Art Playground Cheltenham: Business Start Up

The thrills and spills of a social enterprise start up


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Finance and Marketing with the Twigworth massive

Also known as the 2-day Business Start up Course from Gloucestershire Enterprise.

The business start up crew with trainer, Grant.

The business start up crew with trainer, Grant.

The first day was rammed with info about finance, tax, business plans and legalities. It was more of a whistle stop tour which left you with a ‘to do’ list for after the course, but I think that was actually really effective because it meant we covered far more ground than we could have otherwise and I don’t like vague theory based training, which this certainly wasn’t. You also got a data-stick full of useful documents as a going home present.

Day 2 focused on marketing and sales, which gave some good structure to my random selection of ideas of “things I should do” scribbled on bits of paper at home. We also had a short talk from the Federation of Small Businesses which I am definitely going to join. A wise friend of mine who runs a health food shop had already recommended it, but I hadn’t realised quite how extensive the member benefits are. Printing and mailing service for 42p per letter. 42p! That’s less than the price of a second class stamp alone. You could mail all your customers whenever you liked, just to say hello, at that price. I’m sure the free legal support and low cost insurance is good too, but 42p!

One of the great things about this and the Enterprise club, was the range of business ideas in the room. Having been warned off business workshops by a visual artist who said it was all about buying stock and selling it on at a 50% mark up, I was pleasantly surprised.

Among the cash flow forecasts, enthusiastic dissing of example marketing materials and Mallet’s mallet style round of “name a piece of employment law legislation”, I met some great people. Business ideas ranged from hypnotherapy to Polish language lessons, play tents to private hire, accountancy to childcare. I have met people planning skateboard parks, beauty salons, copywriting services, engineering, web design and plumbing. In the midst of all that, an art playground didn’t seem quite so random.

Perfecting the Elevator Pitch was a great exercise, but also having to introduce ourselves and our business idea in the workshops generally forced me into doing this for the first time out loud. All in all, a great couple of days for helping to streamline the ideas in my head and prompt me into action. I’m off to finish my market research survey on Survey Monkey. Expect a link soon…

Christina
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Beg, steal and borrow.

Nice article from The Guardian about effective ways of blagging it. 

As it says, the bonus of being a social enterprise is that people are more likely to want to help. I need to look at where I am going to try and call in favours and work out the line between “worth a shot” and “taking the piss”. It’s an important line that I don’t want to cross. The lovely thing about Cheltenham arts/ business is that people are generally very supportive and I really want to make sure I can be part of that both ways.

N.B. for the powers that be: whilst I fully intend to beg and borrow, I would like to make it clear that I don’t plan to steal. 

Christina
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To business card or not to business card…

I am dilemma-ing over business cards. At the moment when I am meeting people to talk about the art playground, I don’t have anything official to give them. I’m planning to make a business to business flyer, almost a 1 page business plan, so that they can see what I’m rambling on about, have some contact details and it makes me seem a bit more legit. In the meantime, I have drafted some free (apart from about £4 p&p) business cards from vistaprint. Even though the cheapest p&p option says up to 14 days, in my experience they arrive within 3 or 4 days anyway.

The dilemma is, get some business cards with a gmail email address on and without art playground branding (as it’s still tbc) or wait until I have a proper christina@artplayground email address and branding and in the meantime continue scribbling on bits of notepaper as I meet people. The OCD lover of clear branding in me is resisting the vistaprint cards, but they are free. I also judge businesses that have a gmail or yahoo as their official business email, but then most people are not as judgemental about stupid things as I am, so it probably doesn’t matter in the real world. I should probably just get over it and order them.

Christina
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Colour Scheme creator

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Colour Scheme creator

I found this awesome website, where you can create a colour scheme really easily, try loads out and adjust the tone, saturation, number of colours in the scheme, how similar or not they are etc. It’s brilliant. And it gives you the codes for those colours so I have matched the text and background colour of this blog to those in my chosen scheme. So ace. I love it.


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Start up basics

So I have now been planning, thinking and dreaming (literally) about this for just over 2 months and because I am a generally impatient person I have done as much as I can whilst still working full time. In a week and a bit I have the brilliant opportunity to start a new job at 4 days a week, giving me a day a week to dedicate to the art playground start up.

So a little round up of things I have done so far, in case any of it is useful. Initially I just wasn’t sure where to start, what to do first, whether it was even possible. Gloucestershire Enterprise  have been really helpful and the staff I spoke to about courses were really friendly, which, when it’s your first foray into saying out loud what you’re planning to do, is very important.

I decided to go on as many start up workshops and courses as I can:

1. Enterprise Club with Gloucestershire Enterprise (new notebook in hand, very overexcited, was definitely worth it) is a 1 day overview of setting up as self employed, writing a business plan and legalities. Great trainer, with guest speakers from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and Nat West. Most of the HMRC stuff wasn’t too relevant as I will be employing myself through the business rather than being self employed, but still useful. The bank guy was sweet but vague so I asked him lots of questions and actually bank loans could be a possibility, which I had written off. (though I would have to guarantee it somehow because of the not for profit structure I am going for).

2. Social Enterprise Works in Bristol do a half day workshop on setting up a social enterprise. It’s a general intro- mostly about what a social enterprise is and the different structures you can operate under but I came away with some useful possibilities to investigate for funding and also confirmed that I will be setting up as a Community Interest Company Limited by Guarantee (as that way I will be eligible to apply for some funders and trusts e.g. Big Lottery). They also do cheap company incorporation and offer relatively low cost mentoring and help with other stuff. Plus I met a lovely lady called Jackie who is setting up a programme of cookery classes for people on low budgets. It was nice to meet other people at a similar stage in the process.

3. Next week I am going on a 2 day business start up course, again run by Glos Enterprise but in more detail and currently free as they have adult ed funding. There’s also Barclay’s Ready for Business and Cheltenham Borough Council do a Monday afternoon surgery for business start ups so I will go along to that too when I have more of a business plan.

4. John Price is a lovely, helpful accountant who specialises in not for profits and is very patient with non-accountancy people and so a chat with him was most helpful and I now know I will need to file my tax return, companies house return and CIC return and what I need to do/ keep for him to be able to do my accounts each year.

5. Gloucestershire University has launched an Enterprise hub and as part of that they have a series of workshops etc so I’m putting those in my diary. (need to buy one. Is anywhere still selling 2013 diaries?)

Other things I have done so far:

  • Bagged artplaygroundcheltenham (or variations of) on facebook, twitter, gmail. Need to do pinterest, instagram and domain names.
  • Planned an outline of website structure (I am very judgemental about organisations without a website, or ones with a lame website. If you don’t have a good online presence you might as well give up now I reckon.)
  • Done a start up budget and cash flow forecast (thank you Enterprise Club handouts) to see if it’s actually possible (I think it might be)
  • Researched, pinned on pinterest, emailed to myself and made lists of social enterprise networks and organisations, artists that design playgrounds, blogs about playgrounds, indoor play centres and family visitor attractions, kickstarter and other crowd funding projects that are vaguely similar, business start up sites, facebook pages for business stuff, commercial property websites, got obsessed with the SHLAA 2013 for Cheltenham (Strategic Housing and Land Availability Assessment) and Planning Applications archive on the council website, which give addresses and sometimes contact details for lots of empty buildings that I have been pressing my nose against the windows of. Also downloaded and am working my way through a few different social enterprise start up documents like this. and also this one.
  • Made a list of things I missed in my budget first time round, including fire extinguishers and annual checking, cleaning, sanitary bin and disposal, (oh the glamour of the entrepreneur world), uniforms, a safe and payroll service. (Highly recommended to me by knowledgeable business types, to avoid any problems with inland revenue etc and much cheaper than you think. I emailed Dataplan and Sandra for quotes and it works out about £5ish per employee per month.
  • Spent a lot of time casually walking past cafes and counting numbers of customers to try and work out a sensible expected number to budget from. Anything I find online about this basically says “how long is a piece of string?” Resorted to harassing a woman trying to close her cafe for the day, to ask her what her average number of customers is and was reassured when I suggested 15 or 20 and she said they had more than that in the first hour. I know it depends on a lot of factors, but at least it’s possible.

so that’s it so far. Posts should be shorter and less rambly from now on.

Christina
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What is the Art Playground?

Welcome to Art Playground Cheltenham.

It doesn’t exist yet. I am in the process of setting up a social enterprise- a business with a community benefit, where profits are distributed to support the social aims of the business. In this case, to encourage creativity and curiosity in adults and children, particularly through family learning. (and unofficially, to provide a creative, arty, friendly, vibrant community space in a town with a lot of slick, passive, arms-length experiences.)

In the very very early stages I looked for a blog someone had written whilst setting up a small business and couldn’t find one. So I am starting one and will post things I find out along the way, experiences, ideas etc in the hope that it may be useful to someone else doing the same.

The Art Playground will be a cross between an art gallery and an indoor playground, this is art you can explore, climb on, in and under. It will be for adults as much as children. Art Playground is like exploring a series of small worlds; a magician’s library, a multicoloured forest, underground caverns and painted mazes. I don’t believe that art should be about tip-toeing around empty galleries or that playgrounds, secret tunnels, hidden doors and clambering about and exploring should be off limits to adults (or children).

I am also planning to have a real food cafe with interesting veggie, vegan and gluten free options (there’s currently little to none in Cheltenham) as well as food for normal people. (I’m allowed to say that, I am a vegan, and a wheat-free, tee-total one at that. No wheat, no dairy, no fun.) and would love an outdoor space with re-purposed items as planters.

The whole thing will have a focus on recycled and re-purposed materials, acknowledging my great love for the car boot sale.

I also intend to build up a programme of events and workshops, offer birthday parties, provide a venue to hire and support a range of community and arts groups.

So that’s the plan. We’ll see what happens.

Christina


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Because a playground doesn’t have to cost a million bucks and come in a box. In fact, it’s better if it doesn’t.
Because playgrounds are under-recognized as an artistic medium.
Because everybody loves a playground.
– Paige Johnson, 2008

from http://www.play-scapes.com


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After generations of neglect, the public playground is suddenly in the midst of a renaissance as designers, sculptors, painters and architects strive to create a new world of color, texture and form.
– Jay Jacobs, 1967

from http://www.play-scapes.com