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The Nucleus Approach


Nucleus and SME statistics

Statements of chambers and SMEs

Impact: What changed? Interview with Jordi Castan


Legal property of the Nucleus Approach



Types of Nuclei

Manual for the Nucleus

The start

9 criteria for the selection of a sector

How to kill a Nucleus

Chambers and Associations

Lobby and Public Private Dialogue

Benchmarking of chambers

Questions and Answers concerning the Counsellor

Why the Counsellor does have to run 10 Nuclei?

One organisational and one financial reason require a counsellor to run 10 Nuclei. Both reasons are interlinked.

Organisational reason:

  • Practical experiences of Nuclei in all continents show that fulltime counsellors are able to manage 10 Nuclei with one or two meetings or other activities per month, a total of between 10 and 20. This is quite a lot of work and keeps the counsellor rather busy, but for a well organized one it is possible.

Financial reason:

  • About 15 member entrepreneurs participate in one Nucleus on average. This corresponds to the best number for group work (see What is the minimal and maximal number of participants per Nucleus?). Consequently the counsellor is responsible for the management of about 150 members.

  • There is an unwritten rule in business chambers and associations that the salary of a counsellor corresponds to more or less 150 monthly membership fees. This holds true in various countries such as Brazil, Sri Lanka where salaries and membership fees are between 5% and 10% of the Brazilian ones , and Germany.

  • This signifies that a counsellor with 10 Nuclei / 150 members self-finances his / her own costs.
    At least her / his gross salary. In case the membership fees are so high than less membership fees correspond to the counsellor's salary or there are more than 150 entrepreneurs participating in the 10 Nuclei, then the Nucleus entrepreneurs finance in addition partly / fully the additional personnel costs like social security etc., eventually even partly office, transport and other costs.

  • In other words: a Nucleus buys and pays about 10% of the counsellor’s working time capacities, which equals roughly two working days per month.

  • In case the counsellor manages less than 10 Nuclei with less than 150 members then the counsellor’s costs are subsidized / co-financed by the other non Nucleus chamber members. In the short run this causes hardly any difficulties, especially in the starting phase of Nuclei. But in the long run the non Nucleus members will complain: we pay the cost of the service which they use.

The financial aspect of Nuclei and this calculation are important elements of the logic of the Nucleus Approach. The objective is the creation of a service system in the chamber or business association, which the entrepreneurs are capable and willing to finance by themselves. Only in this case sustainability will be possible: the chamber and the entrepreneurs continue the Nucleus work without external interventions and support.

Many entrepreneurs are capable and willing to finance only a limited membership fee. Therefore the membership fee in many chambers is traditionally very low. The trick is to offer a product the Nucleus with its counsellor which they can afford. Each Nucleus entrepreneur “buys” a small share of the counsellor’s service. S/he gets a very valuable and demand based return without further financial cost through the exchange and cooperation with the other Nucleus members.

This financial aspect of the Nuclei and the whole Approach play frequently an important role during the introduction process of the Nucleus Approach. The employment of a counsellor may worry the president, treasurer or CEO because of the follow-up costs and the financing. These doubts can be reduced with the presentation of above calculation and the system’s self-financing logic.

Furthermore when new presidents and / or treasurers assume their positions in the chamber they frequently observe that the cash box is rather empty, that the chamber has to cut costs and the counsellor is relatively expensive. Then, especially if the leaders of the chamber do not understand the objectives and effects of the Nuclei well, the almost compelling reaction is the dismissal of the counsellors and the stop of the Nucleus work.

This is not theory. This is daily reality!

In Brazil and also in Sri Lanka, chambers stopped the Nuclei and dismissed the counsellors with the only argument “Too expensive, we do not have the financial means.” In one of the first chambers, which had started Nuclei in 1991, such process started in 2007. Already a couple of years before, the board of directors decided to dismiss the experienced costly counsellors and to contract younger, inexperienced ones for lower salaries. In both cases the president of the Nucleus Council explained to the chamber president that in this case all the Nucleus members would quit the chamber membership. The presidents changed their mind. The Nuclei and counsellors continued.

But we know other cases where Nucleus entrepreneurs did not have yet the power and the courage to negotiate with the chamber leaders in that way. The Nuclei stopped working because the counsellors were dismissed.

Recommendations for CEO and counsellor

  • Keep the figures 10 Nuclei / 150 members in mind as a rule of thumb.

  • Organize the work and yourself in a way that 10 Nuclei can be served. There are always temporarily Nuclei more active that need more attention. But this can be balanced out with those ones less active.

  • Check once per year the total of the membership fees paid by the Nucleus entrepreneurs per month (rough calculation) and compare the sum with the salary / the costs of the counsellor. Depending on the membership fee system eventually the number of attended Nucleus members has to be adapted.          
    Differentiate eventually between the membership fees the entrepreneurs should pay and those they really paid.

  • As long as the figures do not fit together, the counsellor’s position remains vulnerable. Try to change this by starting more Nuclei and by attracting more Nucleus members.

  • If the figures fit together, present them to the Nucleus members, their presidents and to the board of directors. This is marketing in the counsellor’s own interest.


Of course, this requested numbers of Nuclei and participants provoke easily objection. Here are some typical arguments:

  • Counsellor 1: For me the quality of the Nucleus work has priority and not the quantity.         

    Counterargument: The point is not quality or quantity but quality and quantity which is respectively financed by the Nucleus members with their membership fees. To run only five Nuclei as fulltime counsellor means to supply them with gold for the price of silver. To spend 20% of the working capacities and to charge only for 10% is a non entrepreneurial attitude and discredits easily the whole Nucleus Approach in the chamber. Or: a carpenter does not sell a table worth 200 $ to a client who wants to spend only 100 $. Instead s/he will adapt the product and produces a table worth 100 $.

  • Counsellor 2: I am part time counsellor and have additional tasks in the chamber.    

    Counterargument 1: Try to change this. The counsellor learns the biggest part of his / her work through own experiences with different Nuclei. Therefore, s/he should gain these experiences as fast and as intensely as possible in order to reach the necessary quality and efficiency in moderation and Nucleus management. A counsellor with one to three Nuclei will hardly ever gain the necessary experiences. In this case it is better to stop all Nucleus work.

    Counterargument 2: Employees with different working areas in the chamber present in case of poor performance in one area the excuse that they had to do too much in the other one. Consequently it is difficult to evaluate and assess their output and performance. Normally a fulltime counsellor is much more efficient than a part time one and it is easier to assess her / his performance.

  • Entrepreneur 1: we have so many activities we need the counsellor more than 10% of his / her time!     

    Counterargument: Perfect. Then do not “buy” 10% of the counsellor’s time capacities but for example 20%
    and pay the double membership fee. Or if you want a counsellor fulltime for your Nucleus then pay 10 membership fees per month. At the end the Nucleus entrepreneurs have to finance at least the counsellor’s salary. Whether this happens through more members or through higher membership fees is not relevant.

  • Counsellor 3: We create additional income for the chamber through training and other activities which finance the counsellor’s costs.    

    Counterargument: I do not know one chamber with a sophisticated cost calculation and accountancy system for training and other activities which include all costs, also overhead costs, salaries, depreciation on equipment, buildings, etc. Normally a chamber should be glad to be able to charge the direct costs of the activity plus a certain percentage as contribution to the overhead costs. (See Download Form  for the calculation of Nucleus activities and Download Finances /
    Download Membership fees about the finances and the membership fee system of a chamber). Therefore, to maintain that the Nucleus entrepreneurs finance the counsellors’ costs through membership fees plus fees for training and other activities is easy
    to proof this is almost impossible.

Analyzing the respective data in Brazil, there is presently hardly a counsellor running ten Nuclei. The president of a chamber in the northeast of Santa Catarina, where the development of the Nucleus Approach started, admitted in 2007: “It’s true. This rule we forgot over the years!”

In the rest of Brazil this rule apparently was not included as element during the dissemination process. When we asked the CACB Confederation of the Chambers of Commerce and Entrepreneurs about the reason that about one third of the once promoted chambers had given up running Nuclei the answer was: Presumably because of the end of the SEBRAE subsidies (SEBRAE: Brazilian SME promotion institution). Obviously this is only half of the truth: the subsidisation of chambers for some time can be justified with the financial gap during the starting phase, when the chamber has to bear already the counsellor’s costs but the number of Nuclei and membership fee paying Nucleus entrepreneurs is still small. If at the end of the subsidization period 10 Nuclei with 150 participants do not exist the chamber will observe that it has still the burden of the costs of the Nuclei but not the respective income to finance the counsellor. Consequently it stops the Nuclei.

Therefore, the problem is not the end of the subsidy but that the subsidy has not been replaced by other income (membership fees) in time.

21/10/2008 - MueGlo / Simone