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Many successful entrepreneurs didn't start out at the top. They encountered plenty of setbacks along the way, both personal and professional. But what finally set them apart were sheer determination and a will to persevere. All these top performers have something else in common: They said "Yes, I can" to themselves over and over in spite of the obstacles life threw their way.
The following entrepreneurs are also sales pioneers in their fields. They offer us plenty of hope and "how tos" as we travel to our individual success destinations. By following their examples, you can learn to start saying "Yes, I can" more often and watch your sales goals become a reality.
New York City
Josie Natori began a new career as an entrepreneur--founder of Natori Lingerie--after leaving a career on Wall Street as a highly successful stockbroker. Natori says when she left Wall Street, she had accomplished everything she set out to do there and had no more energy for that career. She wanted to get into the lingerie business, and she knew she would succeed because the desire came from deep within.
Best tip: Respect yourself and your vocation.
"Respect is the result of passion," says Natori. "You cannot expect to get respectful reactions from people if what you are doing doesn't originate from deep within your soul. I am a natural salesperson. I come from the Philippines, where being a woman entrepreneur is very commonplace. Women are always selling something from the time they are very young. It comes very natural to me.
"I began playing the piano at the age of 4, and by the time I was 9 years old, I was a concert pianist. A good pianist creates the music from inside her soul, and then it comes out through her fingers. Selling is the same way. If you sell from deep within yourself, your image with the customer will also run deep.
"I began building an image because I was on fire from within. I was doing what I wanted to do again. For many years, I felt that way on Wall Street, but when the feelings were no longer there, I left. The reason many salespeople no longer get respect from their clients is that they no longer respect what they do or themselves for doing it. Always use your inner life as your guide to building a respectable image."
Carolee Designs Inc.
New York City
Twenty-something years ago, housewife and mother Carolee Friedlander, motivated by a wish to be financially independent, rummaged through her kitchen cabinets and came up with her first tool for success--a box of Oreo Cookies. She used the tops of the cookies to test a wax for casting her jewelry designs. The bottoms of the cookies went to her toddlers; the jewelry went on to become a hit.
Best tip: Don't concentrate on outcomes.
"In the early days of building my business, I would have been doomed if I concentrated on outcomes," says Friedlander. "I schlepped my large, heavy bags of jewelry into buyers' offices and department stores for years. I worked on designs all night and spent all day in lines only to hear some sarcastic buyer say `Do you really think this is salable?'?
The world forces us to look at outcomes. Is this salable? Will you be successful? But top entrepreneurs owe their success to a rock-solid faith in what they're doing and the discipline to do it. Friedlander never allows herself to question outcomes and doubt their success.
"I wake up with a certainty about my work every day," she says. "Without it, I might as well forget about my dreams and ambitions."
After Lin Lam migrated to this country, she wrote more than a million dollars' worth of policies during her first year in the insurance business by knocking on the doors of businesses in her Chinese neighborhood all day long. [To secure her first business loan,] she told her banker she would give up the last bowl of rice she had to pay back the debt. To further prove her sincerity, she bought [her own] insurance policy and made the bank the beneficiary.
Best tip: Convince customers they need you.
"My first sale was to a Chinese man who owned the Gaslight Motel in Southern California," says Lam. "He could not read English and was impressed that I could. He insisted I read the entire policy to him word for word. I didn't read English that well myself, but I convinced him I read better than he did and I understood what the policy meant. Twelve years later, he is still my customer. In my first year, I sold more than $1 million in insurance premiums because I convinced many Chinese people they needed me based on my reading skills."
San Clemente, California
Allan Gibby always wanted to work in TV and video production. In grade school, he was the kid videotaping the assemblies; in high school, he worked in front of the camera as an announcer. But he ultimately decided he belonged behind the scenes, so he started his production business with his last $170.
Best tip: Differentiate yourself.
Once Gibby decided to start his production company, it took two months to get his first sale. He owned no video equipment, but he knew he wanted to focus on sports video production. His secret? A refreshingly different approach.
"I sent out a mailer to all the ski resorts in the country, and then I went to TV stations in Los Angeles and told them I wanted to get a show on the air called `Skier's Update,' " Gibby recalls. "One of the smaller stations agreed to sell me a half-hour of time. Then I received a response off the mailer from a ski resort in Taos, New Mexico, saying they wanted to do the show with me."
Gibby, a husband and father, spent his last $170 to travel to New Mexico. He took with him only a black-and-white brochure he had created. But that was enough: He sold the show, thanks to his vision of what he could do for customers.
Gibby simply stated his idea and what he could do very honestly. Two things made his presentation stand out: He didn't overhype his abilities, and he presented a new promotional strategy to entice skiers to the resort--via TV infomercials, before the infomercial era had begun. Until then, no one in sports production had ever marketed that way.
"When I went into that first presentation and sat in front of those executives, I was petrified," Gibby says. "They knew I was afraid, but I figured I was just going to be myself and not build up a scenario that was bigger than I really was."
Reprinted with permission from Seven Figure Selling (Berkley Press). Copyright?1996 by Danielle Kennedy.
Danielle Kennedy presents sales and marketing seminars and keynote addresses worldwide and is the author of several sales books as well as audio and video sales training programs. Check local bookstores for Seven Figure Sellingand her latest book, Balancing Act: An Inspirational Guide for Working Mothers, (both Berkley Press). Write to her in care of Entrepreneur, 2445 McCabe Way, Irvine, CA 92614.