Brower: Helping people who want to be helped
It’s just plain, flat-out counterintuitive.
The last six years of my work for the Grand Enterprise Initiative has put me in contact with 366 entrepreneurs in Grand County. These are people who have had dreams, ideas and existing businesses. Some wanted to start businesses. Others simply wanted to explore ideas. Many wanted to improve or expand their existing businesses.
And I did not “knock on the door” or “solicit” any of them. I did not stop them on the street and tell them I could help. I did not walk into their businesses and give them unsolicited advice. I did not call them up.
They called me.
This fact reflects an important element of the work I do for the Grand Enterprise Initiative, through which I provide free and confidential business coaching to anyone in Grand County. We believe strongly that we can only help people who want to be helped. I am forbidden, in fact, from approaching people and telling them that I can help them.
On my very first day on this job, Ernesto Sirolli, the founder of Enterprise Facilitation, told me in no uncertain terms that he would not tolerate it if he learned that I had initiated contact with any person or business. (The Sirolli Institute has established hundreds of Enterprise Facilitation programs around the globe.)
“I will fire you,” he said firmly in his Italian accent. “We don’t call people. We call back them back.”
This was a difficult admonition to follow during those first three months when the program was just getting started and I was waiting for the phone to ring so I could prove my worth. Slowly but surely, however, the phone did start to ring and the e-mails flowed to my in box. This was with the help of 1,005 personal introductions completed during my first year on the job by my team members. They simply introduced me to their friends, acquaintances and business associates. I explained my role and organically the word spread.
My team members are the Grand Enterprise Initiatives board of directors, which is composed of five prominent community members. They keep an eye on me and they help me. Then there’s a 12-member Resource Team, with which I meet once a month so that they can help me help our clients. We also work closely with DiAnn Butler in the county’s office of economic development.
Why is it so important that I don’t approach people and tell them they need my help?
First, since I offer a free (and confidential) service, being referred by friends is critical. That’s because most people, and I include myself in this group, just naturally believe that when they are offered a “free” service there must be some strings attached. I almost expect free services, at some point, are going to try and get me to subscribe to a service, buy a book or join a religion.
So being referred by friends is an important referral. People will trust such referrals.
And it is true that what I offer is free. I’m not selling anything and I don’t want my clients’ money. I will work with them as long as they want to work with me. It’s that simple. As a corollary, I don’t have money to grant or loan to my clients. What I provide is my background and access to resources who will help a client build a team so he or she can succeed.
Now, I can help them build a plan so that they can perhaps ask for a loan or a grant. But I’m not a bank. I’m not a foundation. I know of many banks and foundations, however, who will work with my clients. I can help make those connections.
We do not want to be patronizing. We do not want to be paternalistic. We don’t want to be like the classic governmental figure who knocks on your door and says: “Hello, I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” That’s not us.
For us it’s more like: “Hello, I’m glad you called. I’m here to help you form a team and connections so you have a good chance to succeed. I’m here to help you help yourself.”
Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He offers free and confidential business management coaching to anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He can be reached by calling 970-531-0632 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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