Mix entrepreneurial activity and men can build great men’s sheds with minimal mistakes.
If you are going to start a men’s shed, do it well.
So here you are you want to start a men’s shed in your community. Perhaps you’ve just been made redundant; perhaps you’re still drawing a salary; perhaps you’ve taken your life in your hands and resigned. Any which way, by accident or choice, you’re planning to start a men’s shed.
Don’t be fooled into thinking its all plain sailing. There are many more pitfalls as your men’s shed grows and develops, and you’ll need to navigate them too. The mistakes listed here are just the beginning, which is the most likely to cause you problems.
Whether in a big city or remote area it’s important to run a men’s shed well and avoid the common mistakes. Mistakes loosely come under one of the following:
- Doing the wrong thing.
- Doing the right thing, but with the wrong people.
- Doing the right thing with the right people, but still managing to make mistakes in the execution.
- Lack of direction
You have no goals, no clear vision for your men’s shed, no mission, no objectives and no strategy for getting where you want the men’s shed to go. You are like a ship without a rudder. As the men’s shed leader you can’t afford to be buried in the daily operations.
- The is no passion
This is an imperative. Those starting and running a men’s shed without a passion for what it is, what it does and what it stands for, are at risk. They will not be able to sustain the workload or keep the members enthusiastic.
- Poor funding knowledge
Poor cash management is probably the single biggest killer of most organisations. Don’t expect that the government or someone else will bail you out. Usually by the time the cash crisis starts to get serious the men’s shed is in such a run down state that nobody wants to know it.
It’s particularly dangerous if your men’s shed has to incur a lot of cash cost (usually on materials or stock) before you make a dollar of revenue.
A great way to avoid this pitfall is to choose activities with attractive cash profiles. Profit is a concept, cash is a reality. If you don’t like the word ‘profit’ use the word surplus.
All non-profit organisations should be careful when they seek government grants as they often have to make unwanted compromises with your plans to suit other agenda, be buried in paperwork and subjected to micro-management. Peter Sergeant
- Analysis paralysis (or fear of failing)
In some ways, this is the biggest reason that men’s sheds don’t happen – they don’t get started in the first place, because the entrepreneur is so busy thinking about the men’s shed, and planning it, that they never actually do anything.
This can often be a subtle disguise for a more deep-rooted problem, which is the person’s fear of failure. It’s a lot easier to procrastinate (the killer disease) than it is to take your courage in your hands and actually put something out there into the market.
- Trying to be everything to everybody
Nothing will scupper a business more effectively than trying to be everything to everybody because what it actually means is that you’re not being anything distinctive to anybody.
Don’t start unless you have some feel for the men’s shed environment, or at least have a good working relationship with Mensheds Australia.
The bottom line is that your men’s shed has to be known for something, which means that people also need to know what sort of opportunities they shouldn’t send your way.
- No understanding of the community
This one is a real killer. “Once people understand what we’re offering, they’re going to be lining up to put money in our pockets” If you find yourself saying that, or anything remotely like it, run away! The strong likelihood is that you’ll be broke and disillusioned long before the market comes around to your way of thinking. If people don’t immediately recognise that they need/want your product, you are on a long and painful road to nowhere.
Carefully consider the products and services that the men’s shed will provide the members and the community. What will your men’s shed specialise in?
- Trying to go it alone
As far as I’m aware, every successful men’s shed ever created has been the work of a team. In theory, two might be sufficient, if you’re lucky enough to find someone whose skills are the perfect complement for yours. In practice, it seems to take three or four people to cover the bases.
And there’s a reason for this: very few really creative people have either the people skills to build a great team or the self-discipline to attend to the detail of running a men’s shed day-to-day. Both of these are required if you want to build a substantial men’s shed.
- Lack of marketing expertise
Of course, you will very quickly learn that nothing happens until a sale is made. Without good sales and marketing practices in a men’s shed, it has no hope of growth or even survival, no matter what else they do.
You need the men’s shed to be self-sustaining, not depending on elusive government and community handouts, which is not good for the men’s self-esteem anyway.
- Giving up too easily
Take a leaf out of Thomas Edison’s book. When asked how he felt about “failing” over 1,000 times to create a viable electric light filament, Edison replied along the following lines:
“I didn’t fail at all. I successfully identified over 1,000 compounds that wouldn’t function as a filament for an electric light. I knew that eventually, I’d run out of things that didn’t work….”
Ask yourself this: would you have continued working after the first 10 didn’t work? How about after the first 50?
Lots of successful people cite persistence as the number one thing that enabled them to succeed. Work on cultivating that critical quality in yourself and your team.
- Time Management
It won’t be long before your day is overfull, particularly if you don’t know how to delegate, or you are a procrastinator. How will you cope particularly with a new men’s shed?
You will quickly learn about the need to take time out, get away, refocus, delegate, more family time, slow down and have more fun.
“Wow, the men’s shed took off after that, everything started to work better’. But it won’t without good time management.
- Too many subgroups
Another pitfall for the kind of creative people who like starting organisations is the temptation to associate only with people like themselves, i.e. other people with the same outlook and experiences.
This is great fun, as they spark ideas off one another and thinking they’re creating all sorts of value. However, it won’t actually get the job done unless someone is picking up those great ideas and doing something with them. This is where the team comes in.
Be wary of a men’s shed manager that is a control freak and only wants his cronies around him.
Be wary of a men’s shed that is a control freak and only wants his cronies around him.
Cronyism is favouritism to long-standing friends, especially by appointing them to positions of authority, regardless of their qualifications. Hence, cronyism is contrary in practices and principles of good governance. Cronyism exists when the appointer and the beneficiary are in social contact; often, the appointer is inadequate to hold their own job or position of authority and for this reason, the appointer appoints individuals who will not try to weaken themselves or express views contrary to those of the appointer.
- Wrong members, wrong staff
If there’s one thing guaranteed to destroy your men’s shed, it’s having people on board who aren’t pulling in the same direction as you are.
Your people represent your men’s shed. Think carefully about the message they’re giving your members and the community. Is that person really going to say the right things about the men’s shed; both out loud and by the way they present themselves? If you have the slightest doubt, walk away – it’s a million times easier to say no to a person before you’ve committed to them.
Probation periods are there for a reason; use them properly. In other words, writing monthly or even weekly appraisals for your new members is important because it will tell you whether you should be keeping someone and give you an objective basis to give them the bad news if it hasn’t worked out and you won’t be keeping them.
- Reluctance to seek advice
As Red Adair (legendary trouble-shooter of oil well fires) often remarked: “If you think hiring a professional to do this job is expensive, wait ‘til you try hiring an amateur…..”.
Trust me! Doing your own marketing, accounts, legal work, logo design, web design, etc. is a false economy, and will hurt your men’s shed.
- Resilience to downturns
The resilience to face a downturn, rural recession, drought, credit squeezes, loss of some good members, being able to stop worrying about revenue, cash flow and people night after night, until you learn how to run the men’s shed well.
- Lack of entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship is not well understood even today it is still a dirty word to most people, even those who should know better. It is probably the most important ingredient that must be present and understood in order for a men’s shed to be successful and grow.
- Poor governance
Governance in all non-profit organisations continues to evolve as they struggle to deliver on the promises and perceptions of the community and the people involved. Those men’s sheds that are not performing well should understand what good governance is and apply it.
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As the awareness of men’s sheds and what they can accomplish, the naysayers are becoming fewer and men are becoming more confident in creating a men’s shed that works well all day, every day.
Also, businesses and the community at large are also increasing their understanding and are more receptive to supporting a men’s shed in whatever way they can.
With more involvement of business people, fewer fundamental mistakes are being made, although the need for support services is and will always be there, rising in complexity as a men’s shed grows.
Funding is still required to ensure the men’s sheds have adequate working capital. I have to say some of the biggest and best men’s sheds I was involved with had no federal or state government funding