Think Positive Before Pitching

First believe in your strengths and the value you offer, then you can focus on selling that uniqueness to potential customers

By Karen E. Klein

Q: I'm just starting a consultancy. I assume that I may have to connect with a potential customer three to six times before I can hope for even a small contract. Yet I know how busy decision-makers are and how reluctant they will be to spend money. It's a daunting prospect. Any words of advice? -- D.A., Elizabethtown, N.Y.


Rather than starting out from a negative stance, begin your business from a positive mindset. Yes, you'll have to sell your services and gain clients' attention and trust. No, most businesspeople don't want to spend money on something that they don't understand or don't believe will improve their bottom line. Sure, everybody's busy.

But you must consider how you can turn your knowledge, expertise, and business insights into a marketable service that clients will desire and value, says David Zahn, author and consultant with Clow Zahn Associates, in Westport, Conn. "My first bit of advice is to reexamine your own views and beliefs about your abilities and desirability by a client to assist in meeting a need," Zahn says. "Before a consultant can sell a project or acquire a contract, there must be belief that there's value to be offered."

If you don't believe in what you have to offer, a potential client certainly won't. Remember why you're starting this business in the first place. Rather than approach your sales and marketing apologetically, as if you're asking for a favor, focus the dialogue with potential clients on how you can help them do things like save money, increase their effectiveness, reduce the time or other resources they are expending, and make them more efficient.

It doesn't hurt to point out your own strengths and past experience, and why your fresh perspective might be just what they're looking for. Rather than trying to sugarcoat your firm's youth, leverage it as a strength -- and draw a distinction between yourself and the status quo.

And don't be opposed to starting with smaller customers and building a healthy client base that can offer positive testimonials to lure bigger ones down the road. Since you're just starting out, your consultancy might be a better personality match for these smaller companies anyway, making it an easier sell.

While you'll find that would-be clients are reluctant to spend money if they see no benefit in doing so, you'll soon learn they're eager and willing to invest in solutions or offerings that are likely to help them expand their own companies. "No client I have ever worked with is too busy to derive benefit from a project that either came from their structuring or scoping," Zahn says, "or one that I helped to provide reason or rationale for undertaking."

Have a question about your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an e-mail at Smart Answers, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 45th Floor, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10020. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally.

Karen E. Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues

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