Closing the Sale

8-ballOne of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs is getting the client to say “I do.”  Many of us don’t like being turned down, so we wind up not asking a question that runs the risk of eliciting a negative answer. However, you could be the world’s best marketer, a world-class leader at what you do, and skilled at eliciting your clients’ underlying needs, but if you can’t get the client to sign on the dotted line and approve your proposal, you aren’t going to get paid for all those wonderful skills.

The challenge comes when you have sent in your proposal or project estimate and then you sit and wait… and wait… and wait. No word from the client. So you finally pick up the phone and call the client and pray that he doesn’t answer the phone. But, if your luck runs out and you actually can chat with the client, how do you handle his objections to your proposal?

Following are a few of the most common objections I have heard, and a suggested response. Try these out for yourself and see how you can tweak them for your own clients.

It’s too expensive; we couldn’t afford more than a third of this budget.

Your response: “What if we break this down into phases and tackle it bit by bit? I can focus on this one aspect of the job for $1,000, and then we can evaluate the best way to proceed once you have a chance to review.”

or

“Sure, so is your budget approximately $XXXX? What aspect of the proposal has the highest priority for you? Let me work up a new proposal that just addresses this aspect of the project.”

(Keep in mind that this kind of response also indicates that you weren’t able to have a conversation about budget during your initial conversation. Next time, screw up the courage and ask your client “So, what’s a rough estimate of what you’re budgeting for this?” If your client is ready to buy, she already has some idea of what she’s going to spend. If she has utterly no idea, she’s probably not ready to buy yet.)

This really isn’t what I had in mind.

Your response: “Ah, I must have focused too much on one aspect of what we discussed. Would you like me to expand the proposal to include the entire market, or would you like me to refocus on another angle? Tell me more about what is most important for you.”

“It sounds like you’re going to outsource some of the work. Heck, I can find an intern who can help me.”

Your response: “My goal is to be a one-stop shop for my clients, and to provide them with the best results from the best people. I have the expertise and skills to do much of the work myself, and I bring in other experts who have specialized skills. The person who will be working on this is one of the best in the profession, and together we can provide you with a much better result.”

I need to get my boss / co-worker / CEO to approve this.

Your response: “Sure! I would be happy to reword the proposal; what are the biggest concerns of your boss/co-worker/CEO? I would like to make it clear in the proposal how this will help him accomplish his goals. What other information would help him approve this proposal?”

What’s common among these responses is your commitment to finding a way to address – not argue with – your client’s concerns and shift the conversation back to the value that you bring to each engagement. You acknowledge your client’s concerns, ask for clarification and to understand your client’s reasoning, and then find a way to adjust your proposal to better address your client’s needs.

Attracting, Not Chasing After, Clients

Attract the WorldI was thinking recently about what kinds of marketing really work for entrepreneurs who own professional-service businesses. Even when we deliver something tangible – a new web site, or a consulting report – we are still selling our expertise and insight. And we generally are not cheap; most one-person businesses charge $100 or more an hour, so our clients usually aren’t impulse shoppers. (Although I do have an image in my head of buying a half hour of time on the QVC network, in between “Beauty By Tova” and Diamonique jewelry, where I can encourage people to buy my consulting services now and SAVE!)

Recently, I was talking with a coaching client who had just started his business providing research services. He told me that he was calling companies that were advertising for researcher positions, telling them that he was available to do this work as a freelancer. The problem with this approach is that he was spending his time doing one-on-one calls to people who were looking for an employee, not a freelancer. They probably do not have the authority to hire consultants, and the hiring manager is focused on filling a position, not bringing in a freelancer. As he found out, most of his marketing time was spent identifying who was NOT interested in his services.

The goal of marketing is to get people to come to you rather than for you to go looking for prospects. This is why cold calling virtually never works for professional services; people generally aren’t willing to invest in services by someone they don’t know anything about or have any reason to trust.

Likewise, direct mail to people who don’t already recognize your name and know your reputation for excellence doesn’t work − at least not as a primary means of getting clients. Think about it… If you needed a doctor to treat your child’s epilepsy, would you go to someone who had just sent you a postcard or brochure?

No, you would rely on recommendations from your physician; you would conduct research to find the experts in the field; or you would consult with a patient advocacy group. In other words, you − the client − would look for the best person with the expertise you need.

Rather than casting our marketing material onto the waters, we are much more successful when we work on establishing our credibility within our clients’ environment. I’ve been watching this approach work well with one of the people I’m coaching. Marketing professionals are his client base, so he identified his local chapter of the American Marketing Association to focus on. Not only has he been attending the monthly meetings, but he volunteered to serve on the membership committee and is now the membership director. He has the opportunity to contact all new members, to work closely with the chapter board, and to establish his credibility within his market.

Had he put in the same amount of time (and spent considerable money) developing and sending out direct mail pieces or making cold calls, he would not have had the success he has seen so far, nor would he have built a referral network of well-regarded marketing professionals who know his work and respect him. Telling anonymous prospects about your skills and expertise is one thing; demonstrating it to people who will become clients and referral sources is in another league altogether.

Steps for Starting Your Business

I just read a nice summary of what it takes to start a service-based business, over at The $100 MBA. Omar Zenhom’s Ultimate Guide to Starting a Service Based Business walks you through the mental shifts you need to make in order to turn yourself into a successful business. (Yeah, he thinks of them as action steps, but each step requires an attitude, a mind-set, as much as an understanding of what needs to be done.)

This post covers issues like knowing where your value lies and believing that you offer value, re-thinking your web site, setting rates (gulp), and dealing effectively with clients.

Want to find info on people?

While I aeyeballppreciate being a one-person business, with no one’s job performance to evaluate and no boss’s requests for pre-meeting meetings, that does mean that I need to find people to provide support for my business. I use a bookkeeper, an accountant, and a lawyer. I hire subcontractors for work I can’t do myself. I identify speakers and experts in my volunteer roles with non-profit organizations and professional associations.

But before I contact people directly, I always conduct at least a basic background check to learn a little more about them In addition to looking in at least two search engines, I spend a while going through social media to see how they present themselves to their friends and the larger community. I look to see whether other people interact with them on social media. I check whether they have any referrals from colleagues, and whether they offer referrals for others. And I just try to get a sense of what they are like — collegial? well-respected? staying current in their profession?

When you are researching someone who is not a well-known figure, finding their social media profiles can be challenging. I recently developed a short MEB’s 123s podcast, Top Ten Tips for Researching People With Social Media, that gives you some fresh ideas on how to glean more insight from Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

From Author to Publisher

printerOver the past 18 years, I have had six books published by three different publishers. When I decided that I had another book inside me, I considered pitching it to my usual publishing contacts. After serious thought, I decided to self-publish The Reluctant Entrepreneur: Making a Living Doing What You Love through Amazon.com’s print and e-book services. While it usually takes a publisher nine months or a year from receipt of a manuscript to shipment of a book, my turnaround time was just four months—a significant factor with a book that covers social media and other rapidly changing fields.

This choice isn’t for everyone. It was appealing to me as an established author and speaker because I already had a number of avenues for promoting and selling my book. I have developed strong writing skills, so I knew that my manuscript would not need extensive editing. A good friend of mine had already handled the production of several other books, and we established a barter relationship through which she could provide me with the editorial and organizational support I needed. Along with Guy Kawasaki’s remarkably useful book, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book, I felt that I had the resources I needed to self-publish.

I chose to produce both soft-cover and e-book versions, on the assumption that the relatively small additional work required to modify the format would make the book appealing to as large an audience as possible. (So far, I have sold roughly an equal number of print and e-books.) While getting the print version formatted to my satisfaction took longer than I had anticipated, the process was relatively painless. Amazon’s CreateSpace platform makes it easy to preview and print draft copies, and I can purchase author copies of the book for $3.50 each—significantly less than what traditional publishers charge authors for copies of their books.

Even though I decided to self-publish, I wrote up a book proposal outlining the scope of the book and of each chapter, spelling out my marketing plan, and committing to a completion date nine months out. In my experience, a clear proposal with accountability and metrics is an essential tool in ensuring that a self-published book gets from idea to publication.

As with all my books, getting the last 10 percent written was the most difficult part of the process. As before, my spouse sent me to a hotel with the admonition that I not check out until the manuscript was done. As always, this approach was successful; I returned home three days later with the manuscript completed and ready for my editor.

Having had the experience of working with traditional publishers, I had a fairly good idea of what would be required in self-publishing a book. Following are the most significant trade-offs I encountered during the process of taking The Reluctant Entrepreneur from concept to publication.

Editorial support. Publishers provide an editor, copyeditor, and (usually) an indexer. I bartered for editorial services, and paid for copy editing of the final manuscript. I chose not to include an index to the book, relying instead on a detailed table of contents (and, of course, the full-text search functionality of e-books). The coaching and writing support I received from my editor was instrumental in getting the book done, and I doubt I could have afforded to pay for all the hours my editor spent keeping me on track. If you are not in a position to pay or barter for time with an editorial coach, consider finding a writing buddy to keep you focused and on track. Be sure that you also have someone who is skilled at editing and polishing book manuscripts; this is not an area in which you want to economize.

Design support. Publishers usually design the book cover and internal format without input from the author. I bartered with Brain Bolts, a local graphic designer, for the book cover and logo for Niwot Press (the name of my self-publishing identity), and my editor and I worked together to develop the book’s internal layout. As with traditional publishers, I chose the title and subtitle myself, with plenty of input from my editor and from colleagues.

Administrative support. Publishers handle the administrative work involved in getting an ISBN and Library of Congress control number (or equivalent) for the book, assigning a cover price, and generating the barcode. Fortunately, these are fairly straightforward tasks, and both Amazon.com and Kawasaki’s book spell out the steps involved.

Advance against royalties. Most publishers pay authors an advance of several thousand dollars against the royalties they will earn from the sale of their book. As a self-published author, I have to invest in the expenses of preparing a manuscript for publication. The trade-off is that I earn more money from each book sale, particularly when I sell books directly. Since the success of the book is dependent on the quality of the writing and appearance of the book, it is important to budget for high-quality editorial and design services.

Sales support. Publishers handle distribution and sales of both print and e-books; I sell copies of my books through my own web site as well. As a self-publisher, I use Amazon as my primary distribution channel, and I keep an inventory of about 100 copies of my book to sell at book signings and speaking engagements. Since my book is more likely to be purchased by individuals than libraries or institutions, my focus has been on reaching out to groups that comprise solo practitioners and entrepreneurs providing professional services.

Marketing support. Publishers provide what most authors consider to be a minimal level of marketing for their book. After all, while I am just one author among many to a publisher, this book is top priority to me. All authors must become comfortable marketing their books; self-published authors are simply more aware of that fact. I developed a six-month marketing plan for my latest book, using many of the techniques mentioned in Kawasaki’s book, APE. I can use the social media profiles I already have, and I have created this very blog and web site specifically for the book. I am participating in the local author consignment programs offered by two large independent book stores in the Denver area, one of which includes a book signing and promotion as well as prominent placement near the front of the store for three months.

Reflecting on the process for getting this latest book to market and comparing it to my experiences with traditional publishers, I am happy with the trade-offs required for self-publishing. I found it tremendously satisfying to be involved in all aspects of the design of the book, and I enjoyed having complete control over the editorial process. And while I miss that royalty check, I believe that I will ultimately earn more through self-publishing. This may not be the route for first-time authors, but I encourage more experienced writers to consider self-publishing for their next book.

Handling pro bono requests

If askingyou have been in business for more than a couple of weeks, you have probably been asked by someone to donate your time and services for their organization. And especially if your business is still in its early stages, it can be tempting to say yes. “It’s a great way to market myself”, you tell yourself. “They’ll see how great my work is, and then they will pay me.”

Sadly, that often isn’t the case. Human nature being what it is, we tend not to value highly that which we are given at no cost. Donating your skills and expertise just because you were asked to is not the most effective way of managing one of your most valuable assets — your time.

A better approach is to decide at the beginning of the year how many hours of accounting services you would donate as pro bono work. Look at those hours as part of your overall marketing  efforts, and “spend” your pro bono budget on organizations and causes that you care about and that provide you with contacts to potential clients.

What makes this so effective is that, when you are approached by an organization asking you to donate your services, you can evaluate the opportunity and your available time and accept or decline based on more than just the warm and fuzzy feeling you may have about a particular group. Rather than just saying no to a request, you can explain that the hours you have set aside for pro bono work have already been taken. The unspoken message that comes across is “I value my time highly, and I give it away purposefully, not haphazardly.”

(Of course, if you know of a professional association or group that offers a free or low-cost alternative to the services you provide, be sure to refer your requester to that organization. You aren’t losing a client — the requester is looking for free services, not your full-fee, high-value service.)

Want to be an entrepreneur while keeping your day job?

The Freelancers Union has a useful blog post, How to Start Freelancing Without Quitting Your Day Job, including suggestions on how to learn how to generate clients through social media, set an hourly rate and how to think differently about yourself as an independent consultant (yes, this group uses the term freelancer, which I think diminishes the value of us entrepreneurs).