4 steps how to start a worker cooperative

Step 1: Group finding process

  • What is your common vision? This is about working out a group identity. What are your goals? Where do your personal goals differ? Which goals must be achieved so that the project does not fail and which goals are more likely to be long-term goals or ideals?
  • How do you want to make decisions together? How do you want to implement them?
  • Who should be responsible for which tasks and areas?
  • Which resources (time, money, knowledge) are you able and willing to provide for the project? Which ones don’t you or where is your personal limit? What do you need from the group to be able to contribute in the best possible way?

Step 2: Business plan, financial plan

  • What do you want to produce/offer? Who cares about your product? Have you ever asked people if they really need your offer (the Design Thinking method might be helpful here)?
  • What investments are required for this? Where do you get the money from (shares, crowdfunding, loans)? What income and costs do you expect?
  • The „Business Model Canvas“ can help with the business plan. On the left half of the sheet you enter your strengths, resources and skills. On the right hand side of the sheet you enter who your target group is, which of their needs are not fulfilled by the market yet (market analysis) and on which communication channels you reach this target group (marketing). At the bottom of the page, your expected costs are shown on the left and your expected benefit on the right, similar to a balance sheet. Costs and benefits do not necessarily have to be financial: the costs can also be 50 hours of voluntary work with the expected benefits of a happy target group or political change. Nevertheless, the financial aspects should also be calculated with some pessimism (worst-case).

Step 3: Start working

Once you know what your goals as a group are and what „product“ you want to offer to which target group, think about how you are going to achieve these goals most effectively.

  • What tools (e.g. hardware, software, online tools) can you use?
  • Which processes could be useful and resource-saving?
  • This is no longer about abstract goals, but about trying things out:
    • Start working! Find your first users! Offer them a test version!
  • Agile methods can also be helpful, e.g. Scrum, Kanban, Sociocracy, Liberating Structures. These can be an alternative to plenary meetings. They can help to clarify tasks and group roles and avoid unclear informal hierarchies. Plenary discussions as the only place for collective decision-making are a breeding ground for informal hierarchies, which can reinforce patterns of discrimination according to gender or social background.
  • At this point you can already take care of a tax number and possibly business registrations, as well as a good website, for example.

Step 4: Legal form, taxes, accounting

If you know exactly who you are, what you want, how you want to develop over the next two years, what your product is and how you want to work, THEN it makes sense to look for a suitable legal form.

  • There is neither a „right“ nor a „perfect“ legal form, but many possibilities, all of which have different advantages and disadvantages. The crucial thing is what is important to you and fits you best without disturbing your everyday business. In German law, this might be a cooperative (eG) as well as a Limited Liability Company (Gmbh), a GbR or maybe even an association (e.V.).
  • Take care of good bookkeeping.
  • For these purposes, there are courses, workshops and consultations available.
  • Now at the latest, you should also take care of the formalities (business registration, tax office) and perhaps discuss your project with a tax consultant.