I wanted to write this post to give others an insight into my journey and to help other aspiring entrepreneurs achieve their dream of starting and building their own business.
When I was in my early twenties, I was obsessed with reading about the Founders of Facebook, Twitter, Box.com, Zappos and even latterly Uber. I was always dreaming about becoming an “entrepreneur”. Even this word sounded cool to me and often far fetched from where I was working each day. It seemed like I was not special enough or not knowledgable about entrepreneurship or business to become an “entrepreneur”.
This detachment came from my early teens where I tracked the likes of James Dyson and Richard Branson with their incredible and expansive businesses. In this light, I always thought one had to be an inventor, a creator of a great idea to become successful in business. I never quite had “that idea”.
I continued to read about successful entrepreneurs like James Caan and Duncan Bannatyne and thought it was like a magic trick that couldn’t be accomplished by someone like me. I knew I was certainly keen to work hard on a new venture or role but it always seemed to elude me.
This certainly changed for me when I was reading the 4-hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. I thought at the time that this would give me the perfect business plan to go out and to create an online business that could flourish and provide me with passive business income. The actual truth of what I took from the book was entirely different. It was that I worked out my hourly rate and what the profitability of my work was an employee. When I understood that I was paid £8.50 per hour and I was a 85% gross profit entity even after bonuses, I realised that things really had to change and continuing working in this way was not going to work for me.
I then went off to to work in Sri Lanka for a startup charity, returning to work then in the charity sector, which I didn’t really like and then moved into the Financial Services sector, always a dream of mine – it wasn’t what I thought it would be like either. Then I fortunately got a role within a leading IT services and consultancy business, Appirio, which was where I really honed a new model of working and delivering value to end clients. This incredibly fresh and challenger mentality that was so ingrained within the company, certainly proved fruitful for the Founders and the participating employees within the share scheme, as it was acquired by Wipro for $500 million.
After the takeover was approved and publicly announced, I realised that this was my chance to start a business. I didn’t quite know how or when I certainly knew why. I had been given a great opportunity after the acquisition and to start up a business without major risk – if there is such a thing!
With this added energy and impetus, I spoke to friends, past work colleagues, past clients about how my company had been acquired for $500 million. Many of these great people in my network not only congratulated me but asked me one of the most challenging and surprising questions I’ve ever faced… what’s next James?
I knew now that I simply had to move on from my newly acquired company and start out on my own. It’s the sense of challenge, adventure and even the unknown that has always excited me when wanting to start something new. To prove to myself that I can do it, even if others have doubted me. This time, it was harder, it was me doubting myself and my capabilities. I still had this nagging thought of am I worthy? Can I really be an entrepreneur?
It was when I refocused on the fundamentals, what I wanted, who I wanted to serve and ultimately would anyone pay for my expertise. These questions were fortunately answered after many conversations, one acquaintance of mine asked, why don’t you come and work with me?
This was it.
This event and the way the opportunity was completely different to how I’d imagined becoming the Founder and business owner. After resigning and starting up my new business, I had a strange coincidence take place. I wanted to register a domain for my new business and came up with the name Sales for Startups, as I would be advising tech startups on how to grow their Sales revenues, I thought it was quite clear to prospective customers.
When about to press “Register” on my new website, salesforstartups.co.uk I realised that I had bought the domain three years earlier in 2014 and came up with the idea while staying with friends in East Dulwich. Weirdly, I not only live in the area but also have now bought the domain for a second time and have started a successful consultancy for tech startups!
In summary, a complete and unnerving focus on coming up with “the idea” in my opinion is harmful, as it clouds your judgement and relinquishes the chance of seizing opportunity when it arises. A business is born when another individual agrees to pay or use your product or service. My simple advice to anyone wanting to achieve this similar feat is to get someone else to pay for you product or service, then you might be able to start a business. Then you’ll really know if “the idea” works or not.
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs?
When first starting a company or even wanting to grow a company, it’s very easy to become distracted. This could be chasing down the development of a new product line, a new prospect, market or even a new partner.
In the case of startups having a clear client acquisition and partner strategy is very important. In startups, it is even more important than in larger businesses. Not only because in startups, your team members have to perform multiple roles due to resources but also simply because there is nowhere to hide and hence having a focus and executing on those plans makes perfect sense.
There I’m going to briefly touch on a couple of steps that are critical to getting you aligned to your objectives and being successful in your Sales pursuits.
1) Define Your Ideal Client
If you want to win gold medals, you have to train and think like a gold medallist but more importantly you have to know how the gold medallists act and ultimately what makes them gold medallists.
If you don’t know who your ideal client is and why they are your ideal client, you are never going to sign them. And if you get lucky enough to hit the jackpot just by sheer chance, you will almost do anything and everything to sabotage the success or run away from the responsibility.
When coaching startups, we found that defining and knowing your ideal client, their profile and nature was a fundamental key missing when wanting to expand. The spray and pray approach was very painful and limited in its effect.
2) Where does your client go for information?
For some this question is completely bedazzling. They think why would I need to know where my client goes for information. Well, I don’t want to surprise you but in order to be credible in the client’s eyes they need to be familiar with your brand and company.
How challenging is it to buy from someone you don’t know? Do you opt for the known or the unknown when you are under pressure or busy?
This common human behaviours are areas that you need to consider when going out to find, select, persuade and close your first big deal. The common areas that they will go to absorb information on your topic will be the top social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), industry websites, rating or review websites, trade associations or events and taking advice from similar professionals in their network.
You have the opportunity to influence your decision makers when marketing and selling to them by the information that you distribute daily.
3) Define Your Value Proposition
There are two schools of thought when it comes to how and when you need to define your value propositions. For example, Jill Konrath claims that you need to define your value proposition each time, whereas Jeb Blount states that you can create a common value proposition to help you achieve your goal of engaging the prospect.
In our opinion, we believe that you need to do both. For the sole reason is that you first have to perform prospecting to multiple ideal clients before you often get the chance to really show your bespoke and unique value proposition. It would be counter-productive to spending so much time on a customer where you had not even entered into a proper conversation with.
Once you are engaged with your ideal client, you can certainly craft a unique value proposition to that customer.
We teach our clients that really having an understanding at first of the industry common value proposition is important and then secondly crafting a unique proposition in line with their challenges will result in huge results for your company.
This is not an easy exercise and will take hard work to complete.
In summary, at startups we are all trying to play so many roles all at once in order to achieve far-reaching objectives. Having a client focus will really add energy and momentum to your quest to achieve these objectives.
Sales for Startups is a leading Sales and Business Development consultancy that helps tech startups grow their revenues by up to 50% in their first 3 months when working with us.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the post, please like my post if you found it valuable or insightful and feel free to leave your comments below.
Often people have told me many times how amazing it is to win as a team. I agreed with this sentiment although didn’t truly understand it.
Now with running my own consultancy I have found that there is another level of joy to be experienced. Winning as a partnership is even more unique and mesmerising than when just winning within your team. This means helping your clients win big and when they do, it is completely unmatched.
As a former full-time and employed front-line business development and account management professional, I was always tasked with winning new clients and growing existing accounts. This seemed pretty straightforward and a directed role. I couldn’t work out what was not motivating for my team members or my direct reports. At times it seemed like that there was a sense of detachment between the company and its Sales staff.
In the role of an advisor and consultant, my role is very different. We’re advising on multiple aspects of the business in order to increase operational efficiency, revenue growth and profitability at tech startups. This is not in truth what the gambit of a salesperson is in for most companies. The operational efficiency part of a salesperson’s responsibility is certainly undervalued. In my opinion, there’s almost no other role within a company that stretches the capabilities and operational output more than that of a salesperson.
What other roles put your team under so much pressure to perform with such little time?
This often happens because the economic advantage is not only great for the company but also for the salesperson. Moreover though, the finer point to focus on is what information and intel can our business development and account management professionals garner that could help us improve our products, services and operations. This comes back to the objective of Sales professionals – continuously add immense value to prospects and clients. This nature of being eager to please and looking at ways in which we can improve our service to our end clients should be captured in a feedback loop, reviewed, delegated and actioned.
Furthermore, when advising tech startups who are looking to gain commitments from large companies, we often see them forgetting to value the critical information that they are receiving in each sales pursuit and won’t normally record of all their learns along the way.
What is this greater level of joy?
I have found that the experience of winning new clients while playing an advisory partner role to London’s tech startups is unparalleled. Not only does a big win bring a sense of relief, jubilation, and a sense of fear within startups; it also brings complete respect for the individuals’ roles played in such a pursuit and an immense sense of gratitude and ultimately self-pride. This heightened euphoria and sense of real progress and growth is one that seems very different when advising companies to when you are full-time employee.
We often hear as well talk about win-win scenarios for our clients when in Sales roles but often this is not really the case and often is in fact a discrete bargaining exercise.
In the case of this article, I really wanted to open up the debate as to why this imbalance seems so widespread within Sales teams across major corporate companies and how fledgling startups can learn from the mistakes of others.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Please like this post if you found it insightful and feel free to leave your comments below.
Sales for Startups is a leading Sales and Business Development consultancy that helps tech startups achieve their annual revenue objectives in as little as 4-6 months.