"There is no such thing as an overnight success".
And damn Mr Perfect knows that. It has been five long years of hard slog so far to build what can appear on the outside to be a large(r) organisation with a healthy impact on community and connection for men, for the good of their mental and general health.
But the truth is, we keep it deliberately lean, to do as much as we can with little resources and keep it flexible and nimble for what the world can throw at us.
Often I receive messages like “How did you do it?”
Many moons ago I had no formal training in startups, social enterprises, not-for-profits, marketing or otherwise. But I did have a nagging idea.
If I engage my “writer’s brain” mode then you would receive a 10,000-word thesis of how Mr Perfect started and grew. But no-one wants, or needs that. So I did a 2,000-word one instead (it is important to note, there is no wrong or right way, we have made many mistakes, had many learnings and what worked for us may not be right for you or your organisation).
The seeds of Mr Perfect were planted three years before I started anything or even started receiving professional help for my mental health challenges. On Sunday afternoons and evenings (pre-kids) I lost myself in some writing, sketching, visualising telling my story in some format, and then as I tended to do, quickly berated myself and mocked the idea that I was capable or worthy of doing such things. It didn't help my confidence was consistently rock bottom.
Back in 2013, finding grassroots, community, “real” resources and experiences were like finding a needle in a haystack. I found one obscure blog / book written by a young man that had tackled severe depression and had “come out the other side”. I didn’t read the whole book but found his story raw and it resonated, hard.
With my natural introvert default, I setup a $2.99 per month blog and website using Wix. The design and UX was quite frankly horrific but it was something. From memory I penned a few anonymous blogs on there. And because it was anonymous, I didn’t share them. No-one would have seen them. But it was a start.
After my first visit to the GP to finally confront 25+ years of repression, I had the infamous “chat over a few beers with mates”. We shared, we found some comfort and we felt we had to do something (compounded by the fact I was reading more reports, stats and stories about men’s mental health).
With some slight adapting of our website to show it was more than just a blog, we figured bringing guys together to meet and chat was a good start. I found Meetup.com, setup an account and made an event listing. Rinse and repeat on Gumtree.
Our first three “Meetups” included a football kick-around, a pub and then a café with variable success. The common denominator was the gold that was found in the discussion, and connection, not the activity itself. That was just the vehicle. Finally we settled on a BBQ.
With a very-slowly growing community coming to a monthly Sydney BBQ, one attendee asked if he could do the same nearer his home. We pondered and said why not. But a friend and original Mr Perfect Committee Member nudged me to make things official and setup a legal structure of sorts and get some insurance for our events.
Although I dipped into my own pocket for setup costs, we needed more. A no-frills Trivia Night Fundraiser was organised and to this day remains one of our favourite events.
It helped that in my day job I was used to networking regularly in the healthcare space so I edited this approach to the community and mental health world. After many emails and coffees, this helped us found a Committee Member that happened to work for a large legal firm that had a great pro-bono team.
Incorporated Association + Insurance
Although such is my stubborn (and ironic) “don’t’ ask for help” approach I setup the Incorporated Association myself (essentially same structure as a local football club) with no legal help. When our legal team came on board they tidied up some of my attempts, gave sound advice and set us on the right track. Insurance followed by simply contacting an Insurance Broker friend to get us Public Liability Indemnity and Directors Insurance (for the Committee) so we were super protected.
Committee / Board
Depending on your legal structure it will be called different names, but regardless, you will need a legally responsible team to become Directors of your organisation. We started with my mates that had personal drive to make this happen and then as the years went on we added specialist help where needed. The skills and make-up of this group will vary as needed, but get this right as early as you can and as well as legal support, get an Accountant involved for advice regardless of sums of money involved (ours is also on our Board and our Treasurer).
Networking Part 2
You can see a common theme occurring, that networking is super important. Through this a connection referred us to a senior figure at their corporate employer. What followed was a coffee that ensured Mr Perfect would thrive and survive and gain enough funding that has continued for three years. What did I do at that meeting? I was simply myself. I was honest, I told my story, the Mr Perfect story, the humble impact and wins we had had in 1 year of operation and sheepishly, that maybe, we could reach more men with our brand of connection (be prepared, for every 100 coffees, chats and meetings, there are 99 that lead nowhere). Thankfully OnePath agreed and Zurich Financial Services Australia has kept to that supportive promise since.
Formalities Part 2
Although we opted to continue our simple, grassroots approach to everything we did and I ran the charity around life, it became clear growth was happening. After two years of operating we were advised to apply to become an ACNC-recognised charity (Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission). In stepped our pro-bono legal support and after this was granted, we took it up a notch and applied for DGR Status (Deductible Gift Recipient) and was successful. This meant any donations we received were tax deductible and of course is another badge of honour to assure we are ethical and legitimate (be warned, there is a substantial amount of written input, facts, figures, stories, explanations and more needed from the Founder / CEO, even with legal help).
As we grew from one BBQ to four to 12 to 20+ it was clear with small resources and time, systemising was key. After a couple of years we had a feel for what worked, a template of sorts, so I set about writing this down and although it was flexible when we had time to action the many tasks each week, there was a clear way of approaching and recording it. Simple but effective, Google Sheets and creating a BBQ Host Guide that acted as our “Bible” was a winner.
Marketing & Content
With an organically-growing brand and now a small pot of money to spend, we knew more people had to find out about us. So we engaged some external marketing help to do this. It helped I have some of that expertise but once I was busy juggling more on the Operations side, things such as social media and how we communicated to the world regularly were important to still guide, but outsource.
“Content is King” as they say, and using my background and skills as a writer, we have religiously made sure our blog has useful and valuable content weekly. Where we have been unable to keep up this pace, asking others in the mental health, men’s health and community world has worked wonders as naturally they also want a platform for their work. As a third tool we have used SourceBottle to shout-out for contributors.
When COVID-19 unceremoniously arrived, for a short period it hit us for six. BBQs had to be cancelled and we lost face to face connection for men, something that still affects us in a smaller way now. But due to the seeds planted at growing a loyal community, we were able to act immediately and came up with Online BBQs over Zoom, Livestream chats and interviews with other great people in the community and health worlds and finally, made use of my mapping and research skills to build an online Men’s Health Directory for our website. After all, we figured our offering is not for every man, as we are all at different stages and complexities of health and wellbeing.
The big C-word was a wake-up call across all functions of our charity. It brought the absolute essential of health and safety to the forefront. Many people think “it’s just a BBQ” but as we now know, it’s more than a BBQ (in more ways than one).
With the pandemic we engaged a new Board Member with extensive psychological and health skills. We drafted and then implemented a raft of health and safety policies and procedures that are easy to understand and action for anything that may go south at a BBQ or in our online community. Soon after expanding these, they became priceless as we had to use them for the first-time formally (with a confronting but positive outcome).
After five years of operation and 40 BBQs running monthly across Australia, we decided to further automate our processes. There has been a lot said about Facebook’s questionable practices but it has been the most efficient way to organise our Events and communicate to our community, so we invested further into it.
Centrally at Mr Perfect HQ, we use also use a platform called Notion, a quasi-project management, HR, CRM and intranet-style platform. The whole G-Suite is our mainstay, with tracking across Google Sheets and Google Forms embedded into our website for those looking to be a BBQ Host in their town.
Despite all of our planning and the distractions and noise, we constantly remind ourselves to keep it simple and keep to that same intent we had over five years ago. What worked at that first football kick-around with 40 guys sitting around afterwards, physically exhausted but buzzing on endorphins and chatting casually as they connected, THAT was the gold. To keep recreating and maintaining that so that guys can connect and form communities long before any potential crisis’, is always going to keep us feeling purpose and meaning.
My Takeaway Tips
- Grassroots always
- Do you really need to become a formal entity/charity?
- Stick to what you know and are good/qualified at
- Discipline (and organisation) is freedom
- Give daily value to your community
- Establish boundaries to remain true to your intended impact (only collaborate in partnerships that align 100%)
- Network, get advice and get professionals (when needed)
- “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything”.
- Use impactful stories carefully and respectfully
- Get started and keep it simple (always)