It’s almost exactly 29 years since I left the corporate world to pursue a life of entrepreneurship. Although it had always been a dream of mine to be my own boss, I was jetisonned into it when the company I was working for went bust. I’d only been working there for 5 months, had just been promoted to director and BAM! The CEO disappeared leaving a trail of bad decisions, wages unpaid, and a queue of creditors lining up at the door.
I remember sitting in the boardroom of our offices just off Harley Street with the other director (he later became my husband). The accounts lying on the desk in front of us awash with the red markings of debt and the Inland Revenue howling at the door. We had a small but loyal staff waiting outside desperate to know what was happening and whether their jobs were secure.
As we began to unravel the financial disaster that the CEO had left behind, it became obvious that we were too late to this particular party to save it, but we decided to try anyway. After all, the alternative was unemployment and there was another recession on the horizon.
We called all the staff together and explained the situation. There was cussing, there were tears and one person picked up his briefcase and walked out to start looking for a new job. But by the end of the meeting we had a plan to try to turn the company round, pay off the wages and the creditors.
It was a tall order.
I got onto the phone and began to systematically call all the creditors to explain the situation and work out a payment plan with them while the other director rallied together his team and set them to push hard on sales with a fast return.
Over the next few weeks, we began to see income returning into the business and I began to drip money to repay the debts. Our supply lines reopened and we could see there was light at the end of the tunnel.
That is until the Inland Revenue knocked on the door with a removals van and a couple of strong looking men. They had run out of patience and wanted recompense now. They had come to repossess the items in the office.
They took everything: phones, desks, computers … even the kettle from the kitchen.
There was nothing more we could do except close the doors of the business for the last time then set off to the pub around the corner to drown our sorrows and say goodbye to our colleagues. As the evening wore on and the staff drifted away to go home and write their C.V.s, the other director and myself stayed behind and in time told tradition took out a pen, picked up a beermat and began to branstorm a business we could do ourselves. Where we would have total control and never have to suffer because of someone else’s incompetance.
And that’s how our first business was born.
This is actually a HEA story, but like all good stories the path to happiness never runs smoothly.
We’d not taken wages for weeks and had been living off savings. On the first day of our new enterprise, I went to the ATM machine, took out my last £500 and checked I still had space on my credit card. We then sat down at the kitchen table in my house and made a plan.
By the following morning, we had: 100 business cards each, a single product to sell, comfortable shoes, and a plan to knock on every business door in a 10 mile radius. We did this every day for 3 weeks. Returning time and time again to our ideal clients, ignoring the rejections and persisting until we got the chance to talk to the right people in the company.
I did my best to ignore the growing credit card debt, the rejections, and supress the feelings that nagged in the back of my mind that maybe I wasn’t as good at sales as I thought.
And then 2 major things happened: I found out I was pregnant and we got our big break – an ongoing contract with a major multinational organisation.
We’d cracked it. The contract would give us cash flow and we could concentrate on scaling our business.
As my son grew in my belly, our business grew too!
By the time I was 9 months pregnant, I had become something of a celebrity amongst our clients and was closing almost every deal I went for. Who would have thought that having a baby could offer a new and effective closing technique. I understand now, but I didn’t then, that taking off my business suit, looking vulnerable, normal, and real resonated at a different level with my clients and softened them to buy.
On the Monday after my son was born, I was back working from home and fielding call after call from clients wanting me to come in to talk about business … and asking me to bring the baby in with me.
That was a turning point in my understanding of people and changed my approach to the sales process completely.
I realised that people buy from people that they resonate with, where they have a connection born out of mutual interest or circumstances and can recognise themselves in you. It’s like being a member of a special interest club – you’re on the same wavelength.
So what’s my key takeaway from this story?
Simple. Be real. Be true to yourself. And seek out prospects that you understand and can resonate with.
Do this and you’ll never be short of good customers.