Female Founders - Kirsten Little, Make CIC

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#FemaleFounders: Kirsten Little, Make CIC

Make CIC, and its community of sites holds a unique place in my heart. Not only am I good friends with founders Liam Kelly and Kirsten Little, but my company is also privileged to have worked alongside them to define their Tone of Voice. This interview feels extra special as it’s an accumulation of a few things; the friendship we’ve forged, me nagging Kirsten for two years to do the interview and the journey our companies have gone on together. Kirsten is fairly typical in the Female Founders I’ve met in that she doesn’t feel comfortable shouting about her achievements. Well, here we are, and I’m happy to do the shouting for her. 

For the last seven years, Make CIC has created three much-loved and needed makers spaces across Merseyside. One half of its founding team, Kirsten Little, is responsible for its daily operations. If you find yourself in the fortunate position of being toured around their spaces, it’s probably Kirsten showing you around. Essentially, Kirsten is a fixer of things – and in a community of makers this is no small feat. What you’ll find below are some keen insights on running a CIC, some helpful resources for profit for purpose companies and an understanding of the impact Make has had on its communities.

Find out how Make CIC makes things happen and what you can do to have as much impact as its female founder, Kirsten. 

1. Which 3 skills would you say are crucial to being a company founder?

  • Patience – From business operations to the people who work in your company, everything takes longer than you think.
  • Adaptability – Due to the nature of the work we carry out and the spaces we operate in we’ve had huge curve balls thrown at us – some good and some stressful. You need to adapt to keep things moving. 
  • A sense of humour – This gets you through the first two. If you can get through it with a smile, and be personable, you’re doing well.

2. What does your day-to-day look like as an Operations Director?

I find it hard to analyse what you’re doing day-to-day as you’re in the thick of it. My role changes every day, which is part of the reason why I enjoy it so much. 

Essentially it’s;

  • Looking outwards to my team -I need to be one step ahead of them to ensure everything keeps running smoothly. I like to make sure everyone feels setup and prepared so I make sure I’m available for them a lot of the time.
  • Looking after the residents – I make sure it’s easy for me to be approachable and available to everyone.
  • Keeping things in motion – For example, one moment I might be hosting a high-profile politician or unclogging a gutter, touring international visitors or fixing one of our workshop machines. My fellow founder and I often find ourselves offering guidance and advice to local governments or organisations, so I’m often touring people from our community around the building.
  • Managing change – If we open a new site for example, this is a managed process – even if it looks like an organic process on the surface. It’s my job to ensure that all happens in a way that feels manageable. 

3. If someone was looking to grow their business, where would you point them for support?

In the first three years of our business, we took up every mentorship programme that was available, now we look to other resources and sources to keep us relevant. 

  • Think about systems and processes from University and apply them to a work situation. For example, when I was at University, I would attend things called Group Crits, where peers would get together and analyse each other’s work, offering improvements. This way of working permeates into what I do in my role now. 
  • The Women’s Org has been invaluable to us since day one offering guidance and mentorship to me and all of my team. They’ve also been intrinsic to us finding new opportunities and business.
  • Makers meetup – we run these every month and they’re a great place to get to know our residents and what it is they’re dealing with
  • Baltic Schmooze events happen once a quarter and are a great way to meet people in that area who are running businesses and influencing the local landscape 
  • Safe Regenerations were great for helping us understand how to set-up a business like ours (a CIC) 
  • Growth Platform have lots of helpful resources and mentoring available 

4. What are the biggest barriers you face when it comes to growing your business?

A lot of the barriers we face are in the ‘boring’ areas of our business such as finances and GDPR. Due to the type of company we are, we can’t go down traditional lending routes so we’ve had to be quite creative about the ways we’ve gathered money. Business Rates are an ongoing issue for us. For example, Make North Docks wasn’t fit for purpose when we moved in, but the business rates bills started from day one. Because the business is multifaceted and multi-location there are legal and financial implications that can be hidden or unexpected such as GDPR compliance, having a license that extends beyond midnight. As the company’s income grows so do the hidden costs that come along with it.

5. What routines and rituals do you have in place to keep your company running smoothly?

  • Face to face meetings – Being as face to face as much as possible is important due to the type of work we do. Where possible, we set meetings in our spaces so people can see how amazing they are. 
  • 5/15s at the end of the week – This system has been invaluable to our team, we now do this exercise where we write an email that takes 15 mins to write and 5 mins to read
  • SWOT analysis tools – We give all of our staff access to it so they carry out their own analysis if they need to.
  • 10/30s – Similar to 5/15s but they take 30 mins to write and 10 mins to present
  • Building in an attitude of “Don’t be scared of being stuck” – which is what the above systems and tools help us to achieve.
  • Google Drive – We lean on this heavily so we can all live edit documents and feedback in realtime 
  • Google calendar – We make sure everyone follows our system for adding in new diary entries: Event type in capital letters (MEETING) followed by subject (Produce Flyer)  then @ location (Make, North Docks).
  • Asana project management tool – We mainly use this for commissions but it’s super handy as it crosses over with G Suite, so we can lin everything up
  • Swallow the Frog first thing – I put in protected work time into my calendar so I can ‘swallow the frog’ first thing (as in, swallow a frog first thing in the morning and it’s the hardest thing you’ll do all day – the rest of the day is easy in comparison)
  • No emails before 14:00, that way I can focus on tasks I need to get done and still manage our community.

The above image shows Kirsten system for keeping notes. Left-hand side – date /customer /meeting type and notes from the meeting.
Right-hand side – actions, add deadline if needed. Highlighted actions are the ones that are completed. Try it yourself!

6. What are 2 things you look for when you are hiring someone to work for you?

I think of two things:

  • What drives them? And will they be a good fit for the type of work we do? 
  • What was their minimum wage job in the past? If not, what were they doing that contributed to society in some way?

I find these two things give me a good feel if a person will make a good culture fit for us.

7. What makes you proudest about your company?

Make has grown into something so much bigger than I ever imagined. We’ve got three spaces and a team working alongside us – that seems incredible to me. I always think “What can I do to improve my skills? What’s the thing for next year that will push us forward?”. On reflection, we’ve achieved so much thanks to that attitude.

Outside of that, I’m proud of what some of our residents have achieved. For example, Nick and Becky from Constellations started in Make – now they’ve got their own bricks and mortar. Josh Burke who founded Bongo’s Bingo is also an ex-resident of ours and they’ve grown into this huge thing. I’m proud we’ve been part of that.

8. What’s your biggest business achievement to date?

By far, it’s our team! Their personalities align so well with what we stand for and I’m proud of how they look out for each other. They’ve all started junior but I look forward to watching them grow into more senior roles in our organisation.

9. If you could magically change one thing about your business now, what would it be?

It would easily be having to spend less time on maintaining our buildings. It eats up huge parts of my day and I’d love to hand that over to someone else so I can focus on other areas.

10. What do you do to switch off from the never ending to-do list?

As a founder, I think it’s hard to switch off without feeling guilty so I’ve now got good processes in place to help me relax:

  • Treating time off as just that, time off – If I’ve got a weekend off from work I make sure I take the time off properly and try not to feel bad about it
  • Tidying work away – I’ve purposely put all of my work apps on the second page of my phone and organised them into a folder with notifications turned off. That way, I can look at it if I need to and it doesn’t interrupt my day. 
  • Sunday wins – I love cooking a Sunday Roast, doing Aqua Zumba with my Mum and having brunch with friends. 
  • Headspace – I had the free version for a year and it’s such a useful tool for keeping you calm

Want to learn more about Make?

Take a look at their Instagram feed and sign up to one of their classes!