Each time I want to start a business, I feel excited in the beginning but when I think about sales, I feel overwhelmed and I bail out
I'm a software engineer with full time job, I identify a business opportunity, I do all the planning, I create business model canvas / plan in few days, I do all the planning following lean approach , set a schedule etc. I know my ideal customer and market, briefly all the theory is done, but when it comes to taking actions, talking to people and get some clients on the phone, I feel overwhelmed, and afraid to get out of my comfort zone I end up dropping the ball quickly and the idea falls in the cracks.
First of all, you are not alone! Almost anyone with a successful business has left a trail of half-finished ideas and projects. Sometimes we realize we don't have the skills to execute our ideas, or we don't have the capital, the resources, whatever.
Your question makes me think it's not that you don't have the skills to execute your ideas, rather it's that you run out of steam or get nervous. If this is the case, you might need an accountability buddy - someone who will meet you for coffee, listen to your ideas, and help you figure out how to make them happen.
My friend and I meet up once a month and update each other on projects on which we are working. I feel guilty when I don't have updates for her, and this motivates me to get stuff done. This is more of a mental hack for yourself, but it totally works!
You might also look for a Mastermind group in your area (or virtually) which can help you feel like you're part of a community and not going it alone. I've learned a lot from peers who are going through the same thing I am.
Happy to chat more if you want help thinking this through!
Like most entrepreneurs in the IT business, you sound very creative. You also sound organised, which is very promising.
Would it be right to say that actually talking to clients or prospects about possible sales would be something you put off?
If that's the case, I'm not going to tell you "just do it!" But what I would say is to practice speaking about the value of a project as the client might talk about it.
The easiest way to practice this, I find, is to do it with businesses where you have no skin in the game. In other words, describe someone else's business as a customer would describe it.
Little hint. If you have past happy clients, you could ask them to describe for you what you did for them, in their own words. They'll probably get it wrong, but you'll be amazed at how something that you thought was routine turned out to be life-changing in their eyes. That sort of feedback will give you the encouragement you need (and it could serve as a great testimonial, as well).
I'm an IT infrastructure guy in Sydney (more software than hardware) and I've had to learn the value conversation, rather than talking about my skills, experience or services. It's exactly the way to relieve some of the pressure you may be putting yourself under.
I'm now teaching other owners of small IT service businesses how to do this. It's a quick and fascinating conversation technique to learn.
This is actually a very common behavior, but one that can be pretty easily overcome with the right approach, so don't be too hard on yourself. When you're at the post-planning stage and 'stuck', the key is to break the next steps into incredibly small 'micro steps'. Those micro steps should be mapped out from a psychological perspective (not a physical perspective). This will probably be more clear from the following example:
The next step on your list is, as you said, to "get some clients on the phone".
You should break it into these micro steps:
1) Bring up your idea to whoever you'd feel most comfortable mentioning it to (e.g. maybe your best friend, or a stranger at a Meetup). They'll say something in response.
2) Listen to their response, and regardless of what they say, translate it into constructive criticism. For instance, in the worst case scenario, they may say, "that idea is the dumbest thing I've ever heard, who needs that". Translate that into, "My target market most likely doesn't include people like my friend." If they _are_ interested, find out the specifics of why, to better define your target market.
3) Next mention the idea to another person you'r comfortable with, and eventually mention it to everyone you feel comfortable with. Each time you mention it to a new person you'll have iterated the idea based on the responses of all the previous people. During this process you'll be fine tuning your idea (e.g. changing its features, changing its target market, etc.) and incrementing your confidence in talking about it.
4) Start talking to people you don't know so well about the newest iteration of the idea. Maybe go to Meetups on related topics, start posting questions on related sub-Reddits, and describe the idea to the extent that you're comfortable. If in converation, you'll get an idea of someone's background and interests before you decide to mention the idea to them. From this background you'll know whether you can present it to the person without any danger of them running with it without you, and you'll be testing your ability to predict if they're in the idea's target market (i.e. if they will like the idea when you describe it)
5) By this point you'll have significantly iterated and improved your idea, you'll have a pretty solid idea of who your potential customers are, and you'll have built up confidence anc comfort in describing it to people, a nd knowing what the key interest points are to different people.
6) Now build your list of potential customers, and plot them in a 2D graph with axes of X="potential income from the customer", and Y="likelihood of liking and agreeing to learn more about the product". This is more estimates than anything else, it's not really quantitative. Then pick the customer with the lowest_X and highest_Y and contact them first. This is because your first one or two contacts with potential customers (be it via email, or phone, or in person office visit) may very well still be awkward, so treat them as practice, and don't really worry about whether you make successful pitches or not. Step by step go up the list at a rate that lets you iterate the idea and the pitch and your confidence after each contact.
Note: in your contact with potential customers, it's best to do it in a step-wise manner that allows you to contact them more than once. For instance, send a well formed email first, and if you receive no response, call them up. Depending on who your customer is, you may be able to follow up with an in person visit if you never get through on the phone (for instance if it's a restaurant that may be too busy to field phone calls).
Also, this is obvious, but in your contact with potential customers, their likelihood of wanting to use your product will depend almost entirely on their ability to see the value in using your product. So before you contact them, think to yourself, "have I done all I can do to make my product's value obvious?" For instance, have as much _real_ data as possible on your product's effectiveness for each potential customer. This could include you bootstrapping your product so that you can collect data on its effectiveness for Customer X before you have even contacted Customer X. That's essentially like a free trial that they never even had to sign up for. You just 'show up at their door' with data from this 'free trial' that they never signed up for, showing them data on how it's helped them over the last week. You could for instance do this if you product is an app that directs customers to restaurants. You could add a restaurant to your app's listing and track # of clicks and check-ins to that restaurant before even going to the restaurant and asking them if they'd like to pay for continued listing on your app.
If you'd like to discuss any of this more specifically in relation to your idea(s) let me know,
Wow, thanks for such an honest question. The reality is that entrepreneurship is tough. It’s a long slog and the only thing that will keep you motivated is the purpose behind the business. Think about why you’re interested in being an entrepreneur in the first place.
In The Founder’s Dilemma, Noam Wasserman found that the primary reasons why founders started companies were money and power. There are also a growing number of conscious entrepreneurs who are building purposeful ventures (think TOMS and Warby Parker). Personally, I don’t think having a great idea is enough. Having a purpose beyond yourself will keep you motivated to move past the difficult times.
Once you’ve thought about your motivations for becoming an entrepreneur, then I would encourage you to think about how much your individual design (personality, likes, abilities, and values) is a fit for the startup. Scientists have found a gene that is more common in entrepreneurs, but the reality is that entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes. That being said, some personalities have a natural advantage when it comes to certain aspects of entrepreneurship (taking risks, sales, etc.) You can mitigate some of these through co-founders, but that also requires careful selection.
Best of luck on your journey!
Have you ever had a business before? It sounds to me like you are just not cut out for sales. Any business, regardless of what you are doing, requires networking and promotion, you may be a product guy but not a business guy. My suggestion is simple, look for a business person to partner with that can help you grow through positioning and exposure. A business plan, is almost 100% obsolete as soon as is done, that's why is recommended that people don't take more than a day or two creating one. I personally, through Unthink (www.unthink.me) suggest that our clients don't even spend time with a business plan, but instead create a marketing plan (go to market plan) this will give you the insights you actually need more than a business plan would because in theory you know who your potential customers are but that is obviously not true since you can't grow the business with the info your plan provided. A marketing plan that is well done on the other hand provides you key insights about a demographic and a way to get your product exposed to them and in their hands. Stick to your strengths and don't risk your business potential trying to do everything yourself, thinking you know, or that is harder than it seems.
I think that is great that you have all of the "hard" stuff hashed out (the theoretical items and target market identification). Now it is time to put your plan into action and do what you started the business for; to get clients.
I find it first beneficial to ensure that I believe in the product that I have. Obviously you believe in it enough to do all the work thus far and look for validation to do what is next. Having belief that it can be successful will show you that there is nothing to fear, one person is bound to like the idea. From all of those who don't listen or don't enjoy your product, chalk them up as learning lessons and move on.
Surely, you have faced a similar position of being afraid to get out of your comfort zone. Inevitably, you eventually got out of it and you grew from it. Entrepreneurship is all about growing; I look forward to you and your business growing.
The tactic that I found the best to go out and telling potential clients about my company/me is telling someone that I am going to do it. "Hey, I am going to pitch my business to this Friday," I have found myself saying to friends/family. Well now, I really have to do it; I can't lie to them. Saying something and fulfilling that expectation is a great way to overcome this sort of fear that I, and numerous of other entrepreneurs, have.
I wish you the best of luck moving forward, I would love to talk some more and help this idea become a reality.
Sounds like you're going against the grain of your own personality. If you recoil from sales (as I myself do by nature) or you're risk-averse, unwilling to take the plunge, then you've only got 3 options:
(1) Force yourself to do what makes you uncomfortable and which you're probably not good at;
(2) Stop wasting time daydreaming about startup projects you'll never bring to market;
(3) Partner with someone whose skill set and personality complements yours – someone who's comfortable selling the idea you're more comfortable building.
Not knowing you or your project at all, I can't really advise you. But if I were you, I'd look into option #3.
Just do it. You're over thinking which is killing you. Just start and build as you go. When I started I had NO clue how to do anything but fix computers. I didn't know how to network or gain more customers. I just went out there and network my tail off and learned as I went. Talking to random people at an event was not in my comfort zone. Now, I kill it every time I go.
Bottom line, just start. Fear is fake. If it's not going to kill you then it's all made up in your head.
Why do you have to do the sales? Find a friend, family member, or partner and focus on the product. THAT is what will matter most. Let someone else handle the sales. No one can do it all, especially as you prep to scale.
In terms of building a sales process, I can help.