As 2015 comes to a close, I am blessed and humbled to think that the company that I founded, True Sales Results, will be celebrating ten years in business next year.  When I started the company, my business plan was drop dead simple.  I came up with a short, focused list of consulting services that I could provide to B2B technology companies to help grow their sales faster.  Then I made up a networking list of colleagues that I had worked with and developed a strong relationship with.  I prioritized the networking list based on their potential decision making capabilities relative to the consulting services that I planned to offer.  Finally, I started calling and emailing and setting up appointments with these folks to socialize my new business and get their feedback.

Over the next 3-4 months, I had more coffee/lunch/dinner/cocktail meetings to introduce my new business and consulting services than I ever could have imagined.  I always insisted on picking up the tab for the coffee/lunch/dinner/cocktails as I invited the colleagues to the meeting and I valued their input and feedback.  A lot of times, the initial person that I met with didn’t have an immediate opportunity within their company, but they would refer me to someone they knew that was potentially in need of my services.  I made sure to keep meticulous notes on how the networking connections and meetings were originated because I was meeting with folks that were 3rd and 4th level degrees of separation from the original contact in my network.

My business plan called for me to secure my first paying client within six (6) months.  I committed myself to developing the business without a dime of incoming revenue for 6 months, after that I was prepared to update my resume and start interviewing for a full time VP of Sales position.  My first client contract was signed after 5 months and 30 days of starting the business.  That is the absolute truth without an ounce of sales embellishment! I ended up winning my second client a month later and True Sales Results was officially off to the races as a business.  Over the last ten (10) years, I’ve learned a lot about being an entrepreneur and what that means to me.

First, let me provide some context for what being an entrepreneur means to me (after all, that is the name of this blog post)…it means waking up every day for the past ten years without a salary or a guaranteed income.  It means not having a company pay for your health insurance, vacation, retirement, sick time or any benefits.  It means that I’m sales, customer service, accounts receivable and payable and chief bottle washer all rolled up into one.  It means that having the confidence in my abilities to generate enough value and corresponding revenue to properly support my family from a financial perspective.

Here are some of the invaluable lessons that I’ve learned as an entrepreneur over the past 10 years:

  • Focus – Be laser like focused on what you deliver for a service, it’s value proposition, and how it’s different and better than alternatives.  Too many entrepreneurs fall prey to the “kitchen sink” mentality and complete lack of focus.  Their web sites read like an unabridged dictionary with all of their service offerings.  I’m often reminded of the figure of speech; “A Jack of All Trades and Master of None”. Note to self, people are strongly inclined to prefer working with the “Master” versus someone who doesn’t specialize in one or two particular areas.  What are you truly an expert at? Whatever is your strongest business skill set should be your focus area and you shouldn’t deviate from it.
  • Conviction – Being a self-employed entrepreneur isn’t for everyone.  There is a certain risk tolerance level that you inherently either possess or you don’t.  I offer a lot of coaching and mentoring to people that are considering starting their own consulting business.  Invariably what cracks me up is people that start off by asking for starting their own business advice and then in the next breath saying that they are open to a full time job if I know of one.  Do you have the conviction to go 6 months without a penny in income?  Are you confident in your abilities to generate business and revenues from scratch over a sustained period of time?  If you are trying to straddle the fence in between full time jobs, don’t bother hanging your “consulting shingle” out there because savvy business people can see right through that guise.
  • Be Choosy About Your Customers – I’m quite fortunate in that I’ve had the opportunity to work with some awesome customers over the past ten years.  I learn from every new engagement.  The bulk of our business is repeat business or word of mouth referral business.  At this stage on my professional career, I insist on working with smart, cool people that are doing interesting things.  And yes, I’ve “fired” a few customers over the years. And it’s liberating to be able to tell someone that they can keep their money, you don’t need it badly enough to warrant working with assholes.
  • Trust Your Gut – There have been a few instances over the years where there have been some awkward signals that emerged during the business development process with a prospect.  Twice I have ignored my gut instinct to walk from the client because they were unreasonable or seemed difficult to work with.  In both cases, I came to regret ignoring my gut and had awful experiences that were quite painful.  If your gut is telling you this prospect isn’t a good fit or likely will be a problematic customer to please, then cut bait and run away as fast as possible.  Life’s too short to waste working with jerks.
  • Be Passionate About Quality – Repeat business is earned by delivering a high quality service and customer experience.  Refuse to accept anything less than the highest quality standard that you can possibly deliver. And be passionate and ruthless in delivering on that highest level of quality.  Don’t allow anyone or anything to compromise your quality, as that is your brand, so guard it maniacally.

Over the past ten years, we at True Sales Results have trained over 10,000 B2B sales professionals globally.  We’ve delivered Global sales kickoffs in Asia, Europe and North America for multiple Fortune 1000 companies.  And we’ve helped start-ups going to market with a new product ramp up and train their sales teams and sales coaches.  We’ve developed and delivered well over 100 custom Sales Playbooks to our customers.  We’ve helped sales teams learn how to engage and sell more effectively.  We look forward to working with the next 10,000 B2B sales professionals in the years to come!