Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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How to get from where you are to where you want to be

What do you do when you fall?

“Why do we fall, sir? So that we might learn to pick ourselves up.” Alfred (Batman Begins)

I was having an interesting discussion with a friend yesterday about the economic climate and the alarming rate of business closures in multiple sectors. We were sharing personal stories about how we had dealt with difficult times in our respective businesses and what things kept us plugging away even when it seemed to be the end of the road. I am sure you understand that problems are part and parcel of starting a new business or being part of a new venture. Some problems will be larger than others but you never really quite run out of them. When you solve a specific challenge in a particular segment of your business it does sometimes manifest itself in another aspect of it.

For example, suppose your business is struggling with sales generation. After brainstorming and overcoming that problem, the next challenge is often managing the inflow of new orders which the business may not be equipped to do. This forms a cycle where it is possible to continue moving forward and facing new challenges as they appear. However, it is not usually as simple as that. There are three potential stages we can go through when facing a challenge.

1. Ignore it: How many times have we been faced with a problem either of a personal nature or in a professional aspect of our life and chosen to ignore it. There have been many times that I can personally recall where we knew something was wrong with the way our business was doing a certain process yet we never changed it. Wanting a different reaction from the same action is unfortunately something that many of us find ourselves doing when we do not want to move out of our comfort zones. We pretend that our problems do not exist or are not affecting us and hope for a miraculous change. Unfortunately that usually never comes and most of the time we just end up amplifying the problems.

2. Blame somebody: This is probably the most used excuse whenever we are faced with a problem. The economy is bad, my partner cheated me, we lost our star sales person, we do not have the funds or I am not skilled enough. This is another easy way to deal with problems. We shift the blame to anyone we can, including ourselves sometimes in the face of problems we cannot pass on. This creates a detrimental and negative cycle that ends up sapping all motivation and drive we may have left in ourselves and we let our environment condition us in whatever way it deems fit. This is giving up  control in our lives by burying our head in the sand.

3, Solution: The most productive thing we can do for ourselves whenever we face a problem is to correctly identify it, document where it is stemming from, brainstorm with individuals who will be able to pinpoint pain areas and develop a set of options that can help us deal with them. As start ups, we go through some tough challenges such as getting your first big reference customer, securing funding or convincing a star player to join your team. We have to look at each of these problems with an open mind and no matter how many times we fall down, we must learn the lesson inherent in the fall, then learn to pick ourselves up again.

Most of the things discussed in this post may appear extremely obvious. I mean who wants to admit that they are actually not dealing effectively with a problem that they may have in their life. I recommend getting a piece of paper and writing down all the major problems that you may be facing in life right now whether of a personal or business nature. Next, identify how you are dealing with these problems. We are often surprised to discover that we focus so much on the fact that we have these problems, that we forget to think of  necessary solutions. In order to move forward we need to understand that problems are a natural part of life, the quality of our lives however depends primarily on how we deal with them.

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5 Steps to Close Your First Sale

“Victory is sweetest when you’ve known defeat.” Malcom Forbes

Closing your first sale is one of the greatest highs you experience in your journey as an entrepreneur. It is a validation of your skills, passion and commitment to achieving something more than just the ordinary in life. There is no doubt that the journey to this milestone is a challenging one, it will test to the max and you will be able to gauge whether you have it in you to actually persevere and reach your goal. Having been through this exercise, I am now part of other teams on this leg of their journey I have put together a list of five concepts which have helped me .

1. Envision it: Before starting this journey, clearly identify where you want to go, how you want to get there and by when. Establish a picture of the entire process to enable you to visualize how you want everything to work. Once you have this image deeply embedded in your subconscious, you are ready to begin your journey. To read more about envisioning the sales process please click here.

2. Be Proactive: To be able to reach any goal in life you have to take action. Without it you will not be able to gather the momentum that is required to close that first deal and then successive deals after that. There is a need to be continuously proactive if you want to have success in any part of your life. If you want to achieve your goals and close that sale, you need to start taking responsibility for your success and action, today. To read tips on becoming more proactive please click here.

3. Ask: If you have hit a point where you are meeting a lot of people, pitching your idea and getting some interest but no sales then you are not asking for the sale correctly. Subconsciously we do not want to be the pushy salesperson . We begin to let this thought influence the sales pitch process and what happens is that the prospect is never really posed the question to buy. You need to start asking for the sale much more proactively to start closing deals. To read more about asking for the sale please click here.

4. Patience: There will be times during this journey where you will get frustrated, irritated and sometimes quite angry because you are unable to hit your targets and goals. This impacts detrimentally on the entire sales process as it decreases productivity, efficiency and your positivity. Having patience during this journey will be critical in your progress, remember, research shows that we usually quit just before we are about to hit something really big. To read more about this critical success factor please click here.

5. Learn from Failures: There is no failure only feedback. When times are tough, patience is low and we face setbacks, an entrepreneur starts to question everything. We begin to start blaming external factors, our team, our product or the economy. However this stance will not change the outcome or increase the probability of your closing the sale. You need to take the failures that you face and convert them into feedback to help you succeed. To read about strategies to convert failures into feedback please click here.

I sincerely believe that by following these steps coupled with hard work, determination and belief in your capabilities you will achieve your goals. We have to stop making excuses for ourselves and playing the blame game. If we truly want to succeed we have to do whatever it takes. Believe in yourself, your product/service and the your ability to successfully sell. No hurdle will be too high and when you finally get there, embrace the moment. Be thankful that you have been given the opportunity to prove yourself because, believe me, the journey is just starting, and it doesn’t become any easier!

I wish all of you the best of luck!

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There is no Failure only Feedback

“Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” Dale Carnegie

If there are 6 words which have truly helped me in my journey as an entrepreneur to date, they are, “There is no Failure only Feedback”. They have allowed me to flip just about any situation when things are not doing well and I begin to doubt myself. The process of doubt starts with losing a sale when you were relatively close to finalising it.  The world seems to come crashing down at this point . You start to wonder about your future as an entrepreneur or in sales, next, you start to doubt the viability of what you are selling. You begin to blame all sorts of external circumstances for the situation you are in and, motivation, productivity and optimism take a nose dive.

During my second start company which was in the Import/Export business I experienced this situation at the beginning. Disillusioned at this, because of the success of my prior company I began to wonder what was happening and I started blaming everyone apart from myself. At this point a close friend who has done very well for himself in the same line of work, gave me some much needed advice. When I explained the situation to him, he reaffirmed my share of bad luck but helped me understand that my attitude towards failure was the real culprit. I had begun to take it too personally and it began to blur everything around me to a point where I was unable to put myself in a position to close that sale. He left me with the advice to use each one of my failures as feedback to refine my approach in the future.

At first it was confusing, I was not being given any apparent reason when I missed an opportunity. How was I supposed to get feedback? That is when the lightbulb went off in my head. I started asking myself the right questions which then led us to develop customer feedback forms on marketing material, presentations, quality, price and overall satisfaction. I started to listen to what my customers wanted and how we could position ourselves to fulfilling these requests. That was a turnaround for me in my journey and now, when I speak to, listen or read about successful entrepreneurs there is a common thread “Failures are pillars to your success”, we have to respond to them in the correct manner to make sure that we learn, adapt and provide what the market truly wants.

If you haven’t had success in closing your first deal yet, break down your current sales process from start to the finish. Get feedback, talk to individuals who have had success in that area, survey your target segment and figure out ‘Why your customers are not buying from you ?’. Then, use that information to adjust your sales process to get the results you want!

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The Key to Success

“Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow – that is patience.” Anonymous

During the tizzy of making a prospect list, calling potential clients and fanatically focusing on closing that first deal we forget a fundamental concept which will in turn be a fundamental component in your final sale,  that is, “Patience”. Earlier on, we established the need to set SMART deadlines to reach our goal. Setting that goal does not mean however that you immediately make a dash for it in a 400m race. If you do, by mid race you will run out of steam, and that will drastically impact the probability of closing a deal within your specified time frame.

From the word ‘go’ roadblocks will be encountered along the way, unless these are faced with patience it will be difficult to reach your goal. It is definitely not fun when you make 4 calls without generating any interest, I know the feeling . However it is usually a later call where you actually hit something. If we lose patience, it directly impacts our ability to move forward effectively and in a positive and persistent manner.

During the next couple of stages in the sales process whether it is pitching, negotiating or managing a client as sales individuals or entrepreneurs, patience is definitive for productivity. Rushing in and giving too many discounts, negotiating too quickly or getting fed up with a clients constant complaining will lead to leaving money on the table and not building the sort of relationships which will be based on an equal footing in the future.

Sales is a challenging process and securing that first deal seems almost impossible at times. You need to remember to pace yourself during the process, pay attention to details without rushing through the process. This will not only be a more satisfying process, I have found it provides you with a level of inner peace and calmness which helps you focus and eventually get that sale a lot more efficiently, effectively and often at a quicker pace. If you want to succeed at anything in life remember,  “Patience” is going to be a critical success factor. Best of luck!

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Ask and you shall receive

“To solve any problem, here are three questions to ask yourself: First, what could I do? Second, what could I read? And third, who could I ask?” Jim Rohn

You have got a sales appointment to meet the decision maker. The initiatives which you took in the last step are paying dividends. The sales pitch goes off well, there is excitement in the room and after a few words at the end of the meeting you are told they will be in touch. Feeling good about the pitch and thinking that the probability of securing the client is high, you are disappointed when there is no follow up from the client and after a while, the lead goes dead. This happened several times at the start of my journey and I always wondered what went wrong. I was really happy when I learned the answer to this conundrum.

An experienced entrepreneur I spoke to asked me whether I had been “Asking for the sale?”. Initially the question was confusing, but when I started to put the pieces together it made a lot more sense. I realised that whenever I was pitching to clients and enthusiasm was generated, I did not focus on closing the deal. I never asked the client for the sale! Psychologically I was avoiding being the pushy salesman, afraid the client would say the dreaded word ‘NO’. As a result I was repeatedly leaving money on the table by not asking the right questions.

Armed with this advice I went back to my script and practiced closing strategies for sales pitches. There are many interesting articles and training courses out there on closing strategies. I have taken the Neuro Linguistic Programming which has helped me tremendously. I have since formulated a way to subtly and politely ask the client for their business at the end of the presentation. Initially it felt strange and I was not  confident about asking, however, over time I have honed my skills. Now ,it has become second nature for me to go into a presentation and confidently, politely and subtly ask the client for their business.

The next time you are making a client presentation, make sure you formulate a strategy to ask the client to give you their business. You will not always win the business, however, through this process you will learn what you could be doing differently and then go back and ask for it again which should win you the contract!

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Be Proactive

 

“You see, in life, lots of people know what to do, but few people actually do what they know. Knowing is not enough! You must take action.” Anthony Robbins

You have developed your product/service, have your pitch ready, and are ready to go. Unfortunately, customers don’t usually start banging on your door as soon as you announce your product/service to the world. If you are serious about getting that first sale, and more importantly getting it soon, you need to put yourself out there. Take the initiative to set a target, get a list together and start making those calls and visits to prospects. This is the only way you are going to see momentum in your business. Don’t worry about refining it to perfection, you need to go out there and see what the market thinks about it. Writing story boards and doing research from the comfort of your office is important, but you need to start taking action if you are want to see results. Listed below are a couple of pointers to get you started:

1. Set SMART targets: To get to any destination, you first need to know where you are going, what route to follow and an approximate lenght of time to get there. Charting the course of your first sale works pretty much in the same manner. Set yourself aggressive goals which are time bound. Specific targets keep you more focused and create a greater urgency to get things accomplished within stipulated time frames.

2. Put a list together: Do an industry analysis and select an industry in which you believe your product/service will have the greatest uptake. This will lead naturally to the next step, which is creating a list of prospective companies you can visit in this industry. After the completion of this list of companies, chart out references or friends you may leverage on to approach these companies. This step creates a greater degree of focus and increases the likelihood of closing a deal at a faster pace.

3. Start making those calls: Pick up the phone and start making calls to references, friends or directly to the company to get appointments or even sales. At this stage, you really kick it up a gear as you are now in direct contact with target customers. The impressions you make at this stage will be critical, especially if you are a new company. Have a scripted pitch which should not sound too rehearsed, be very polite and execute it all with the utmost professionalism. Follow each call with standardized follow up emails and start  building connections to get closer to closing that first deal.

4. Network Endlessly: If you are not selling, you should be networking. Use tools such as linkedin to help expand your current professional network. This expansion helps you get more qualified leads, greater access to a much wider net of companies and the opportunity to get your product/service known in the market without spending too much on advertising. The next time you get an invitation to mixers or industry specific conferences, use these opportunities to go out there and get known in the market place.

Use this list to get started. This is not the time to procrastinate. If you want success, you need to be willing to go out there are start looking for it. There is no better time than now to start your sales campaign!

Related Articles:

SMART Goal Setting

Industry Identification

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Envision It!

“Envisioning the end is enough to put the means in motion.” Dorthea Brande

You call up the 4th prospect on your list and rattle off the perfectly rehearsed pitch you have been using for the last few months, day after day. All of a sudden, the prospect starts to show interest in what you are saying….you seem to have hit a chord somewhere and the best part is, you can sense it. The phone call ends on a positive note and more information is requested via email. An hour after you have the sent the mail the client, the large multinational, says they would like to speak with you in greater detail. Its an eerie feeling, the realization that you may actually have hit home and the butterflies let loose.

You arrive at the customers office, adrenaline is rushing through your body, however, you are willing yourself to be calm and confident as you have given this pitch many a time. You meet the team you are presenting to and straight off the bat you can feel the chemistry. The presentation goes well and all the verbal and non verbal cues confirm your initial vibes. During the question and answer session you face the standard questions, you have the answers, backed by much hard work and research. You close the meeting, with the client asking for time to make their decision. For a split second you think, will this end up like all the other dead ends, or was it truly different. You then make  a conscious decision to stay positive on this one.

The next morning you have an email waiting for you from the client requesting a quotation. Negotiations move quickly through the course of the day and you feel like you are on cloud nine. All those days where you were frustrated, angry and even demotivated, are already a distant memory. By the day’s end, you get the email you have been waiting for….a confirmation to move forward and a signed agreement. Sitting there , looking at the computer screen you are in a momentary daze that seems to last forever. A million thoughts are firing off in your mind relating to steps for moving forward, the realization that you have done it and a euphoric sense of happiness. You let go and for the first time in months there is a feeling of…..freedom.

Congratulations, you have cleared one of the steepest hurdles in your initial journey as an entrepreneur. This is the beginning of many more and now you know a bit more on how to get there. For those of you who have not reached this milestone yet and are working towards it, stop whatever you are doing right now. Close your eyes and envision closing your first sale in detail, start from the beginning and go through the entire sales process. Identify all the emotions, the verbal and non verbal cues, once the image is clear, hold it, you now have a roadmap to get to where you want to be ! Best of luck in your journey!

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The Elusive First Sale

“Remember, you only have to succeed the last time.” Brian Tracy

Having been in the position of pushing myself to close that elusive first deal as also managing people who are striving to hit that landmark milestone, I have developed this strange love hate relationship with this stage in a startups life. When I look back to my first startup where we were a selling designing and printing service, I realise what a great learning experience it was for all of us. We were a bunch of 21 year old students with no background, no experience and no past clientele. We had to figure out very quickly what aspect we could compete with our competitors on, it turned out to be customer service. Our entire business model worked because being university based we could cater to the large design and print requirements of the university in a more personalized manner.

It took us around 4 months to close our first ‘real’ deal. We were constantly pushed around, looked down upon, our calls were not returned and most importantly we were constantly pressured to reduce our prices because we were ‘students’. So given all of that, you are probably wondering what the ‘love’ aspect for this stage in a startup is. It came from the fact that for the first time in our lives we had to prove to ourselves that we could do something on our own. Call it ego, inner strength or a magical drive, there was a voice inside you which kept on saying “You Can Do This”. That is the voice which has helped me stay the course as an entrepreneur.

Over the course of this week, I am going to outline some basic but fundamental concepts which need to be kept in mind when you are in the position of pushing yourself or your team to close that first deal. This is a time in entrepreneurial life where will, determination and drive are tested to the limit. This is  a defining and testing time to check whether you have it in you or not, this is the stage where many discover that this path was not meant for them. Use this stage in your startup life to identify within yourself  what drives you, how you face adversity and what your threshold levels actually are. Most importantly enjoy this time, discover if you can learn to love what you do. In the end, that is all that matters. When you do something you love doing, you will never have to work another day in your life. Best of luck!

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