This article was also published at simpleprogrammer.com
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This is part 6 of a 6 part series:
This is where the reality of being a self-employed entrepreneur really sinks in. Of the five keys, this will require the most from you and take you the furthest from your comfort zone.
This is the one thing that keeps otherwise capable and talented software professionals from taking the step to becoming an independent consultant. I have spoken to many people over the years who have simply said, “I can’t sell.”
Let’s face it, if you have to risk your home and family life as you know it and everything else you’ve worked hard for up to this point, the very real possibility of being without work for periods of time can be a nonstarter.
Staying with a company you like, doing a job you love, and maintaining a lower risk in your life is not a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with that.
The word entrepreneur carries with it the connotation of glamour and success. While this is true for some, the brutal truth for all is that it is extremely hard work. Late nights, early mornings, financial risks, and abandoned personal life are a few of the better-known, though infrequently discussed, hazards of entrepreneurship.
Let me say it this way: Sometimes it sucks, and for every ounce of success, there is a pound of stress.
Being an entrepreneur is not for everyone. Taking a risk like this with your livelihood takes a close examination of who you really are at this point in your life, your tolerance for risk in general, and a super long look at the reality of your skill set in the marketplace.
Does the “suggestion” that you have at least five years of experience make perfect sense now?
Some software people choose to work for an established consultancy. This is often seen as the perfect middle ground between a traditional 9-to-5 job and being self-employed but with less risk and no requirement to “ask for the sale,” because a sales pro is likely handling that. This is a decent choice, maybe a great way to put your toe in the water. Maybe a great place to spend your career.
If you want to be an entrepreneur and self-employed as an independent software professional, then you will need to sell yourself, your services, and your company.
Like a lot of things, selling is a skill that takes time and patience, and for deeply technical people does not tend to come naturally. It has to be developed. Just like learning to code, it takes practice, practice, practice.
I think the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten is to just be myself and to talk to prospects the way I would talk to a new friend. Ultimately, they are buying you, not some salesy version of you.
You can’t control the way prospects respond to you; some will be fun and engaging, some will be difficult, but you have total control over yourself and your response. So be yourself. It’s what you know best. It’s what you already have.
Even if you’re a bit klutzy, your sense of authenticity will come through and be easier to warm up to than a super-polished, over-rehearsed Zig Ziglar version of yourself.
With all that said, there is nothing wrong with learning as much about marketing and sales as you can—in the end, though, just be yourself as you apply the techniques and lessons you’ve learned.
Finally, when it comes to selling, at some point in the process you are going to have to ask for the sale, to say it costs x amount of money, it is going to take x long to complete, the payment terms are thus, and that you are the right person to help them. Sign here, please.
Your preparation for this moment could take weeks or months, but you need to be ready.
The most important thing to know at this point in the process is that everything is a negotiation. I mean everything. It might look something like this:
You throw out a fair number, but they say it’s high (and your throat is in your stomach).
They counter with a low number (now you have un-swallowed your throat).
You negotiate to the middle.
Sometimes, you get it just right, but other times you will hear things like, “It’s outside of the financial allocation I have for this project,” or “It’s more than I’m comfortable selling to my boss down the hall.” It could be anything, but it’s always a negotiation and you need to prepare yourself mentally for that process. You need to know what your bottom line is.
This gets to the heart of closing deals and it is something you will have to work on over time. You don’t get to close deals every day, and it is these moments that coin phrases like the closer.
These conversations need to happen in person if possible or over the phone at least. Email is not the medium to handle a serious negotiation. I say this based on real experience and real money. The value of a voice-to-voice, or preferably a face-to-face, conversation cannot be overstated.
To wrap up this section, I want to remind you that selling is a strange bedfellow for software development professionals and it takes practice, practice, and still more practice. You have to really want it.
The well is deep when it comes to marketing and selling. There are infinite resources available on the web and in books. My goal here was to scratch the surface and present the reality of sales and marketing from the perspective of a software professional who has been there, who in fact lives it every day.
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