Julie Lawn is a social entrepreneur who founded Cute Dog Consulting in 2005 funded by Government enterprise schemes, driven by a need to find a flexible way to work (as a single parent) she set up a business offering business advice and vocational training. With a background in marketing and training, Julie has enabled Cute Dog to bring funded training solutions and apprenticeships to over 500 people in the last five years.
“…One of the biggest challenges these days is for potential business start-ups to find a route to free or subsidised and impartial business advice. The smallest things can scupper a business early on, such as change in personal circumstance, child care, or health issues…”
What is a social enterprise?
People often ask me, “What is a social enterprise?” Without being evangelical, I believe that social enterprise is ‘the way forward’ for small business in the UK.
Social enterprises can take many legal forms (and can be made up of just one person) but most importantly, a social enterprise needs to be a person or organisation that applies business sense and strategies to make a real difference in improving human and environmental well-being, rather than maximising profits.
Crucially, a social enterprise exists for social purpose and must have social aims, values, and beliefs.
A unique business
I brought together a group of people – all facing individual challenges, to help me set up a unique business. My early team included single parents, people over the age of 50 who had been made redundant, and people with disabilities (including agoraphobia and post-traumatic stress disorder).
Plugging the gap
My ethos hasn’t changed from the early days. I still work with staff who find it hard to find ‘mainstream work’. The team and I are constantly striving to find Government and grant funding to plug the gap to offer vocational training and business advice support in the UK for anyone who wants to work.
Changes of Government and policy have made it increasingly difficult for marginalised people to start a business or access business advice particularly – and the situation is even more complicated for female lone parents, women and people who are disabled.
The small things that make a big difference
One of the biggest challenges these days is for potential business start-ups to find a route to free or subsidised and impartial business advice. The smallest things can scupper a business early on, such as change in personal circumstance, child care, or health issues.
My team is particularly keen to help people in social housing to move from benefits to the world of work, but in a reasonable and gradual way, and at their own pace.
Helping people on their journey into enterprise or employment
We have worked with women and marginalised people, offering advice to business start-ups, and have helped people make a rationalised decision about their business start-up. Much of the process is to help people on their journey into enterprise or employment.
By helping people plan the timeframe for starting their business (and actually find out if it’s really ‘for them’, or if they would be better off working for an employer) I’m immensely proud that the team and I have been able to help over 500 people find funding for training and start their own business over the last five years.
I want to change the world (or a small bit of it!)
As a leader of a social enterprise I’m passionate about achieving real social aims and this motivates me more than the challenge of running a profitable business. Many companies probably consider themselves to have social objectives, but my social enterprise is different – because social purpose is central to what we do.
Not in it for the money
As a social enterprise, Cute Dog is able to compete in the market like any other business. We do aim to make a profit, but we’ve never been driven or motivated by personal gain and personally I don’t want to be pushed into a compromise by serving the interests of shareholders, funders or the bank. We continually reinvest our profit back into the business, supporting staff and associates, and also into the wider community. We’ll never be rich, but we will always feel good about what we do.
Breaking the traditional business mould
We have followed social enterprise ideals and dispensed with conventional business models to find a new and more sustainable way of improving the opportunities for business which can react to changes in Government policy and economic fluctuation.
We’ve taken Government and educational funding sources and combined them to deliver programmes of support that regenerate local communities and provide employment for people furthest away from the labour market.
I’d like to say that we are fundamentally about doing what’s right by society – not charging the ‘end recipients’ for what we’re doing – such as helping them write a business plan – but still channelling Government’s funding into what they are aiming to do – help people help themselves and become benefit independent and individually successful.
Not constrained by other people’s ideas
It feels fortunate as a social enterprise not to be constrained by a formal model of start-up and vocational advice. We feel we are breaking ground.
Wherever there’s a social need, we are able to provide a solution; every area in the UK has unemployed people and we are aiming to help them into work or start businesses, at their own pace. Our current courses have a 90% attendance rate (one day a week for 12 weeks) and a 95% educational outcome (AS level in enterprise).
Case study 1- Aimie
Aimie H is a 24 year old fine arts graduate and freelance artist who came on the Cute Dog business start-up course after a year on benefits.
Following the 12 week course and an introduction to our Brighton business network, Aimie has started a picture framing business and works cooperatively with other Sussex picture framers to pool resources and reduce start-up costs. She’s come off job seekers allowance now and feels so much happier and optimistic about her future.
Case study 2 – Jaquie B
Jaquie B is a 45 year old woman who had a successful career running a motorcycle courier business. Personal and health issues caused her to stop working and concentrate on her family and home life. For a period of 15 years she has not worked.
She’s just completed a Cute Dog Enterprise business start-up course and has increased in confidence and communication skills immesurably since she joined us and now plans to start a reselling of designer goods business with a projected turnover of £25,000 in year one.
Here to help
I think that Cute Dog, as a social enterprise, combines a third sector ethos with the innovation and dynamism of a commercially run business. What sets us apart is a belief that being a competitive, well-run and profitable business is the way to help anyone who wants to start their business journey without having to go to college or be charged for that advice.