Why don’t you like me?

From the off you want your entrepreneurs to like you. You are in a new country on a new programme working with new people. The initial goal is to get along with everyone, just to make the experience that much easier.

The entrepreneurs are especially important in the liking process. Eventually you have to get them to disclose the inner workings of their business, discuss the problems they face and their new ideas (which you might have to shoot down, gracefully) and of course: finances. Finances are the hardest to get out and the hardest to word in terms of getting them out. Completely understandable, my finances consist of a huge student overdraft, with no plans to pay it off soon.

Back to the programme: Curriculum training had finished and we were about to start meeting the entrepreneurs for the first time. From what we had discussed as a group, many of us felt that it was best to form a friendly working relationship as soon as possible in order to ease the awkwardness obtaining fragile information. And so that is how our team set out – eager to please, smiles on our faces. As a people pleaser this came naturally to me, so I lead the way in terms of cringe worthy statements and awkward forced attempts to befriend these people we would be working with for the next 8-10 weeks. I think at one point I even said “friendship first, then business”. Luckily he stayed on the programme.

Initially we were worried about our start up poultry farmer we fretted over how things would go with her; she lived very far away, making contact time difficult. Our relationship became almost tutor like – we would see her once a week, teach her about the curriculum and how it could be applied to her business, and then send her off with a weekly assignment. Doing nearly all of the market research herself, she has even begun making sales.

It is important to note that she had the knowledge, experience and most gratifying: the drive. What she was lacking was self-confidence. So the friendship approach, which consisted mainly of affirmative reinforcement, was a success.

So, doing great.

Tele (the poultry farmer) Zoe and myself. In this meeting she surprised us by independently making contracts with multiple customers worth over 22k per fortnight. 3 weeks before she didn’t have any income. She is great.

However, no entrepreneur is the same. In contrast is Faith. Faith runs one successful cosmetic/accessories shop and one newly opened, struggling cosmetic/hair shop in town and we get to see her quite often. We got a hold of her stock lists and finances reasonably quickly and we took this as validation that our friendship first approach was useful.

She ate up the curriculum, encouraging us to go at a faster pace; we had gained her trust and started to do things for her, we made questionnaires without her, we hawked her dead stock and made 10k without her, we thought of new strategies to get her new shop known, without her.

Recently we have realised what we had done wrong. It is easy to get caught up in the short term in order to see the effectiveness of your work; you want validation of your approach and efforts. But we had been there too often and had spoon-fed her too much. We had the sensitive information we wanted from Faith, and we owe that to the fact we got to know her early on, but the issues came once we had the information – we went about fixing her problems ourselves instead of making her address these issues herself.

Only half way through, when time was not on our side, we realised our success with her would be short lived if nothing changed after we left. We had over compensated for the first half of the programme.

To amend, we asked her to perform market research independently. Even with a reasonable help, getting her to retrieve the information by herself has proved difficult. Two weeks since, we have yet to gain the market research, and progress has slowed. So we set less daunting, small assignments in an attempt to get Faith to do things for herself, applying the build-measure-learn model taught in the curriculum to our relationship with the her (using connect and combine right there too) (shameless programme plug; I’m sorry).

So what did we learn?

Yes getting entrepreneurs to like you is very important; you are working hands on with their business. However finding out the history of the business/ your entrepreneur is equally as vital other wise you can use the wrong approach and it can come back to bite you. The style of your relationship is completely dependable on multiple factors that you have to assess for yourself; you can’t blanket an approach for all your entrepreneurs. I’ve made it sound hard but its really not.

Equally, remember Balloons major point is that of sustainability. If it weren’t, we would have carried on holding Faiths hand right to the end. You are working with your entrepreneurs so they can be successful without you, not with you.

Alex, Balloon ICS, Kericho