Ask anyone why small businesses fail and you may get multiple answers. But one reason you’ll hear over and over is: cash flow. Many small businesses fail because the owner simply runs out of cash.
The business wasn’t inherently a bad idea. The product wasn’t terrible. The owner wasn’t incompetent. In the end, what mattered most was whether the business had enough money to weather the lean times, let alone grow.
And that brings me to the one skill that every business owner needs to deal with cash flow: the ability to sell. In fact, this skill is important for a business’s very survival.
The crucial skill every business owner needs is the ability to bring money in the door. In short, it really comes down to your selling skill.
You’ve probably heard the old saying, “Nothing happens until someone sells something.” It applies even more starkly to a small business because small organizations often lack the established “selling machine” that large enterprises are fortunate to have.
In small businesses, you may not have sales managers, experienced sales representatives, or a large established customer base you can count on to renew. Instead, you may have to scratch for every sale. Often the owner “carries a bag” for sales and may have only the support of an inexperienced or part-time sales team.
The ability to sell makes all the difference when it comes to achieving your dreams of growth. Even if you don’t start off with this ability, focusing on sales can be the difference between a business living and dying.
Speaking as a business owner, many of us are not natural salespeople. Let’s face it: we got into business in the first place because we wanted to do what we love. For many of us, that’s not selling.
In fact, some of us may hate selling. At the very least, we see selling as a weakness in our skills.
In 2002, John Warrillow wrote a ground-breaking book called Drilling for Gold. In it, he identified behavioral factors that motivate small business owners.
A full 74 percent of small business owners, he wrote at the time, are “craftspeople.” Craftspeople, he said, are “so named because mastering their particular craft motivates them … They think of themselves in the context of their particular skill or services: as jewelers, plumbers, and photographers.”
It’s no surprise that a software company founder might choose to code rather than cold call prospects. An independent fashionista might wish to design and create handmade fashions than work with customers. A self-employed author often prefers writing over selling books.
After all, we love our craft, and that’s why we got into business in the first place.
But being able to sell is what’s going to help you realize your entrepreneurial dream. If you want your dream to be a reality, you’re going to have to be able to sell something not just create it.
So, does this mean you have to do something you personally may hate doing for the rest of your business life? Not at all.
Luckily, today we are fortunate to have many tools to organize the sales process and create our own selling machine in our businesses.
Here are three pieces of advice for any business owner to beef up your selling skills, without necessarily turning yourself into a salesperson:
1. Map out your sales process. The first step is to understand your sales process, or “sales funnel” as marketers call it. I’m always shocked at how many business owners don’t put effort into this. It’s hard to get better at driving sales revenue unless you understand exactly how your business gets customers and what works best. Approach this like any other process in your business.
2. Establish tools and people to help. In the beginning, you may have to be hands-on in getting customers. But if selling is not what you want to do, you have to find a substitute. To automate and guide your sales processes, implement sales tools, like a customer relationship management (CRM) solution, email marketing, and lead gen systems as quickly as possible. In many businesses, a lot of the sales process can be automated. Then appoint someone in your company to interact with prospects, even if they can only do it part-time.
3. Focus on managing the sales process and sales results. For this, you not only need good systems and tools, but you need good data like forecasts and reports. This is really where you can leverage yourself the most, by leading and managing effectively rather than doing. But you need solid information to manage well.
Finally, take these last words to heart: to thine own self be true. If you simply detest selling, don’t force yourself to do what you hate. Instead, set up the systems and tools to make sales happen. Think of yourself as the conductor instead of sitting in the orchestra playing an instrument. That’s the real selling skill for a business owner with growth aspirations.
A sales system in your organization will generate the cash flow to survive and thrive in business. When sales are strong and the bills get paid without worry, you gain peace of mind. You get a sense of being in control.
As your sales skills grow, you can build a sales machine. You’ll then know what your sales machine can deliver without you personally having to do the heavy lifting. That keeps your business growing, gives you peace of mind, and ultimately helps you have a more enjoyable life.