I had the best job I've ever had, making more than I'd ever made, working with people I adored and I was still unfulfilled. That's when I knew it was time to start my own consulting agency. I thought I’d get to spend the best hours of my day building my dream instead of someone else’s. So when the time was right, I made the leap.
But in the beginning, it wasn’t better than my old job at all. After one month, the reality of working for myself set in. I didn’t know anything about getting clients. Like most first-time entrepreneurs, I believed that if I made a gorgeous website and had a great marketing plan, people would book sessions with me straight from my website.
Asking for money felt like begging to me -- as if I was asking for something I didn’t deserve to have. After all, if I’m excellent at what I do, people should want to give me money. I shouldn’t have to ask them for it. Right?
In the very first conversation where I asked for money, I sweat through my clothes before we even sat down. My mouth was dry and my hands were clammy like it was the first day of school. I stopped myself from doing my nervous tick -- crossing my legs into a spiral and slouching -- about four times. When the client said, “Yes, this is exactly what I need. How can I pay?” I had to control my excitement so that I didn’t reveal my “this-never-happens-to-me!” face.
My fears about asking for money persisted throughout the rest of that year and well into the next, despite getting help from a business coach. I never made more than what was required to pay for rent, my phone, basic public transport and groceries to cook at home. That’s no way to live.
Looking back on those days now, I’m glad I had the sense to get an intervention. The only thing stopping me from having the fulfillment I wanted was my own fear of asking for money. So, I enrolled in a sales training course with a renowned coach named Bryan Franklin. About three hours into the first day and some cursory training around the mindset required to ask for money, the instructors gave us our first assignment: Go out and get a client in three hours. If you don’t get one, don’t bother coming back.
There were two rules:
1) No family or significant others (people you depend on for food, shelter or love).
2) Money must be exchanged.
I ended up getting a client that day (a relative of someone in the class with me). What I learned is that the people you sell to in the beginning will be people you already have relationships with. I thought (and hoped) that my clients would be "people out there" -- people I could fail or fumble in front of without "hurting" the relationship. But the truth is that the people most likely to buy are the people who already know you. Not strangers.
That was the beginning of the first year dedicated to learning how to sell. (Yes, I have spent multiple years learning this skill.)
No one had ever heard of the men I trained with even though they were coaching business leaders at Silicon Valley giants like LinkedIn. They were advising people who were making multi-millions about how they could make more. No one had heard of them because they didn’t market. They sold. They understood the difference between the two is that the latter is what puts money in the bank.
Bryan Franklin, my sales course leader, helped me lay the foundational mindset for sales. And Monica Shah showed me the strategies needed to get clients and keep my programs full. That year I had a massive breakthrough that set me up for my first six-figure year in 2012. This year I'm doubling that. Specifically, I’ve learned how to:
- Ask for money -- and stop feeling bad about it. I did amazing work. I deserved amazing pay.
- Stop the negative self-talk about what it meant if someone says no. That awkward moment can become a chance to explore your beliefs about what you feel you deserve.
- Understand that the amount of time spent in conversation asking for money is directly proportionate to the amount of money I have in the bank. And that no amount of marketing or social media would make up for an inability to ask for money.
- Market and sell. Marketing attracts the people to you. Asking for money and offering your services is what gets those people to buy. Please hear me on this: No matter how good your marketing or branding is, if you never get around to asking for money, you will most likely not receive any.
What I find most women of my generation struggle with when it comes to selling is a basic belief that we’ve been taught not to need or want anything from others. And if we do, we’d better figure out a way to attain it for ourselves. The problem is that when we sell with this mindset, we make the process too much about ourselves.
Walking into a sales conversation with our attention on our own fears will guarantee that no one will buy. Your clients are talking to you to find out how they can get their own needs met. Focusing on their needs is what convinces them you’re capable of providing their solution.
Secondly, we’ve been taught that saying to someone, “This is what I do; I know I can help you. Can we exchange money for that thing you need?” is the equivalent of being boastful and not being generous with our resources. But the truth is that it’s the only way we can sustain ourselves as business owners. It’s also the only way our lives become enriched.
The next time you consider making an investment to change your Web design, social media training, etc. to bring in more clients, first take a look at how many times in the last month you’ve asked for money and invited someone to work with you. It might be time to invest in sales training instead.
She who asks, receives.
Kristen and DailyWorth founder Amanda Steinberg pow-wowed on sales and marketing for women entrepreneurs recently. In the interview, Amanda provided the foundation for selling your work and a tool to help you get started today. Kristen Domingue is the founder and CEO of Ignite! a brand development company that helps women entrepreneurs create personal brands. Residing in New York City, she is helping women around the world learn how to get paid to do exactly what they love, be exactly who they are and make a massive difference.