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What is a co-op?

A co-op is, just people, coming together to meet their needs in a fair way. There are over 3 million cooperatives globally, supporting over a billion people.

Cooperatives can be big, like:

Cooperatives can also be small, more local businesses like our own Preston Digital Foundation, a worker owned tech business of 3 members. 

Co-ops can be used to solve community challenges: saving a local shop, pub, library or starting a new community space. Or used as a way to start a business with a couple of other people wanting to do something similar.

So where do I start?

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you navigate the process:

Step 1: Identify the need

It sounds obvious, but it’s crucial to establish why your cooperative should exist in the first place.

  • What need is it looking to meet? 
  • What is its purpose?

This may be obvious, if you’re looking to save a local service, or already have a community with an issue behind you. But if you’re an individual, looking to do something new you will need to pay particular attention to this question, and crucially will this resonate with potential members or the customers/community you’re looking to serve?

Another way to look at this, is to look for the sweet spot: 

What do you have a passion for? – What’s driving you to start this new co-op, will others feel this is equally important or is your motivation just so great you feel you can persuade others, this co-ops is needed.

What are you good at? – A great idea is one thing, but be realistic. Do you have the skills needed to see it through? If you don’t, can you find others, build a team?

Will people pay for it? – So you have a great idea, you think you can do it really well. You’re at the “hobby” stage. To turn something from a hobby into a business needs people willing to pay you for it. So think through whose people these are, what’s the market for what you have a passion and ability to do?

Some exercises to try:

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Step 2: Forming a group

A cooperative is made up of a group of people all looking to meet their needs, it’s our competitive advantage. If you are not already part of a group looking to develop a cooperative then finding a group of passionate individuals who share your vision is your next step. 

How to find other people?

Create a 2 min pitch – If you want to convince others to join you, you need to not just explain your idea but enthuse them about it. Go back over the above, write it out and practise it, a good structure would be:

  • What is your idea, what will your co-op do in one line
  • Why is this needed, what’s the big issue or problem
  • How will your co-op help to solve it
  • What progress have you already made
  • What can they do to get involved, or what’s your ask of them

For community focused co-ops: Go where that community is, if there is already a strong group, raise your idea at one of their events or create an event and invite people to it as a sure way of gauging interest in the idea.

For worker focused co-ops: Setting up a business with others in a similar industry is a much stronger/closer relationship. It’s best to find these people through business relationships, who have you previously worked with or done business with, do they have the skills and track record. 

Try to find local networking events, online forums or places similar people hang out.

Either way, once you have signed a few people, hold a session whether online or in person, a formal pre-organised event or just meeting up at a local cafe or pub. Bring people together to focus on this new co-op idea. Make sure to set out a clear agenda for the session so people know what to expect, and try to cover: 

  1. Start to create a shared vision
  2. Share and understand each others values and motivations
  3. Try to be clear on each other expectations and commitments
  4. If there’s loads of energy, start to plan out tasks for the future.
  5. Crucially for anyone wanting to carry on, get them to set a “next action”, this may be to go away and sign-up more people or find out some information and report back. Getting people right at the start carrying out tasks, and crucially knowing who will do them and who won’t will really help over the long term.

Step 3: Create a document and organise your thoughts 

If you haven’t already create a shared document that all members can see and add to, such as google docs.

Use this to start collecting your thoughts, whether its potential names for the co-op,who the members might be, questions you need to get answered or actions you need to take.

[Here’s a useful template to get you started]

Step 4: Do a review of what you know and what you don’t know

So you have a group of interested people who have started to firm up and write down some ideas. Now is a good opportunity to reflect on what you know and what you don’t. What assumptions you are making. What can you do to find out answers or get more certainty about those assumptions you’re making? 

So yes this means lots of browsing on the web to do research but it also means asking your potential workers, customers and members some questions you don’t know the answers to.

Also an opportunity to check out on your initial idea: Are you still passionate about it, is it really needed, have you enjoyed the process so far, do you think you have the ability and skills you need, are you any more confident there is demand for it and someone out there will pay for it?

Step 4: Contact us

There are lots more steps, like creating a business plan, running experiments, thinking about legal structures and how you are going to finance all this. 

But that can wait, at this point you have an idea, a group and have put some thought into it. So contact us and we can help you with all the other steps in your co-ops journey

Further resources

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