Q: I tend to beat around the bush rather than asking directly for what I need to grow my business. What should I be saying?
A: Many people struggle to generate sales because they can’t… quite… seem… to get to the point. They might be direct in other aspects of their lives, but when it comes to nabbing business, they hint, hope and cajole, but don’t ask, which is most problematic in four crucial areas: support, referrals, business and payment.
Here are the confidence-building scripts used by four successful businesswomen:
1. Support: When she initially launched a crowdfunding campaign to finance the mass production of a clever travel container, inventor Ruby Vasquez says it fell on deaf ears. The El Paso, Texas, entrepreneur had high hopes for quick success, but only after she actually asked for support did contributions flow. “Once I made a key switch in my language, the money came in. Instead of saying, ‘I launched this campaign, and I’m so excited about getting the product to market,’ I tweaked it, adding, ‘and I’d appreciate your support, so please click on the link to watch our video and consider contributing today.’” Within days, she raised more than $40,000—exceeding her goal.
2. Referrals: Jenn Lee, a Lake Mary, Fla.-based small-business consultant, has grown her business almost exclusively by asking for referrals. She doesn’t offer a free steak dinner or a prize to valued clients who refer her. “I don’t want to diminish them by making them feel they’re in a program,” she says. Instead, once she has established rapport, “I ask straight out for the referral: ‘Whom do you know who may be struggling or stuck in marketing their speaking platform for profit?’ The more specific I am, the easier it is for them to think of someone because they’re already seeing a difference in their businesses by working with me.”
3. Business: Amandah Blackwell, a marketing communications writer in Parma, Ohio, says small-business owners are often good at pitching themselves but then rely on the potential client to close the deal. “Too often we tout our skills and abilities, and then we wait for the prospect to take the next leap. We hope they’ll ask how to work with us. When that doesn’t happen, we assume they’re not interested.” Bad assumption, Blackwell says. Instead of focusing only on what she can accomplish—“I will ensure that your marketing copy positions your company effectively”—she bridges her capabilities with asking for the business. “So let’s start working together now.”
4. Payment: Graphic designer Amy Morelli of Longwood, Fla., says the key to getting paid is not just how, but when, you ask. “The client has to be equally invested in the process. One way to ensure that is to make them pay a deposit or partial payment upfront. They don’t waste my time when they have skin in the game.” Before instituting her upfront policy, a client who hadn’t put any money down beforehand “would ask me to do 50 versions of a design, only to settle on the first one I submitted.” More important, “doing this ensures that I don’t have an issue with getting paid,” Morelli says, so she’s not having to chase down her fee after the job is done.