Callum (Founder & Occupational Therapy Lead at BounceOT) published an article with Glasgow Caledonian University Occupational Therapy Department –
We wanted to share it here for you to read via our website too!
Hello! I’m Callum – an Occupational Therapist and Social Entrepreneur.
I’m honoured to have been asked to write a post for the GCU Occupational Therapy blog. I’ve contributed once before back in 2020 to share my innovative ways of working in response to COVID, and proactive approach to ensuring student placements were still offered (via a Peer Assisted Learning model and allowing students to work remotely when required).
This blog is quite special though as I am very passionate about social enterprise (specifically within occupational therapy), and the release of this blog marks my social enterprise’s 6th birthday!
I’ve been asked to share my Top 10 tips for setting up a social enterprise. Now, I’m by no means a business guru – or going to be the next Dragon on Dragons Den! However, I did set up a project (which is now a registered social enterprise) at 23 years old, whilst in my final year at GCU in 2016.
Before sharing my Top 10 tips – I want to introduce this blog by first defining social enterprise, explain its relevance to Occupational Therapy, then give a bit of background to my social enterprise – BounceOT.
Defining Social Enterprise
The consensus internationally is that there is not one single definition of the term ‘social enterprise’. However, it is often described as a private organisation whose profits must be re-invested back into the business to achieve its social and environmental mission or purpose.
Although commonly mistaken for one, social enterprises are not charities. However, social enterprises do often deliver elements of charitable support – free or discounted services – as well as offering paid for services (Social Enterprise Scotland 2020). For example, at BounceOT we offer some fully funded support* whilst charging various stakeholders for payment e.g., parents/carers; local social work departments; local council Education teams, other organisations & charities. *made possible via generous grant funders.
The Social Enterprise Census (2019) highlight the benefits of this model to the economy whilst tackling major social issues such as health inequalities, which are increasing across the UK (Scottish Government 2015).
Social Enterprise and Occupational Therapy
Stickley and Hall (2017) found only eight organisations operating as a social enterprise for occupational therapy provision across the UK. Despite the minimal amount of social enterprise activity within our profession, the benefits of how healthcare professionals can innovatively deliver their services, combined with the associated benefits for the people they are working with, are crystal clear (RCOT 2022; Social Enterprise UK 2022; The Kings Fund 2020; Scottish Government 2016).
61% of health and social care social enterprises deliver services to the public sector (Social Enterprise UK 2020; Scottish Government 2016). As there is a demand for social enterprises to be active within the public sector, this provides an opportunity for occupational therapy social enterprises to work in partnership, or as part of, services like NHS and Local Authorities. The Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) have continuously and actively encouraged occupational therapists to become pioneers in developing new roles for themselves (2018; 2019a; 2019b; 2020; 2022). RCOT’s CEO recently highlighted “RCOT are here for every Occupational Therapist. The independent sector is thriving and will continue to grow” (Ford 2022).
Background of BounceOT
BounceOT is an activity-based service that is occupation-focused and occupation-centred. We offer a range of therapeutic services for toddlers, children, young people and adults with disabilities, and their families, to overcome the impact of inequality. This is achieved by offering a range of direct and non-direct OT support.
Our vision is for all individuals to be happy, healthy, and able to do the things they want, need, or have to do. Our mission is to improve the quality of life and participation in meaningful activities for children and adults with disabilities, and their families.
Our interventions are categorized into Universal, Targeted, and Specialist support. We strive to be inclusive to all individuals who experience inequality by providing support to those both with, and without, a diagnosed disability or long-term condition.
There was – and still is – a lack of services to support this population, especially with a focus on improving health and well-being through accessible physical activity. Therefore, the social enterprise was set up to ‘be something new’ in my local area.
My Top 10 Tips:
- First and most importantly- back yourself!…
You MUST believe in yourself… just like you would be nervous going into a job interview, you’ll be nervous about starting this new journey. However, the great thing about starting something new is that you are in control – you can go at your own pace. You have to trust your gut – go with what feels right!
- Surround yourself with supporters!…
It won’t always be an easy ride. I nearly decided (a few times!) running a business wasn’t my best idea and to throw in the towel. However, if you surround yourself with people who believe in you then you’ll always have the motivation to keep going.
- Accept that not everyone will support you…
This might sound slightly negative, but following on nicely from my previous tip, you will have to be OK with realising some people will not support you. Unfortunately, not everyone will like what you’re doing. Often this has nothing to do with you or your idea – I truly believe this stems from individual people and their own beliefs.
There are many reasons why people can be sceptical/ anxious/ apprehensive about what you are doing…but I believe it all comes down to one thing – change.
The best example that I can give here is that my biggest supporters have been Occupational Therapists. However, the harshest critiques have been from Occupational Therapists too.
- Consider your legal structure.
This should be one of the first business decisions you make – it is so important for planning governance and accessing funding! To become a CIC (like BounceOT is) you must apply to the CIC Regulator – they assess if you meet their criteria to become verified. This whole area is a minefield and it will be a time-consuming and expensive process if you get your legal structure wrong.
- Have a clear vision and know your USP… even if you don’t know exactly how to get there yet!
If you haven’t ever heard of a unique selling point (USP), you need to talk this language to people in the business world. It is not enough to just say you’re going to be an occupational therapist working outside of the NHS. As great as that is giving more people access to therapy, no one is going to ‘come to you first’ (customer wise).
What makes you different to the 100’s of other people in independent practice across the UK (granted I have just said there’s not that many people in Scotland doing it)… or better yet, why choose you over ‘free’ occupational therapy in the NHS?
Finally, you will need to articulate your vision and USP to the CIC regulator when you apply to register your social enterprise.
- Take some marketing classes!
Very similar to my tip above, but for this tip you need to be able to communicate what you and your social enterprise are about. This means everything from talking to your friends informally, to professionals more formally, and online/social media.
Let’s be honest, the most common thing that people joke about throughout university (and in the ‘real world’ when working) is about not being able to tell people what an occupational therapist does. Therefore, I believe every occupational therapist should take a marketing class – regardless of where they work!
- Know your customer(s)!
There’s a difference between a customer and a beneficiary. 99% of our customers are not the children and adults with disabilities who access our therapeutic play and rebound therapy services.
Can you guess who they are?
- Get friendly with finance!
Remember, you are a business (even as a registered not-for-profit organisation). You will have to pay out a lot more than you think!
Despite running the business for this long I am still learning every day. I continue to be shocked at how fast money goes out before it even comes in.
When I won my first £5,000 grant award, I felt rich! Now, £5,000 doesn’t even cover a month worth of expenses.
- Don’t do everything yourself!
You will burn out! You are not superman, or superwoman! Of course, give things a go and learn new business skills… but work smarter, not harder.
For example, I use QuickBooks to manage all our money and bank transactions online; I have an Accountant who does all my tax, payroll and end of year accounts; I have a funded business mentor; and I use app’s like Planable to schedule weeks’ worth of social media posts in advance (saving me hours of time and stress)!
- Go Get Support!
The final message that I would like to leave with you is to go for it!
Check out your local business support services for funded expert consultancy and/or money – the 2 main ‘go to’ that I recommend are:
Business Gateway Business Gateway | Business Gateway (bgateway.com)
Firstport Scotland Firstport – Business support and funding to help you start a social enterprise in Scotland
Director & Specialist Occupational Therapist
Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT). 2018. Strategic Intentions 2018-2023. London: RCOT
Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT). 2019a ‘Independent Practice’ [Available at: https://www.rcot.co.uk/about-us/specialist-sections/independent-practice-rcot-ss ] [Accessed 6th December 2020]
Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT). 2019b ‘Improving Lives Saving Money’ [Available at: https://www.rcot.co.uk/promoting-occupational-therapy/occupational-therapy-improving-lives-saving-money] [Accessed 12th November 2020]
Scottish Government. 2016. Scotland’s Social Enterprise Strategy 2016-2026 https://www.gov.scot/publications/scotlands-social-enterprise-strategy-2016-2026/pages/3/
Scottish Government. 2015. Scotland’s Vision for Social Enterprise: Moving Social Enterprise in from the Margins to the Mainstream https://socialenterprise.scot/cms/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/afdd2f29fd.pdf
Social Enterprise Census. 2019. https://socialenterprisecensus.org.uk/wp-content/themes/census19/pdf/2019-key-facts.pdf
Social Enterprise Scotland. 2020. https://www.socialenterprise.org.uk/policy-and-research-reports/social-enterprise-and-covid-19/?su=t0
Stickley and Hall, 2017. Social enterprise: a model of recovery and social inclusion for occupational therapy practice in the UK. www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/MHSI-01-2017-0002/full/html
The Kings Fund. 2020. Social enterprise in health and care https://www.socialenterprise.org.uk/policy-and-research-reports/social-enterprises-in-health-and-care/?su=t0