Step one: the idea

At the start of any new co-operative is a good idea. It might be a way for you and other students to save money and get hold of...

At the start of any new co-operative is a good idea.

It might be a way for you and other students to save money and get hold of something that you couldn’t otherwise – cheap fresh food, secure housing, a working bike or affordable furniture.

Or it might even be an idea for how you, as students, can provide something for other people.

The important thing is that it’s an idea that people are willing to pay for. Though they are not there to make big profits, co-operatives are organisations that need to trade in some way.

Whilst you might be able to get financial support from grants and donations to get it off the ground (see step 3), ultimately a co-operative needs to pay for itself through the goods or services it sells.

Income from people buying food, accommodation, furniture, bikes or whatever it is the co-operative provides needs to be enough to cover all the costs of the enterprise, as well as provide a surplus to pay people for their time and invest in the co-operative for the coming years.

This means that you need to do your research.

  • Find out whether people want what you plan to provide. Find out what exists already and what people think about them. Talk to people, do a survey, use social media, go through student media. Find out whether people want what you’re offering sufficiently that they will pay for it rather than continue with what they currently use. If people don’t want to pay for what you’re offering, then the co-operative won’t work
  • Make sure the numbers add up. Work out how much it will cost to buy what you’re offering, how much people will realistically pay for it, and any other costs involved – transport, premises, promotion, insurance, volunteer expenses, staff costs, those kinds of things.
  • Go back to your original idea and refine it based on what you’ve learnt from your research. You might want to do something different or more specific now you know what the costs are and what people are interested in. Refine your idea into a USP: a ‘unique selling point’ that differentiates you from non-co-operative competitors and appeals to your potential users.
  • Once you’ve got all this together, compile it into one document – a business plan – that says what you want to do, what competition there is, what the costs will be for doing it and how much income you can expect. If you can, look up to three years ahead then you’ll be in a good position to assess the viability of your new co-operative.

If it’s looking like you have a viable enterprise then it’s time to start thinking about the people


Blog: Edinburgh Student Housing Co-operative by Lucy Erskell

Video: Local, loved and trusted

Or go straight to STEP TWO: the people

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