By God’s Grace, I started the farm as part of an extension for a bigger operation, and I wrote an article on the blog, sharing all the details about the dairy farm, reasons for starting it and the common pitfalls I encountered. A lot of people found that article helpful (that article has more than 500 comments!).
I just came back from yet another “cup of coffee” with a friend — which is what it sounds like but can also qualify as a sales call.
I am working on a new project: a product that helps people become independent publishers. The idea is to remove all “techy stuff” hassles and leave the people to create and share meaningful content, in a professional manner. It is still in the early stages and I am selling via word of mouth.
The product comes with mentoring and training. The price points are very attractive and so far, very promising Alhumdulillah.
I am following the basic startup methodologies (that I have also taught). The product I am selling right now has about 20 customers, and I plan to “open” it a bit once I reach about 40 customers. InshAllah. Right now, it is simply “word of mouth” and by God’s Grace, it is working out nicely.
I admit; sales is difficult. It feels non-natural sometimes. The following advice can help you sell whatever you’re trying to sell, in a non-sleazy, friendly way God willing.
The Simplest Advice
The simplest advice is “be honest and ask for it”.
But how do you be honest? And isn’t it uncomfortable “asking for a sale” from your friend?
It is difficult selling to friends. That is why it is my ultimate test. If I am comfortable selling to friends, then I am doing good.
With friends, you can not be sleazy. You are looking out for them, as good friends always do. The only difference here is that you are charging them money for it.
Money, I confess, is not an easy topic. It makes for a difficult conversation. Involving money in an honest, transparent way is tricky, but required. To be non-sleazy, you need to be honest, right? And honesty can be hard.
Here’s a good way to start practicing:
1. Start with Why
Why are you selling what you’re selling? Once you are clear on the “purpose” of your product, it becomes so much easier to “talk about it” in a non-sleazy way.
A good product helps others. It solves a problem that others face. Also, once you are clear on your “Why”, then it is ten times easier to sell.
“People do not buy what you do, they buy why you do it” ~ Simon Sinek
Starting with Why usually means that you end up using “emotional” words. Phrases like, “I believe that this product can…” or “I feel that this will help you really achieve what you are trying to do…” etc. Basically, that’s how we tend to talk with our friends, right?
People respond to your involvement in your product. They respond to your authenticity.
To learn more about Simon Sinek’s work on Starting With Why, you can follow this link.
2. Be Focused on Helping, Rather than “Describing”
Do not try to describe your product or service.
Instead, talk how your friend can benefit from your offering. Keep the conversation about your friend; you are trying to help him/her after all, so it would make sense to talk about his problem and how the product/service can benefit him, instead of how good your product/service is.
This is the real-world application of “features versus benefits”. When selling, talk how the buyer will benefit from your offering, not what cool features the product has.
3. Be Involved
When you are involved, you are excited. You keep talking about it.
This may bore people who are not interested, and that’s OK; stop talking about it if it is boring them.
Will you talk about the latest football match if your friend really isn’t into football? No you won’t (I hope). But then again, you will bring it up once in a while. Not because you are trying to “trick” the conversation, but because you are “involved” and you are excited!
People can easily see the authenticity. If you are really involved, people will notice. So instead of learning “techniques”, internalize the purpose as to why you created the product/service.
I have lots of friends who love their work and it shows – the fact that it shows means that they are “promoting” their product right.
4. You Never Talk About Your Product, But You Must Offer It
As a rule, you never start with “I have this product”. First, there must be some invitation to talk. The best is when the conversation is about the problem that your product solves.
Talking about problems is actually very easy: think about it, that is what friends usually talk about. The problems we face, we ask around, we discuss, right?
Once you talk about the problem, you automatically will talk about your product/service! This is relatively easy. But what’s not easy is to actually offer to sell that product.
“Hey, I really need to reach more people with my business,” says a friend.
“You do? You know this product I have, this can help you build a community and give you access to the right kind of people.
I totally believe that you will be able to sell more honestly with this method. Do you want me to show you how the product works? If it makes sense to you, I will love it if you buy it from me?”
The above conversation is easy. What’s hard is the last line: the offer to buy from you. It is difficult and I don’t always get this right. I usually end up not saying it. But when I do say it, it flows so naturally. The other person doesn’t frown or raise an eyebrow. The other person can see that it is a product that he may find useful, and he (hopefully) sees the honesty.
5. Demonstrate as Much As You Can
The car salesman knows this, that is why many dealerships allow you to take the car for a spin.
The software industry is also highly dependent on “Demos” to help them sell. Games that offer “free trials” or “lite versions” are another example of demonstrations in play.
It is actually easier to demonstrate a product instead of “describing” how it works. The potential client will fill in the blanks himself, and will ask you any questions that may arise; demonstrations are a great way to sell without being pushy about it.
Demos for products is usually straight forward, but it is sometimes impossible to “demo” a service. When I used to design websites as a freelancer, I used to hate it when people asked for a “sample design”… that took a lot of time and there was no guarantee, and I eventually stopped doing “free samples”.
In our cakes business, we sometimes do samples for bigger orders, otherwise, the demonstrations are just too costly to carry out (the product gets consumed as a result of demonstration!).
But in many cases, you must look into ways of letting the potential client “use” your product or service.
6. Mention A Cheaper/Different Option, If Possible
A friend messaged me, asking me how to start a blog online. He is a journalist at a national TV channel here in Pakistan, and he wanted to start his blog to share his own thoughts. Perfect. During the conversation, I told him about the product I have that can help him become an independent publisher. He wanted to know more. I told him the details, including the price.
He told me it is too expensive for him right now. I told him what I will tell my brother or any other close friend; I told him that because you are just “testing” waters, go with the cheapest option. See how it works, see if this “independent publishing” is for you. Once you feel you are ready, I do believe that my product is the best in the market – but there are other options.
I told him the other options.
That was the ethical thing to do. That is what I would do for my closest family and friends.
This hopefully shows that I am not doing this to “just sell”, but I do want what’s best for him. And because I do sincerely believe that my product is the best in its category, I will want him to buy that.
7. Realize This is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Can anyone ever “rush relationships”?
Silly question, right? Everyone understands that relationships – of each and every kind – takes time. Communicating and building trust takes time.
A lot of “sales people” want to rush this. That’s why you find “techniques” of “befriending the client” before making the sale. Why is it a “tactic”?
Why do you insist on keeping it fake? Can’t one simply really look out for each other? And still make a sale? It is my contention that you can. Rather, you must.
The thing to realize is that you are in it for the long run. This is not a 100 meter dash, this is a marathon. Slow, steady and you cross the finish line with arms raised and a big smile on your face.
Selling is “building relationships”. And that takes time.
And what’s the end result? People are helped because you sold them a product. People actually thank you for selling a product to them. How cool is that? This is the kind of approach to business and selling that is “serving-focused” rather than “using-focused”.
You serve the people you know, your audience. You do not “use” them to make money, but your “serve” them in their best interest.
That’s the kind of “selling” I believe we all can practice. It makes for a better world to live in. God willing.
Question: can you apply some of these tactics to your actual friend? Will it work? Let us discuss in the comments section.
Hope you found this useful. If you did, do share it with your friends. Thank you and good luck!
200 kilometers away from home, my Mehran parked under the shade, I watch as the tractor pulled away. The trolley being pulled by the tractor is filled with bags of wheat. On its way to be sold to the government.
Agriculture was profitable back then, and I was happily – and silently – thanking God for the good harvest and it was safe to say, I was in a good mood.
“Mubarak ho sir jee,” Afzal says, “this is good,” nodding toward the bags of wheat that were huddled together in my crop shed. He’s the munchee – the manager – of the landlord. Tall, fat and an uncontestedly-elected Nazim of the area, Afzal was always helpful. And courteous.
“Chai ho jai!” he says. Yes. Tea would be nice. He knew, from the two years or so of my sporadic visits, my weakness: I can never turn down tea.
So from my small crop shed, we get out of the car and start walking towards the milk center.
Now consider this for a moment: Pakistan is in the top 5 milk producing countries in the world. Punjab is, by far, the largest milk producing province within Pakistan. And two districts in Punjab produce the most milk. In one of those districts, one of the largest milk contractor had his largest milk collection center right next to my leased land. He collected thousands upon thousands of liters of milk every day at this milk center alone. Collecting the milk to sell it to the big milk marketing companies.
It was at this milk center that we sit. The manager of the milk center comes out, greets us and without asking or being told, straight away orders three cups of tea. Wheat is our staple diet, tea is our staple drink.
We talk about the wheat crop, the weather and the milk business. I tell him how I got a 49 maund average over 140 acres and how my partner is pleased with the cash flow. Maybe now I would upgrade from the Mehran to a Baleno. That’d be nice.
He tells me that anticipating the summers, he’s operating on a one point five rupee margin, bringing in some serious cash for the milk center.
I tell him that it’s impressive how his hard work’s paying off. He nods, happy with the praise.
During our engrossing discussions, we are told that the small kitchen – that was within one of the largest milk center in the largest milk-producing province of one of the largest milk-producing countries in the world – is out of milk.
“You guys out of milk! Now that is impressive,” I say. Even Afzal manages a giggle.
But then something remarkable happened: the milk center manager told the tea boy (who was really an old man, not a boy), to go to the tea stall in the nearby market and get some milk. I couldn’t help but ask, “why not take a quarter liter from the thousands that you have in store?”
“O no sir jee,” he smiles, “this milk is not fit for consumption.”
The problem was glaringly obvious. And sitting there, I had this urge of somehow playing my part in providing a solution.
Can I provide good, “drinkable” milk honestly and profitably to people who do not know the difference?
I started selling milk a few months later. In a small vicinity around my house in Lahore, serving up to hundred and fifty houses. I sold milk for about five years, and the enterprise was profitable from the start. Alhumdulillah.
For many, the profits I got were equivalent to – and nothing more than – a healthy pocket money. I was told that “real businessmen” would sell more and more. So I guess I am not a “real businessman”, but I do feel happy that I started something based on the notions of solving a problem, instead of earning a profit.
Starting and doing something “just for the money” is perfectly and absolutely fine. But I felt – and still feel – that there is a far more fulfilling way of starting something.
Unashamedly, I call it for-profit philanthropy.
Find a problem, provide a solution and make it easy for the transaction of money to take place; I think this is the easiest definition of an entrepreneur.
Do you know how much a SIM costs? You know, SIMS, that small, usually-rectangular piece of plastic that you put in your phone – do you know how much that costs? If you want a mobile connection here in Pakistan, do you know the price you will pay to get that SIM?
In fact, the mobile companies pay you to get their SIM. All SIMs nowadays come with some talk time minutes pre-loaded. And they have other free stuff included in the SIM too, stuff like free SMS minutes and Internet/data packages and what not.
But rewind 10 years, and we were paying for SIMs. And we were not only paying for them, we couldn’t simply get a SIM: you had to actually wait for your SIM to arrive. Mobilink was the undisputed market leader and was selling their newly introduced pre-paid Jazz SIMs by the tons!
And there was me, in college, with that gleam in my eye and that spunk in my step. I wanted to do something different, make tons of money and look cool doing it. This was college after all. Another friend of mine, he was interested in the same things. So we talked.
And critically, I knew a friend of a friend of a friend, who had this friend who worked in the Mobilink sales department.
The Business Idea
That dur daraz ka friend in Mobilink would be able to get us some SIMS at dealer rate. Yes, SIMs had dealers back then. The telco will sell their SIMs to their dealers, and you the customer can buy it only from the dealer. We wanted to be the dealer, just because we knew a friend of a friend of a friend. And we knew that we could sell some SIMs, given that we had that gleam in our eyes and that spunk in our steps.
Now this friend, this business partner friend, let’s call him Ahsan (because that’s his, like, real name) was suffering from Newofonitis: he just had to buy a new cell phone every second month (or week, if his budget allowed). This habit of his had allowed him to make some friends with cell phone retailers.
“I will get the SIMs at dealer rates and you’d help me sell them, we’d split the profit fifty fifty”
That’s it. That was the business plan. That was the deal.
Profit calculations were dead simple: dealer rate was 900 rupees per SIM. And the SIM was selling at an open market price of 1,100 rupees. Our friends were eagerly buying these SIMs for 1,100 a piece – yes, a SIM for eleven hundred. This was just the SIM cost by the way; they also charged for incoming calls back in the day, with SMSes costing both ways as well! What days!
Anyway, me and my friend decided to invest a total of eighty thousand rupees. Why eighty thousand? Well, because my business partner had forty.
All I had to do was beg, borrow (never steal) my part of the equity to keep the 50/50 profit ratio.
Raising Capital (aka Beg or Borrow)
For any venture, the proper order of steps is that you try to raise money via family and then friends (even Paul Graham says so )
So to raise “capital”, I had to look towards family (also, my friends were as broke as I was!).
Borrowing 40,000 rupees from Family, plus the 40k from my business partner, we ended up purchasing 88 SIMs. Yes. Just eighty eight.
88 x 200 and we stood a chance to earn a grand 17,000 rupee of pure profit. 8,500 a piece. And the cherry on this small, ugly yet tasty-as-hell cake was that this transaction was supposed to happen with a week.
I remember I was excited about the anticipated profits. 8,500 back then, for a undergrad, must have meant some good money.
8,500 in one week with 40k investment. We can repeat that every week, invest the 40k back, and sell more SIMs. We could become millionaires with our own chain of SIM retail shops all around the country! Aah yes! That gleam in our eyes and that spunk in our steps.
What happened next just blew us away.
I remember finding out (I think I got a call from that friend of a friend of a friend in Mobilink) that our plans to buy more SIMs were to be put on hold. I was told that we were lucky to get the SIMs that we got, because the telco has closed off further SIM distribution – some thing to do with network loads and call quality.
No biggie, I thought. We had the SIMs. Our grand, nationwide plan had to wait. Let’s just sell the SIMs we had.
The plan was to keep 10 SIMs for each of us to sell to our friends. The remaining 68 SIMs were to be given to our contact, the cell phone retailer, who will help us sell the 68 SIMs within one week. We called him Man. Yes. Man.
This guy would end every sentence with “Man”. No matter that all his sentences were obviously in Urdu, but the “man” would not be missed. Asalamu Alaikum Man. How are you man? A cup of tea for you, man? aap kee sunglasses bauhat achee haiN, man. Man, I’m telling you this is how it works. And sometimes he’d throw in the Man Sandwich, something like: “Man, this is a good samosa, man”. So yeah, our man was Man.
A day after we delivered the 68 SIMs, we visited Man. “How many SIMs sold so far?” we asked.
“Sold three man,” he said. Gave us our share, kept his cut and we’d be done. What cut he was keeping I seriously can’t remember, but man, Man kept his cut.
The next day, the news was all over the place: the SIM that used to sell for 1,100 rupees in the open market was now selling at around 2,000 rupees!
Thanks to the indefinite hold on new SIMs by the only pre-paid telco, the existing SIMs were now in high demand. The demand was already high, but now it was through the roof.
The next day, we sold the last of our SIMs at around 2,500 rupees! We couldn’t be more excited. We went over to the cramped shop in Main Market’s basement, to the man himself. “How many sold?”
“2 SIMs sold man!”
“Just 2? Please give us the SIMs, we can sell on our own now.”
“But the SIMS are now distributed among different shops, and they are now selling them, man,” the man smiled.
One last SIM that we had, I think we sold for 4,000 rupees! The market rate was going bonkers.
Had it not been for Man, my first business would have been a roaring success, instead of the decent success that it turned out to be. Alhumdulillah.
We eventually did recover the money from Man. He actually told us that he would pay us the previously agreed-upon 200 rupees per SIM. We reminded Man that we agreed based on the price, not on 200 rupees. But he stalled. Kept stalling. It took us quite some time (months actually) to get our money back. I think we ended up going to his shop, giving him a lecture on honesty and then picking up a new, dabba packed cell phone to eventually cover the remaining balance.
When I have any discussion on ethics and honesty in business, I always suggest that one should start with trust and assume the best in others. A lot of people disagree, saying that the market is full of sleazy folks, waiting to con you out of your money; that’s when I think of Man. Man taught me to be as clear as possible in communicating our terms of business; we did tell him that we’d pay him 200 per SIM, instead it should have been a percentage-based agreement, and subject to changes in the market price. I sincerely hope that he is doing well, has become more fair-minded and that he never stops saying man.
This was my first business where I invested money. And my first business where I had a business partner. Although it was as small as they come, I still cherish this little experiment so many years ago.
I know, some may not call this venture a business. My definition is simple: anything that leaves money in the end, is a good business. How much money? That’s a matter of scale, the principles remain the same.
Question:do you have your “first business story”? Any “Man” that taught you an expensive lesson? Join the conversation on Facebook (click this link to go to the FB post for this article).