A two-hour introduction to social skills for networking can lead to a cascade of improvements in entrepreneurs’ patterns of social interaction and the relationships they form with peers. This, in turn, has positive effects on business performance.
A two-hour module on social skills is added to a two-day marketing training programme for business owners.
A two-day marketing training programme called ‘Marketing in Action’ delivered by the Association of Young Entrepreneurs of Togo and the Energy Generation Academy. The 20-hour training programme covers eight basic marketing practices: finding out what competitors charge; their products and services; finding out what else clients would buy; researching former clients; researching suppliers; using promotions; advertising; and evaluating advertising. It includes a final networking event at the end of the two days during which participants have 30–45 minutes with three assigned classmates.
The training is delivered by two local consultants, who are university graduates with several years of experience teaching courses to entrepreneurs. Participants pay a small participation fee of approximately US$5, which is reimbursed to them upon successful completion of the training.
- To equip entrepreneurs with a collaborative attitude towards interactions with peers
- To teach entrepreneurs how to communicate effectively about business issues
- To improve business performance
This intervention was tested in a country where social relationships are central to most aspects of business because formal institutions are too weak to safeguard market transactions. It’s a context where peer relationships are valuable for entrepreneurs but where access to training on social skills is uncommon.
Entrepreneurs who have been operating a business for at least one year. The majority are men (64 per cent). Participants are keen to grow their businesses and willing to pay a small participation fee.
Participants’ businesses have been operating for an average of 11 years and have on average one to two employees. Average revenues are about US$300 per month and average monthly profits approximately US$100. In terms of best practices, entrepreneurs’ businesses on average use about 60 per cent of the practices defined by the World Bank for small businesses.
Half of the participants begin the two-day training programme with a two-hour introductory session on social skills in business:
- Interpersonal interactions: A 20-minute presentation on what interpersonal interactions entail, what steps are involved and which interactions are about business and which aren’t.
- Collaborative business interactions: A 20-minute discussion about how collaborative interactions involve learning about others by asking them questions about their businesses and drawing on personal experiences and knowledge to give advice.
- Effective communication strategies: A 20-minute presentation on good communication strategies, including keeping the communication focused on issues related to business, being clear and direct when asking questions or offering a perspective, and making sure to ask for contact information, send thank-you notes and follow up.
- Case study: The final hour is dedicated to working through an example of two entrepreneurs interacting which mimics real situations that entrepreneurs might face. This provides entrepreneurs with the opportunity to engage interactively with the session content.
- The social skills training made entrepreneurs perceive peer relationships as more collaborative and helped them to learn more from conversations with their peers.
- The social skills training also helped entrepreneurs to build larger peer networks (50 per cent more connections six weeks after the training) with more complementary and ethnically diverse peers.
- These improvements in entrepreneurs’ social interactions led to important improvements in business performance. The monthly profits of businesses owned by entrepreneurs who received the social skills training increased by approximately 20 per cent within the first year after the programme.
- Many entrepreneurs are likely under-networked, but brief training on social skills can help them to improve the size and quality of their networks.
- Social skills training can help entrepreneurs to build relationships that create value for both themselves and their peers, thus generating value in a positive-sum fashion.