Today we’re tackling the mindset part of increasing your sales.
The Ghosts of Corporate Past: Why being an entrepreneur means un-learning old lessons
When I left the corporate world to start my own company, I thought I was prepared to take on this new challenge. Little did I know that if I was going to be successful, I would have to un-learn so many old corporate lessons.
It was the year I realized I didn’t know how to sell
I spent the first years of my corporate career in marketing.
I worked at two multinational advertising agencies, a small tech company, and a national PR firm.
When I went out on my own with my first company, and even though I had been in marketing, I realized a hard truth: I didn’t know how to sell to new clients. I clammed up in sales conversations. I didn’t know how to move the sales process along. I Selling in any form felt gross and, well, sales-y. I always felt like I was begging for the business.
I just couldn’t do it.
I even went back and got an office job, just so I could avoid selling.
But six months in, I decided to recommit to my business, overcome my fears, and really learn how to sell.
My first step towards learning how to sell: I started paying attention to my speech
As part of that process, I started paying attention to how I felt talking to clients, even down the words I was using.
What I discovered surprised me.
I realized that in my writing and speech, I was incredibly deferential. It went beyond simply being respectful. Through language, I was subtly communicating that I was below my prospects; my prospects were above me. I learned that in social dynamics terms, this is called being in a “one-down” position.
“Thanks so much for taking the time for a call…”
“I would love the opportunity to…”
I was one-downing myself all over the place.
It wasn’t a speech issue. It was how I felt inside.
I realized that this wasn’t just a language problem. Inside, I really did feel powerless.
No wonder I felt uncomfortable in sales conversations.
I decided to approach my prospects differently
I made a point to change my mindset and approach my prospects as a peer. I reminded myself that I do great work and that work yields incredible results for my clients. I have something of tremendous value to offer. This became my mantra.
I also stopped being deferential and started writing as a peer.
“Dear Joe,” became “Hi Joe,”
“Thanks so much for taking the time for a call…” became “Thanks for a great call!”
“I would love the opportunity to work with you…” became “I can’t wait to help you start fixing this problem…”
I wove this new approach into my personal selling style. Since adopting this approach, not only have I seen a 92% win rate for new clients, but I’ve built respectful relationships as a peer to my clients. I work WITH them instead of FOR them, and I no longer feel like I’m begging for their business.
I had shed one of my ghosts of corporate past.
Nearly every entrepreneur faces their own ghosts of corporate past
I started thinking more about why I stumbled so much in those first years of my business. And I discovered it’s because I grew up in the corporate world.
Those first several years in corporate life are an incredibly formative time. You’re entering a new, complex world; navigating the customs and people in it; and developing the thoughts, habits, and mindsets necessary for success.
Take me, for example.
I had years of training in the corporate hierarchy, knowing my rank within the corporate universe, and how to work with managers, directors, and executives.
Later, when I started my own business, I entered a totally different world, but I brought those mindsets, strategies, and tools I honed so carefully over the years.
What I discovered over time, however, is what every entrepreneur realizes: what you learned in the corporate world, these ghosts of corporate past, can actually work against you when you’re running your own business.
To be successful as an entrepreneur, it means un-learning those early lessons.
If you do too, you’re not alone
Now, as you know, I work with women entrepreneurs like you who struggle with the same thing: selling to new clients. They are consultants, coaches, and creatives who have honed their expertise in the corporate world, taken a leap, and started their own businesses. In their new role as business owners, they’re now tasked with something they’ve never done before.
I help them learn how to sign new clients, even if (and especially if) selling makes them feel uncomfortable, using the same approach that made me successful.
But they can’t fully step into the role of a business owner without shining a light on their ghosts of corporate past and un-learning those lessons that no longer serve them in their new role.
I asked some of my fellow entrepreneurs about their ghosts. Here’s what they had to say:
Stop asking permission
“One of the things I struggled with is permission — asking myself if I’m allowed to do what I want to do because it might not be the “right” way. What right way?! I’m the boss! There is no right way.”
– Lindsey Liu, Lindsey Christine Coaching
Don’t let process slow you down
“I had to learn that I don’t always need an 80-page document on how to do things, but that I can let processes build up naturally over time. This is not to say they aren’t important; just that you don’t need the same level of documentation as in corporate.”
– Heather O’Neill, Pixels for Humans
Be unapologetically yourself
“I had to shift from not expressing personal opinions/affiliations that might be perceived as reflecting on the company, to really being able to choose to be a businessperson who demonstrably lives their values & conducts business accordingly.”
Agnes Barton-Sabo, Betty Turbo
Don’t be nice. Be bold.
“I had to unlearn being ridiculously nice. Being overly nice in business gives off the “I’m just happy to be here…I’ll take what I can get” mentality, and that is exactly how you will be treated. It looks desperate and it allows for people to walk all over you. Now that I run my own business, I approach being nice in a different way. I love working with people in my community, however, I don’t let anyone mistake my kindness for weakness. Don’t be nice. Be bold.”
– Ebone Bell, Tagg Magazine
Create your personal brand
“One of the biggest challenges I faced when leaving the corporate world to go into business for myself was the realization that I no longer had the cache of the large companies I had been working for, and I had to build my brand and reputation from the ground up.
Now when I coach entrepreneurs, I encourage them to invest in building their personal brand. It’s a worthwhile investment that will fast-track your visibility and accelerates your professional credibility. So when people search for you, they will see that you are established, trustworthy, credible and an expert in your industry, all on your own.”
– Kim Cayce, Luna Venture Partners
It’s OK to say No
“It took me a while to learn it’s OK to fire clients who aren’t good fit because I was thinking I needed the money. Once I realized that I could choose my clients and not just work with anyone who wanted to hire me, I found it easier to write the words that respectfully terminated those toxic relationships. I even got a recommendation from one of the clients I had to fire who wasn’t a good fit.”
– Sarah Worthy, Doorspace Inc.
The client isn’t always right
“I had to unlearn that the client is always right and that you need to bend over backwards for them, giving up your personal and emotional well being. Having left the corporate world, my clients are my community. Sometimes we aren’t a good fit for each other, but more often than not, we respect the fact that we are each fallible, limited, and fantastic creatures who are worthy of great work and compassion.”
– Angela Lynn, Radiant Marketing
Set the right expectations
“When I was in corporate we were known for responding FAST to our customers. Really fast – everything stopped for us to address a question. In retrospect, I realized we had trained them to have those expectations of us. As a business owner, I learned to establish clear expectations right at the beginning so that the client didn’t have unrealistic expectations of how we’d work together.”
– Lisa Guida, WhyLeap Alliance
Stop seeking approval
“Back when I was in the corporate world I wanted people to validate my hard work by praising me, promoting me, or giving me a raise. Nowadays all I have to do is approve of myself and when I want a raise all I have to do is increase pricing!”
– Melanie Adcock, Writer
Now it’s your turn
What are your ghosts of corporate past? What did you learn in the corporate world that you’ve had to un-learn as a business owner? Send me an email and let me know!