Non-sales-y sales

I am hoping to build up a VA business having worked within a PA and secretarial role for the past 14 years. I am excited about building up my business but really not looking forward to the whole marketing and “selling myself” side. I tried setting up a different type of home business a couple of years ago and failed because of this. From Leah – a new VA

Leah is not alone – this is a fairly common email for me to get… There are two issues here, and I’ll get right to the crux of the first one:

What would you do if I offered you a job – you would really get on with your boss, it had unlimited earnings, flexible hours, an office decorated to your own tastes… Sounds good, you’d bite my arm off in order to take it, yes?  BUT…. (and there’s always a BUT!)… It’s commission only.

That’s basically what you are doing when you go self-employed – it’s your dream job, but it’s commission only.  And it’s not for everyone.  Former PAs and secretaries are used to being told what to do by their boss, so we aren’t great at self-motivation.  On top of that, we’re super nice to people as well, we like saying yes – and we’ll say yes to crap rates, awful jobs and horrible clients just because we want to be helpful.

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As a VA and a business owner, you have to change your mindset.  The best way you can be helpful to your clients is by giving them an excellent service – and to do that, you need to be clear on your own boundaries and charge them enough money so that you are still around the next time they have some work to outsource.  This is hard stuff; I am in no way saying that it is easy.  But this is where you need to start from if you want to understand sales.  You have to believe that your product/service is helping your customers.

Next we move onto the second problem….being as dodgy as DelBoy Trotter from Only Fools and Horses!  

STOP!  It doesn’t have to be like that.

VAs by nature are shy and retiring – we don’t like to bother people, and the people we need as clients are usually chaotic and busy with very little time to take action and hire your services.  They need reminders and follow ups.

Here are five different ways of following up without the smarmy sales patter, ways that your clients will like to be contacted, and which just remind them quietly but persistently of your presence:

  1. Send them an article which relates to their industry. So if your client deals with the finance sector, you might send them some information on some new research on people’s pension plans.  “Saw this and thought of you” It takes two minutes and shows them you understand their industry and are interested in it.  (Top cheat: set up a Google alert to give you a feed on news which relates to their industry!)
  2. A silly postcard. This one can be graded according to how sales-y you want to be.  Getting something physically in your client’s hands can be a powerful tool.  It might be a postcard relating to your services, but equally it might just be something daft or pretty you saw and picked up.  Top bonus points if you manage to send this the same day you speak to your new lead by second class post – it’ll arrive just as they begin to forget about you 2 days after speaking to you.
  3. 2 line email. We all have mountains of emails to wade through. Instead of bombarding your client with more information, send them a quick two line email asking how they are and how business is.  Keeping it general means they can respond honestly without pressure to either fend you off or give you some work.  You’ll find out more about the climate they are working in and this in turn will help you understand their needs.
  4. Make a note to call them. Again this one sounds very simple, but is really effective.  The very day you speak to the client, make a note in your diary for the next day (to check they received the info and answer any questions), the next week (to ask if they’ve had some time to make a decision), and next month (to just see how things are going with their business).  If they tell you “I won’t be in a position to hire until next month/next year” etc. then schedule your follow up calls to that timetable.
  5. LinkedIn. Get on LinkedIn, fill in your CV and connect to everyone you’ve worked for, the colleagues you know – people move jobs all the time, they may be in a new position where your services are just what they need.  Arrange to meet them for coffee – keep it very casual and ask where they think you might be able to find clients.  You’ll be surprised by how helpful people are when you are starting out!

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