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2.2 Is a co-op right for me?

If this is your idea, your business and you want to keep control, then maybe a co-op isn't for you. However if you are open to involving others with the same level of ownership and control then a quick run through this section should reassure that you're on the right track.

Is this a co-operative?

The main question you should answer:

1. Do you want members to own and control the business or organisation?

A co-operative is a member-owned business which means shared ownership. This is central to a co-operative’s existence:

  • Members have an equal say in how the business is run
  • Members choose what to do with profits, whether distributing among members, reinvesting in the business or giving back to the community

If you want to limit ownership to just a few people, even as the co-operative grows, then a co-operative may not be for you.

‘Members’ can have a number of different (and multiple) relationships with a co-operative – we explore who your members are in the next section.

2. Can your business work to co-operative values and principles?

You should have already have seen the values and principles common to co-operatives, which we quickly outline in the dropdown below.

    Co-operative values

    Self-help, self responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity.

    Ethical values

    Honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.

    Co-operative principles

    • Voluntary and open membership
    • Democratic member control
    • Member economic participation
    • Autonomy and independence
    • Education, training and information
    • Co-operation among co-operatives
    • Concern for community

    We have a co-op values and principles section elsewhere on this site, so make a note of where you are if you need to read about them in more detail.

    3. Have you got a viable business idea?

    A co-op must be a viable business. As with any business, most co-ops aim to bring in enough income not just to cover costs but to make a profit. The difference between a co-op and other business types is that the members decide on what happens with profit. Will it be reinvested in the business? Distributed among members? Or given to the community?

    You need to be sure that your co-operative will generate an income from its goods or services.

    What next? 

    By answering the questions above you should very quickly understand whether a co-op feels right for your start-up.

    If it does, you should start to understand who should be involved in your co-op.

    One of the first things we recommend doing in the early days is an exercise to understand what your collective vision is – and where it differs.

    Explore your collective vision

    When you have an idea of who will be involved in the early days in setting up start of your co-op, it is useful to undertake a visioning process. 

    • It ensures that the people involved have a common vision – better to find out now if not.
    • It's something that you will use in your marketing
    • Your vision will lead to specific objects – what you will achieve and how. These will be an important part of the governing document of your legal structure.
    • Your vision, mission and objects can be linked to what you actually accomplish – your social impact. You may want to measure and report on this.

    SWOT analysis

    You may have already done this in your feasibility study, but this is a great exercise to do as a group.

    Typically a SWOT analysis is used to explore the Strengths and Weaknesses of your enterprise now, the Opportunities and Threats in the future and how you are going to deal with all of the above.

    This is often a useful piece of information to include in the business plan that you will create later.

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    Example of a SWOT analysis
    Example of a SWOT analysis

    Who will your co-op's members be?

    If you feel like a co-op is the right path for you, then next you need to be clear who the members of your co-op will be – and what role they take.

    The above infographics have been reproduced with permission from, and originally created by, Mark Simmonds for Transition Enterprise Handbook on behalf of the Transition Network.

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