Social entrepreneurship meets sales training

Sales Training in progress

While social entrepreneurs begin with a desire to do good, most training for social entrepreneurs focuses unnecessarily on developing a sense of mission — the social part of social enterprise. What is needed has to do with the second part of the equation — enterprise — equipping social entrepreneurs with solid business skills to enable them to do the good they intend.

Last summer, St. Paul's GreenHouse and 80-20 Growth Corporation offered sales training to GreenHouse students. When the Ontario Centres of Excellence announced funding for sales training for social entrepreneurs, it was an opportunity to expand the GreenHouse/80-20 program.

This spring, social entrepreneurs applied to receive three days of sales training in Toronto and Waterloo Region, as well as one-on-one coaching and startup services.

Applicants participated in a day-long assessment of their suitability for this training. 20 participants were chosen, five of whom were GreenHouse students/alumni. OCE’s Ontario Social Impact Voucher program allowed participants to receive the training (valued at $6,000 per participant) free of charge.

Calling this “the most successful training I’ve ever been part of,” GreenHouse Program Manager and Startup Coach Brendan Wylie-Toal says, “Entrepreneurs learned to stop selling their solution and to focus on problem solving.” He adds, “The social problem entrepreneurs are solving is not always the business problem they are solving, but social entrepreneurs often conflate the two.”

Popy Dimoulas-Graham, founder of Charity Republic, agrees.

“This training changed my thinking strategically, flipping the pitch we give to customers, reframing how we describe our company.”

Paul Radkowski, founder of Life Recovery Program says, “I always talked about our services, but I can really get the attention of CEOs now when I say 14 percent of their profits are going down the drain because of lack of productivity from mental health issues.”

Ben Firman, co-CEO of 80-20, says, “Doing good without having a profitable business model is a waste of time.”

Firman has entrepreneurs ask three core questions: What problem are you uniquely solving? Who are you solving that problem for (and are they going to pay for it?) and Why should they care? Participants developed better pitches and spent time cold-calling potential clients, a process Dimoulas-Graham describes as “very practical and helpful.”

Radkowski says: 

“Having this training earlier would have saved us from wasting time, energy, and resources going after the wrong people and not knowing what to do with the right people.”

With overwhelming positive response from participants, GreenHouse and 80-20 hope to continue and expand this training program.

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