Aleksandra (Ola) Potrykus-Majewska has worked on both sides of the client-facilitator relationship.
As part of a big corporation, Ola saw how difficult it was to find the right facilitator. As a freelance facilitator, she saw how difficult it was to get her foot in the door at big companies.
That’s why Ola co-founded WeWent.com with the goal of creating the most trustworthy pool of Learning & Development experts to help companies find their match for their internal training, development, and facilitation needs.
Because of her experience on both sides of the equation, Ola is perfectly placed to help facilitators understand how to grow their businesses.
Enjoy her advice!
Facilitation is a trust-based business
“Trust is the new currency of our interdependent and collaborative world.” - Stephen M. R. Covey
Our role as facilitators is to help teams and organizations do something more easily, find answers to their problems, or develop a product or service.
Being unbiased, objective experts, we steer difficult conversations by creating a healthy environment and helping groups find answers or solutions.
But in order to be invited to help, you need to be trusted first.
Organizational gatekeepers are there to “protect” their internal world. That said, companies are hungry and in need of external talent and perspective—especially now when the so-called Great Resignation.
Facilitators working as freelancers often struggle to get assignments with large corporations because they usually work only with a list of preferred suppliers. For individuals, it’s hard to get on the list.
At WeWent, I get to work with hundreds of solopreneurs, facilitators, and small teams. The truth is that most of them only get business from their inner network—past employers, friends, and family.
It totally makes sense to work with people that already trust you. But how can you build trust for your facilitation business beyond that?
The trust equation
He explains that “the trust equation is a way to measure trustworthiness – how much trust can you place in others and how much might they place in you.”
The trust equation consists of four elements:
- Credibility: They know their stuff
- Reliability: They always deliver
- Intimacy: I feel safe with them
- Self-orientation: Are they focused on my interests, or theirs?
The top three measures are what build trust. Self-orientation, at the bottom of the equation, can undermine it entirely.
Let’s take a look at all four of these factors through the lens of winning new business as a facilitator.
Credibility is the rational element of the trust equation. It’s rational because it can be measured. Credibility is best demonstrated with content mastery, competence, or experience.
What your client should say: “I trust what she says about virtual facilitation because she was leading virtual teams for 5 years before she became a facilitator.”
When selecting who we work with at WeWent, we rely on credibility indicators such as:
- Years of experience in facilitation
- Years of experience working in a business environment (minimum 3 years)
- Certifications, diplomas, awards, and memberships
But there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to proving your credibility. You need to:
- Ask open-ended questions - In a conversation with a potential client, focus on inquiry. Ask the right questions that help them define their problem. Thoughtful and relevant questions show your own level of mastery.
- Tailor your approach - Once you understand your client’s needs, tailor your pitch to the client. If your client needs help with change management, share your successful experiences managing change in the past.
- Show, don’t tell - It’s always better to show expertise rather than talk about it. If you have a recording of a session or webinar you lead, share it! If you’ve written an insightful article, share it!
⚠️ Watch out! Having confidence in your ideas is a must, but don’t overdo it. Don’t try to outsmart potential clients. Meet them where they are and take them by the hand, step by step. I’ve met many facilitators who don’t show enough flexibility or understanding of their client’s needs—these relationships typically don’t last long…
“Trust is a commitment to cooperate before there is any certainty about how the trusted people will act.” - James S. Coleman
Reliability is doing what you say you’ll do. Brene Brown says, “this means that we know our limits and enforce them so we don't bite off more than we can chew.”
A trusted facilitator is careful not to overpromise. They strive to deliver on commitments.
What your client should say: “If you say you’ll deliver the workshop agenda and overview tomorrow, I trust that you will.”
But how do we demonstrate reliability to someone new? It can be challenging, but here are some ways to demonstrate that:
- Show social proof - Share testimonials, reviews, net promoter score, and other information about your performance. It’s even better if you can disclose the name, the title, and the organization the testimonials come from. Make sure that you actually have the consent of your past client to share their testimonial and check with them if they are okay to be contacted.
- Keep your promises - Think of deadlines, deliverables, and diligence as areas of improving your reliability. If you prepare an offer to a potential client, make sure you deliver it exactly as agreed. If you promised to send them the offer on a specific date and time, hit that deadline.
- Be diligent - If you have booked a call with your potential client, tell them the meeting will end at 11 AM and be sure you end it right on time. Do exactly what you said you would do.
- Be transparent - Showing humanity when things don’t go exactly as planned is another show of reliability. If you ever need to revoke a promise—we all know life happens—acknowledge it as soon as possible, explain why (if possible), and replace it with a new promise that you will focus on keeping.
💡 Tip: Don’t underestimate the importance of knowing your client. Before you meet with them, do some research about the company culture, people that work there, and the overall industry.
Once you get to know them, speak their language. Pay attention to internal vocabulary, abbreviations, and ways of working. This gives them a sense of familiarity, comfort, and ultimately leads to reliability.
Charles H. Green points out that intimacy is the most important component of the trust equation.
This emotional element refers to the safety or security that we feel when entrusting someone with something. It’s a sense of security a potential client gets when interacting with you. It’s a sense of utmost respect you can give to the person.
In contrast to the first two elements, intimacy is only achieved through person-to-person interaction.
What your client should say: “I can trust her with that information. She’s never violated our confidentiality before.”
Personally, I believe this is what’s most exciting in our work as facilitators. Tapping into intimacy is where the facilitation magic comes in.
Just imagine having a meaningful conversation with your client where things like challenges, aspirations, hopes, insights on workplace politics, potential blockers, derailers, and even fears can be shared safely and respectfully, within your and your client’s boundaries.
The intention here is to disclose the information that may have an impact on workshop design, flow, and most importantly, outcome. It will empower you in your facilitation to fully support your client and prepare you for the unexpected.
As this is an emotional and very personal component, there is no real recipe on how to build intimacy with your client.
The best place to start is with your own vulnerability. Do you have the courage to admit your own fears and imperfections? Are you able to react to hard stuff like emotions? When a client shares openly, can you lean in and listen deeply?
💡 Tip: Before my workshops, I like to run 15-minute check-in calls with all workshop participants—not just the HR person who hired me. It allows me to build connections and a level of intimacy with all team members even before the day of the workshop. I use the time to hear about hopes and challenges people face and their goals for the workshop. These short but sweet conversations feed into the final design of the workshop.
📕 Related reading: How to create meaningful remote connections
Be mindful of self-orientation
Self-orientation refers to where your attention is focused—whether it’s on yourself or your client.
As the denominator of the equation, high self-orientation significantly lowers the trust in a relationship.
Pushing your own agenda and not understanding your client’s needs is a recipe for failure. I am of the opinion that facilitation requires low-ego behavior.
Our job is to support the group to find their own ideas, solutions, and outcomes.
What your client should say: “She’s always focused on helping us get to our goals.”
How can you show that you are focused on your client’s needs?
Two words are key here: care and attention. Demonstrating care and attention is a learned skill. I could write an entire article about this, but here are a couple of things to get you started:
- Listen to understand - It takes effort to quiet our thoughts and really hear what another person is saying. But that silence makes people feel respected and appreciated.
- Stay curious and ask questions - Prepare a set of questions you would like to ask before the meeting. The more you practice inquiring, the better you’ll get at it.
- Be aware of your own ego - Always meet your client where they are. Show the ability to listen, adapt, and go at their pace. Ask yourself: are you genuinely interested in your client and their success?
⚠️ Watch out! When we are focused on ourselves, what’s on our mind, the self-talk, the ideas, we do not hear the client. Tuning into and paying attention to what your clients' needs, desires, dreams, aspirations, and challenges are is fundamental when working as a facilitator.
”Trust is not earned by heroic actions and highly visible actions, but through paying attention, listening, and genuine gestures of care and connection.” - Brene Brown
How will you build trust?
I want to end by giving you a chance to reflect:
💭 How will you go about building trust to win facilitation business?
💭 What is it you think you are already doing well and where would you need more help?
When it comes to developing these skills, online communities and memberships are a perfect way to grow and develop with others. They also help you gain visibility, credibility, and reliability with potential clients.