My last article in the entrepreneurial series outlined the Entrepreneur Challenge: Selling Yourself and suggested that many times our hesitation when it comes to promoting ourselves can be attributed to two things: (1) We don’t want to annoy people or push something on them that they don’t want – especially when that thing is us (can you say “possibility of rejection?”); and (2) we don’t actually believe we’re that great. I promised to cover these topics in this article and the upcoming How Great Are You?
When entrepreneurs – and particularly those in a service type of industry – are faced with the concepts of sales and marketing, the majority of them inevitably cringe, sometimes visibly. Discussions on why this happens reveal concerns about being “salesy” or “pushy”; visions of a used car salesperson dances through the conversation. People describe feeling “slimy” and inauthentic when they think of selling themselves and marketing what they do.
This is a dilemma, especially for sole practitioners and other small business owners, in that a big part of your role in the company is drumming up new business to keep revenue coming in the door. In many cases, you may actually be the only person doing this. So a lot is riding on your ability to leverage sales opportunities and drive revenue – which means convincing someone to spend money on what you do.
How do you do this without sacrificing your authenticity?
Sometimes it helps to pause and remember what you believe in – the value of your product or service. If you’re like so many other service-oriented entrepreneurs out there, you likely got into your line of work because you love the skill set involved and the product/service you’re offering. Think of “marketing” as an opportunity to have a conversation about this thing you love and why, and “sales” as giving people access to it so they can discover whether they love it too.
One of the words in the world of marketing that sends chills down non-marketers’ spines is “networking.” This can be a tremendously intimidating concept – until you realize that “networking” is just relationship building with a fancy name.
How do you build relationships? You already know this, but here are a few basic reminders:
- Be friendly and genuine; take your time to get to know someone and what matters to them.
- Share what matters to you – including your great product/service and not just what you do, but why you do what you do. Share your passion; let it show.
- Ask questions. Listen to their answers.
- Assume other people are just as interested in forming relationships as you are.
- Put yourself in a position to meet more people. Expand your circles. The more people you meet, the more likely you are to meet people whose needs match your offering.
- Follow up. Do what you say you’re going to do; this demonstrates integrity.
- Know that you may put your foot in it occasionally. Learn to laugh at yourself. You’ll be amazed at how comfortable this makes people, and how genuine it feels (people like human beings; it gives them permission to be human too).
On a practical note when it comes to networking, the first step is figuring out where your audience is hanging out and make sure you’re showing up there. Join professional groups and observe what other people do. Note what attracts you and what repels you in other business owners’ approaches and behavior, and shape yours accordingly.
Still got the jitters? Here are three secrets to keep in your hip pocket when you start to feel nervous at a networking event:
- The person you’re considering approaching likely feels at least as nervous and uncomfortable as you do. Instead of thinking about your own discomfort, think about ways to help alleviate theirs. This takes you outside of yourself and puts you into “helping others” mode, which tends to make us braver.
- Human beings are social creatures, hungry for connection. We are wired for it. We even have a hormone (oxytocin) that encourages connection.
- People like a good listener. You don’t have to be fascinating, just fascinated.
And perhaps most important: Stop taking things personally. What someone responds to or wants to purchase isn’t about you – it’s about them and what’s right for them at that moment. Stay interested and maintain connection. It may not be the right moment for them now, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be your perfect customer at some point – or have a friend who is your perfect customer.
This month, challenge yourself to identify and attend a certain number of networking events to put these ideas into practice – and drop me a line letting me know how they worked for you!