When people hear you have beat the odds and your company is over 25 years old, they always want advice; when they hear you started with very little capital and grew it yourself, they want a lot of advice…insert a big grin here. I am always happy to provide it because I want to see others achieve their dreams and find the happiness that I have. It’s better to lift each other up and it takes a lot less effort than when you are trying to hold others down.
Here are some questions I am asked most often by business owners:
How do you find clients? In my business, we don’t carry inventory, we offer services. We can’t sell services if we don’t have clients. I have been looking for clients since the minute I decided to start my company. Having a good sales team and the right sales strategy is key to the success of any business.
There are all sorts of places to find clients for your particular industry, the key is to never give up looking. Create a plan so that you can strategize the best way to go after clients. You must decide if you will go after clients one at a time or if you will go after a broad audience. If you don’t have a plan, it’s like shooting fish in a bucket, you will never win.
Once you have a sound plan, chose a team to put the plan into action. Create a metric to keep them accountable and have meetings to make sure everyone is moving in the direction you want them to. I find having goals is the key to success. I make small goals that lead to larger goals. Have 6-month goals, 1-year goals, 3-year goals and 5-year goals. Evaluate your goals and make sure you are maintaining your trajectory. If you move off course, don’t panic! Just figure out what made you sway and get back on track. What’s important is that you move in the direction you want to move in and that you move toward success.
Don’t forget about your current client base! Make sure you maintain a relationship with your current clients. (Remember those direct sales companies and building relationships?) Find a way to check in with them. Residual business from current clients is the easiest way to continue to prosper. Asking for recommendations from current clients or finding clients you haven’t worked with in a few years and making contact with them is an easy way to grow.
Sticking to your mission statement and maintaining your brand are the best ways to make your sales team’s job easier. If they know what they are selling is true, they will be motivated. If everyone has the same message, the office will be more comfortable when calls come in. Potential clients know when the wool is being pulled over their eyes, so speak the truth. If you charge more, make it worth their while.
How do you learn sales techniques?
I have sold everything. Tupperware, Rainbow vacuums, Arbonne makeup, Avon (as you can see, I have hit the highlights of the direct sales world; I left out was Amway…Dad sold that). I even sold real estate for a short minute. While I didn’t get rich from any of those companies, what they did teach me was salesmanship and how to build relationships. If you are having a problem in those departments, try selling for one of these companies, even for just a short time. (I know, it sounds corny, but they have really good teaching material and some of their managers have been in the sales business for decades).
I can’t say this enough…read. I read about sales and branding. My sales team members all have Master's or bachelor's degrees in sales or marketing. I hired them because they have that knowledge. I listen to their input. I read to keep up with them so I know that the decisions I make (agreeing or disagreeing with them) are the right ones or not. I’ll be honest, sometimes my decisions are the right decisions, sometimes they are wrong. (You can’t be right 100% of the time!). I follow my gut and try not to let my mood for the day get in the way.
Social media for sales. I can’t say this enough…if you don’t use social media, you are behind the times. I don’t care what industry you are in; you need to be involved in social media, at the very least you need a website. If you don’t have a website… (picture my head looking down and shaking back and forth) - get a website. Call your kid, a niece or nephew, you don’t need a lot of money any longer for a basic website. Get a website.
How do I deal with problem clients?
That’s always a tricky one. It would depend on what their problem is. You have to decide on how important that client is to your business…can you lose them? If you don’t need them, get your payment and stop servicing them. If they take more time to work with because they are always paying you late, or are rude to your staff and they are not a huge percent of your business, then just stop servicing them. If they ask why, you will not provide services to them, be honest with them. Tell them you won’t service them because of the reasons that you have. They may feel you are an important enough vendor to right the ship, or you may never hear from them again. Either way, your hassle is over.
However, if they are a huge part of your business, you may have to find a way to work with them. In that case, develop a relationship with them. Find a way to work through your issues. If it's payment, they are in the wrong, be nice, but point out to them that they need to hold up their end of the bargain and ask how you can help them get you paid. Sometimes just bringing issues to someone’s attention will make them want to work on them. No one wants to be in the wrong…generally. I have found though, through the years, that most often if I can build a relationship and be nice, I will get that in return.
The dreaded money issue…how do I find enough money to keep my business going or to start a business?
I don’t want to get involved in your finances, but I will say this, the owner should be paid last, not first. If you own a business and you are paying yourself first you are doing something wrong. Going into business for yourself isn’t easy. Everyone thinks it's glamorous. It’s not. It’s long nights, sleepless nights, days full of worry, and lots of gray hair. (I dye mine, but trust me, it’s all there!) You pray for the day when you finally get a bank account that has months of payroll in it, no debt, and a savings account. It usually takes a few years. You need to plan for that. When you plan for how you want the business to grow, don’t forget about the money. Plan how to get it and grow it. Make a contingency plan in case you need a little extra at some point. I’ve always had a backup plan, just in case, and still do. However, if you find yourself in a bad position, make sure you pay your debts. If you’re a Partner, don’t be a bad one. I had one of those in a retail business once, it wasn’t fun. Don’t be a bad partner, keep up your end of the deal.
If you pay your bills, set money aside for your business nest egg, and pay yourself something at the end of the month then you’re doing something right. I never agreed with the philosophy that an owner should pay themselves first. I have heard that before. Here’s the thing. If you don’t pay your bills and include employees and vendors in your bills, you won’t have a business. If you don’t create a nest egg to fall back on if your clients don’t pay you, you will have so much stress in your life that you will be on ten different types of medications. It is better to pay your bills, put some money aside and then pay yourself. If you can’t pay yourself, you will have to figure that out. (Sorry, that sounded a bit harsh…however, not all businesses make it, you might have to re-evaluate yours if you can’t find a way to pay yourself, or cut costs.)
I could talk business all day. I don't want this blog to get away from me so I will leave you with these short pieces of advice: know your business, seek out different avenues for clients, read to stay current, recognize the importance of branding and manage your money correctly. I hope it gives you some advice that you can use in your business.