The Big Society: six reasons to be excited

5. The payoff

Entrepreneurs will be relieved to hear that getting involved in the Big Society can bring cash dividends, even when the motivation for participating is purely altruistic. You only have to look at brands such as The Body Shop and Innocent Smoothies to see the way ethical actions can be used as a powerful marketing tool. There are other benefits too. Colin Crookes is the founder of a Wembley-based social enterprise called Green Works, which refurbishes unwanted furniture for worthy recipients such as schools and charities. Crooks also advises private-sector firms on how to develop a social responsibility strategy. He says there is no conflict between doing the right thing and making money: “Businesses ought to get involved in the Big Society because the benefits are so clear. There’s a reputational benefit. Customers will perceive you in a more favourable light. Your staff will benefit – they always react positively. They think their company cares about people and isn’t just a profit machine. This reduces staff turnover.” And because Big Society projects require staff to use their skills, it can boost their self-esteem. “They go into other organisations and use their skills. They suddenly see their own talents in a different light.” One last dividend: “Getting involved gives salespeople something to talk to clients about. Salespeople can talk about their projects, and it opens up a dialogue with clients, on a topic that isn’t related to profit. It helps build rapport, which then helps them sell.”

Crooks urges entrepreneurs to use the Big Society launch to get involved in something. “You now have permission to help your local community. Even if you just want a more  profitable business, it will be worthwhile.”

6. New demand streams

At the heart of the Big Society are communities getting organised. For the quick-witted entrepreneur, this trend will bring opportunities. Take the residents of Lyddington in Rutland, who stopped waiting for an upgrade to their broadband and founded their own telco, Rutland Broadband. It installed a fibre-optic line to the village, having raised £37,000 from residents. Lyddington now has 40Mbps broadband, the fastest in the UK, and Rutland Telecom is installing fibre for “not-spots” in Wales and Yorkshire.

Neighbourhood Watch schemes are being upgraded as residents tire of waiting for the police to get back on the beat. This has lead to an opportunity for entrepreneur James Wickes, founder of Jabbakam, a service streaming CCTV footage on mobiles and PCs. “The Big Society is all about people taking responsibility,” he says. “We are enabling that transition, providing a service that allows communities to protect themselves. Our CCTV service isn’t about replacing the police, but encouraging communities to support the police and supply information to them if necessary. The two groups can work together.”

Add up all the other goods and services that community action groups will need – from bank accounts to IT infrastructure – and it amounts to a lucrative market. The Big Society will mean big opportunities for small business owners who understand its potential.

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