From the August 1996 issue of Entrepreneur

The Entrepreneur

Tola Atewologun

The Expert

Mark Victor Hansen

The seraphic Springs Health Care Agency in Gloucester, Massachusetts, competes against well-established companies in delivering home nursing care for seniors, the chronically ill and anyone else who needs home health care. There are no significant price differences between Seraphic Springs and its competitors, and since payment to Seraphic Springs is usually from a third party (Medicare/Medicaid or private insurers), price is not a significant issue when it comes to selling the service.

A nurse herself, Tola Atewologun says she founded the business in late 1995 because she realized many people were not getting the care they needed and were paying for. She differentiates Seraphic Springs in the market by letting the patient choose his or her caregiver-"That adds a very personal touch for the patient." Furthermore, rather than sending different caregivers daily or every other day (as is common with larger agencies), Seraphic Springs provides continuity in service. "Our patients see the same faces every day, and that is much better for them."

The Problem

Seraphic Springs has found winning patients tough going. Its competitors are far larger, have been in business for many years and are better known. Atewologun has made the rounds of local hospitals-key referral sources for businesses like hers-but has had limited success. At times she wonders if being a Nigerian immigrant is a handicap in this market. "But I will not let that stop me," she vows. "My main problem is how do I get a foothold in this market?"

The Solution

We turned to Mark Victor Hansen for advice because Hansen's success is proof that the impossible dream can become a reality. When he and co-author Jack Canfield wrote Chicken Soup for the Soul (Health Communications), they dreamed it would become a bestseller. But virtually every major (and minor) New York book publisher turned the manuscript down. Only a tenacious search uncovered a tiny Florida publisher that was willing to publish their book. Today, Chicken Soup and its two sequels have all hit national bestseller lists. So Hansen is optimistic about Atewologun's prospects.

"Just because people say no today doesn't mean they won't be saying yes tomorrow-if you rethink how you are marketing your service," he says. "When bookstores were initially unenthusiastic about Chicken Soup, we did what we call 'bypass marketing.' We sold the book in bagel shops, gas stations, you name it-and bookstores soon signed on. This entrepreneur needs to find her own creative ways to bypass market. If hospitals aren't providing enough referrals, who could? Think in new ways about answers to that."

The bigger point, says Hansen, is that Atewologun should think of innovative ways to market her service. When conventional approaches aren't getting the results you want, you need to break the mold and try new avenues.

Some possibilities: Hold free information nights at local libraries or senior and community centers, giving insight into issues involved in elder or home care; market to hospital nurses, who have a lot of influence on patients but are often ignored by businesses; get booked as a guest on local senior-themed radio shows; or get local newspapers to do articles about a Nigerian immigrant entrepreneur.

But, before starting to sell, Hansen urges Atewologun to "go to the next level where you think about your service and say, 'Wow!' When you are starting from scratch, you need to 'Wow' the customer-and that won't happen until you 'Wow' yourself first.

Top Tip

To do well in sales, you need a "Master Mind" partner-somebody with whom you can brainstorm. When you're starting out, find a more seasoned professional to be your partner. When I was 26 and had just started selling myself as a speaker, I hung out with another guy who was in sales. Once a week we got together to share sales ideas and go over problems. Any problem I had, he had been through. We talked things over and learned from each other. From him, I learned four key sales concepts-prospecting, good work habits, time management and closing. Once, when he came back from a two-week vacation, I had 28 talks booked!

Today, my Master Mind partner is [Chicken Soup for the Soul co-author] Jack Canfield. When I see an obstacle, he knows the way around it. When he sees one, I know how to get around it. Put one and one together, and you don't get two-you get 11. You multiply your strengths.-Mark Victor Hansen

The One That Almost Got Away

We knew we needed the support of bookstores to make Chicken Soup for the Soul a bestseller, but we only had 30 days to win them over. Stores stock a book for a month and, if it's not selling, it's out of there. We had to work fast.

Jack Canfield and I wrote to the 100,000 people on our mailing lists asking everybody to please visit a bookstore and buy the book. We also blitzed bookstores. Every day we'd fax bookstore managers telling them why Chicken Soup would sell and including an excerpt. Soon, they started inviting us to do in-store book signings.

But signings weren't always easy. I remember one in a bookstore in the Edmonton, Alberta, mall-one of the world's biggest. I showed up and nobody was there. The [store manager] had dropped the ball and hadn't advertised the event. So I put two tables out in front of the store. I put up balloons and had a clerk pop a few every couple minutes to get the attention of passersby. I grabbed anybody who walked by and asked them to read page 24 from Chicken Soup aloud. In an hour and a half, I'd sold 400 books to people who hadn't even known I was there.

We sent the story of how we had saved that Edmonton signing to other bookstores. We got many more invitations-and Chicken Soup went on to sell 1.7 million copies in its first 18 months.

The lesson: Do not give up, and always create your own momentum. It's easy to blame others-bookstore managers, the publisher, readers-but when the ball is in your hands, run with it. Build on every success to get more successes. And never quit. Whenever I got rejected, I just said to myself, "Next!" and went on to the next opportunity. Nobody bats a thousand in baseball or in sales. Bat 300 in baseball, and you get paid millions of dollars. The same is true in selling.-M.V.H.

Contact Sources

Canon, 2995 Redhill Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, (800) 848-4123;

Mary J. Cronin, cronin@bc.edu;

The Glass Protectors, P.O. Box 455, Antioch, IL 60002, (847) 395-9115;

Mark Victor Hansen, c/o Mark Victor Hansen & Associates, P.O. Box 7665, Newport Beach, CA 92658, (800) 433-2314;

Tom Hopkins, c/o Tom Hopkins International Inc., 7531 E. Second St., Scottsdale, AZ 85251, (800) 528-0446;

Danielle Kennedy Productions, (800) 848-8070;

Lightware, 10035 S.W. Arctic Dr., Beaverton, OR 97005, (800) 445-9396;

ManaVision Inc., (513) 299-9982, http://www.manavision.com;

Microtek Lab Inc., (800) 654-4160, http://www.mteklab.com;

Model Office Inc., 4815 W. Braker Ln., #502-332, Austin, TX 78759, (800) 801-3880;

Motorola, (800) 548-9954;

Owen, Koester & Ederer Inc., P.O. Box 6129, Bellevue, WA 98008, (800) 552-3112;

Seraphic Springs Health Care Agency, 28 Emerson Ave., Gloucester, MA 01930, (800) 777-3595;

Simon & Co., 8659 Holloway Plaza Dr., W. Hollywood, CA 90069, (310) 659-3882;

Symantec, 10201 Torre Ave., Cupertino, CA 95014, (800) 441-7234;

Brian Tracy, c/o Brian Tracy International, 462 Stevens Ave., #202, Folana Beach, CA 92075, (800) 542-4252, (619) 481-2977.