When you own your own business, you have to learn nearly everything from scratch. And if you offer a service, (so, consultants, creative entrepreneurs, etc.), that also means learning how to sell to new clients.
As soon as you start trying to sell, if you’re like most business owners, you realize, “Wow. I’m not sure I’m doing this right.”
That’s no surprise, actually. Because you might have great experience at the work you do, but selling is a whole new beast.
As a business owner, no one teaches you how to do it. You have to learn it yourself.
I know, because I had to learn it myself.
When I started my first consulting business in 2011, I didn’t know anything about selling, even though I had been in marketing in my corporate life.
And when I started to try and sell to new clients, it felt so... uncomfortable. It felt salesy. I didn’t know much about pricing or negotiating, and I really didn’t know how to go about managing a sales process and closing new customers.
But businesses live or die on clients. So I read everything I could get my hands on about selling, and over several years I taught myself. Most important, I overcame my “selling shyness,” and I developed a selling style that works.
Looking back, there’s a lot I wish I had known. I’ve assembled it here to help other business owners get the fast track to what took me six years to learn.
Here are the truths I discovered along the way; I’d love to hear yours. Add them below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When I was in the corporate world, I was in marketing. When it came to talking to prospects, I could talk to literally anyone about what my companies did. I killed it.
Then I went out on my own.
You find pretty quickly that it’s so much harder to sell your services than it is to sell someone else’s. As my client Joanna puts it, “When I think about my business, it's not that I don't have confidence that I can do a great job. But when it comes to talking about myself, I just feel... I mean, I can do it for other people a million times over. But to talk about myself? It feels so... uncomfortable.”
And that’s someone who’s a rock star PR person, people. The struggle is real.
There’s no magic bullet, it just takes learning and practice, practice, practice.
When you start looking for advice on building your business, you find a wealth of information and a number of programs, each positioned as The Ultimate Thing to build your business: Start a blog! Buy Facebook ads! Social media! Write a newsletter! All of these are designed to build your audience, grow your subscriber base, and get the word out.
But guess what? While each of those is useful, at some point you actually have to have conversations with clients. And here’s where most “marketing advice” falls short.
You can spend a lot of time creating a “newsletter that converts”, but if you can’t have great sales conversations and consistently move opportunities to close, you’re not actually going to get new clients and grow your sales. In that way, these conventional tactics can actually become a form of procrastination.
Focus on getting really good at doing discovery, having great sales conversations, and managing your opportunities. That’s what really helps you close new clients and increase your revenue.
It’s true. Your prospects and clients don’t actually care what you do, or even what your business does. They only care about the value that what you do will provide to their business.
If you’ve ever been in marketing you’ve heard the expression “benefits, not features.” That rings true here too. If you talk about what you do in terms of tactics, instead of the value you provide, you instantly reduce your chances of winning the client.
Position your skills in terms of value, specifically the value your services will provide to their business, and you will significantly increase your success with prospects.
When it’s your own company, it’s personal. So when someone says no, it feels pretty crappy. Not just because it feels like a judgement against you -- which, let’s be honest, totally sucks -- but because it hits you right where it hurts: in the bank account. When you’re the sole provider of your life (or the life of your family), the no’s can be pretty devastating.
Make sure you have enough in your pipeline so that if you do get a no, you have other opportunities to pursue. Then, wave goodbye and focus on other opportunities. A no can get you one step closer to a yes (from someone else!).
On the flip side, when you get a ‘yes’, it feels incredible, because YOU DID IT. Unlike in the corporate world, you don’t have to feign humility, lower your eyes and say, “Oh, it was a team effort.” It was YOU. YOU DID IT.
Celebrate the hell out of your wins. Give yourself all the props, have a glass of wine, and take the afternoon off if you want, thankyouverymuch.
Selling is like anything else you have to learn. At the beginning, you flail around a little. And even though you’re a guru at the work you do, the actual process of selling feels awkward. Asking for the business, negotiating, asking for a referral… it all feels weird, especially at the beginning. But you can’t let it keep you from selling -- and winning -- new clients.
Put on your superhero cape, use your Awkwardness Mantra, and lean in to the awkward. Like a boss.
This was a hard-learned lesson, and it’s one I see business owners struggle with all the time. You have to have a lot more in your sales pipeline than you think. Some prospects will say no; some will go cold; some will delay… sometimes your main contact leaves the company, or the company gets acquired. You have to account for that by having more opportunities in your pipeline than you think you’ll need, so you can still make the money you want to make.
Three words: Build your pipeline. You should have two to three times as much in your pipeline, as you expect to close in the next few months.
The first step most people take to organize their sales is creating an Excel spreadsheet to track new client opportunities. It’s a common rookie error; I’ll admit I used one too, until I realized that it’s incredibly ineffective thanks to its sheer inability to make information actionable or helpful. (And I’m not the only one who thinks so).
Then I found my secret weapon: a Customer Relationship Management system (aka CRM). My CRM allows me to see my pipeline as a whole, manage all of my sales opportunities, keep all my correspondence and files together with my prospects, stay connected to key contacts, and discover important contacts I had completely forgotten about. I recommend a CRM to literally every one of my clients.
It’s never too early to set up a CRM for your business. It’s easier than you think, the cost will pay for itself if you close just one deal, and will provide value every single day. If you’ve thought about it and haven’t done it yet, here's a good place to start.
In the next post…
Stay tuned for Part Two, where I’ll reveal even more things no one told you (but you’ll definitely learn) when you start selling to new clients.
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