Beat the back to work blues: five steps to starting a co-op

More people quit their jobs and look for a new career in the first weeks of January than at any other time. Job sites are filling up as businesses advertise new positions, and elsewhere start-up ideas abound.

For those who are excited about taking control of their working lives and can see the benefits of collaboration, a co-operative is the perfect option. Whether you’re a designer, an accountant, a retailer or a farmer, the co-operative option is an effective way to get a successful business off the ground.

Five steps to starting a co-op

Here's five steps to help you start a co-op - plus some links to online resources, as well as where you can access expert business advice courtesy of the The Hive:

Get your business idea in place

As with any business, it’s essential that you have a strong, marketable business idea. Without an idea that generates a profit, there can be no sustainable co-operative.

  • Once you have found other people to join with you as a co-operative, you first need to test your business idea to ensure it is feasible.
  • The key is to identify whether there is a real need for the service that you are offering, that you and other self-employed people will pay for.

The Hive gives you the guidance and templates for testing your business idea.

Work out how to finance the co-op

Simply put, finance is lump sums of money that you can quickly and easily use for whatever purposes are required within your business.  It may be in the form of grants and gifts, loans, community investment or even credit.

  • In conventional enterprises, investment and ownership dictate how the business works; in co-operatives it is the members – the people most affected by the enterprise – that are in control, determining the direction of the organisation and the terms on which investment is raised. This simple, but subtle, reversal of power will provide the context for the way in which you finance your co-operative.
  • Whether it’s investment by the members, loans, grants or a mix of these, there are range of ways to get start-up finance in place.

The Hive helps you work out the options available for financing your co-operative.

Write your business plan

Next, you should write a business plan – your document to say how you will set up your co-operative.

  • A lot of the information will come from your feasibility study. Once it’s ready, and everyone is on board, you can move onto setting up your co-operative by acquiring resources and establishing your legal form.

The Hive gives you the guidance and templates for writing your business plan.

Setting up your co-operative

Nearly there! There are a few more elements to setting up a co-operative, which The Hive helps you work through, such as:

  • Working out your governance
  • Your co-operative structure
  • Your legal form

The Hive gives you all the information and support you need to get your business registered as a legal entity in setting up a co-operative, including details of the Co-operatives UK registration service.

Start trading!

After registration While it might seem that getting your business registered took a lot of time and effort, it is just the beginning – now you’ve got a business to run! The Hive gives you some simple pointers in this section to help you get started. And once you’re fully up and running, you should look at The Hive’s Growing your business section for more help and advice on how to grow, thrive and be sustainable.

Advice and training to help you get a co-op off the ground

In addition to online resources, The Hive offers a range of business support to new and existing co-ops in the form of:

Hear from some existing co-operatives

  • Paper Rhino: a group of designers who set up a new co-op.
  • Casa: a worker owned business providing social care
  • Swindon Music Co-op: music teachers marketing their service through a co-op they own themselves
Written by Leila O'Sullivan
Updated: 03/01/2017