rushing around and finding new types of marketing. Identifying and pursuing the best avenues for networking (the 80%) would likely be more fruitful than, say, trying to build organic traffic on your website or drive traffic through pay per click (which you might eventually decide to do for the extra 20%).

If this post is largely about segmentation, then the first 80% and last 20% are other important segments to take into account.

Recommendations

I’ve gone into a bit of detail in this post but, if this is new to you and you are just beginning to work on ROI, you shouldn’t feel overwhelmed by all the different factors.

In the early stages keep it simple – any data collection is better than none (although beware of making major decisions on incomplete figures or insufficient analysis). You might start with some of the softer returns I’ve mentioned. If you are doing some social media, keep a record of the activity and the amount of engagement you’re getting. Are you really making contact with people or are you churning out content that nobody’s responding to?

You may not be able to put a monetary value to it initially but at least you’re not working blind and merely guessing at the value. 50 tweets in a week, generating 20 retweets, 10 clicks to the website and one phone call with a potential customer is better than “we’ve been doing lots of tweeting lately and it seems to be going quite well”. You could even put a value on it – each tweet is costing £x, each click to the website £x. It certainly focuses the mind when you look at it that way.

If you place an ad, try and find a mechanism for monitoring the response. Tracking is a lot easier these days with online marketing, so you should take full advantage of it (contact me at simont@bubblechamber.net if you need help with that).

When you’re ready, or if you’re there already, start putting in place a system of measurements that will lead to comprehensive tracking of ROI. The discussion in this post has hopefully shown that it can be a complex and nuanced activity. Again, if you need advice on what metrics to be looking at and how to connect them all up, drop me a line.

Getting the mental attitude right is the starting point. Approach this work with an enquiring mind and really want to know those numbers. We can figure out a way to do it but the curiosity about how you’re doing can only come from you and it is indispensible.

Simon Thomas is Bubble Chamber’s marketing co-ordinator and you can find out more about his work at www.bubblechamberdigital.com (where you can also download a free booklet on ROI)