This past January, CanSPEP held its second revolutionary educational platform, The Business Summit. As president of the association it brings me a sense of great accomplishment and pride to see the growth of our members, and the hard-fought recognition of our members as professional event entrepreneurs.
CanSPEP members have always contributed to the economic backbone of Canadian society as small business owners and our membership is representative of many facets within the industry: from wedding planners, special event experts, meeting strategists, revenue development specialists, experts in brand activation and experiential event designers. In fact, CanSPEP members have lead the trend in home-based operations, and have struggled with many of the obstacles pf small- and micro-businesses such as fostering sales excellence in an entrepreneurial environment, particularly when you work alone.
Recently, I was asked about my sales approach as an entrepreneurial planner building a business within a niche market. I operate an event management firm, TAP Resources, which specializes in the Indigenous meetings market.
While I’m not sure that my sales approach is unique due to working within a niche market, I do believe it is most definitely different due to my culture, and the goals I set for both my professional and personal development. As a Mohawk woman from the Haudenosaunee culture I share a worldview from a micro and macro indigenous cultural belief system. For me, to develop as a professional with a basic industry skill such as sales, I had to develop on a personal level.
About six years ago, I was really scared I was going to have to close my business and the thought terrified me. I just wasn’t able to get over a certain hump in the business, something was holding me back. I was desperate but I instinctively knew it was “me” holding me back. I had to dig deep and pull out whatever internal barrier was keeping me from believing in myself. Afterall, how can I ask you to believe in me if I don’t genuinely believe in myself? I believe in reciprocal relationships, which is a core cultural belief system. If I am given something, then I equally and meaningful give back. It is through reciprocation, the meaningful exchange of gifts, giving thanks and respect for that social currency that I am constantly aware of my blessings and the need to believe in myself.
However, no matter the cultural or personal perspective we come from, we can’t expect to put ourselves and our businesses out into the marketplace without coming face to face with our fears. A large part of selling oneself is overcoming fears of rejection, concerns about our expertise and knowledge or any of the myriad ways our ego and pride can trip us up on our way to our dreams. Certainly, there are other challenges we encounter, but first and foremost we have to master ourselves.
As entrepreneurs, our first and best line of defense against fear is to build a strong, optimistic but realistic vision to guide us past the challenges that will inevitably come up. For me, this means my personal life goals and business goals are aligned to a common vision.
When I first started my business, I was very naive in the area of business development. I certainly had confidence and drive but very quickly found myself getting lost, stressed and yes, overwhelmed. I had this vision of building this meeting business but very little knowledge about business.
I quickly joined a meeting association to help me gain the knowledge and relationships that have become key in my operation, but I also got caught up in a vision and definition of success that was not my own. I started chasing something that I didn’t really want and was actually causing me a lot of stress. It took me a little while to realize that I needed to refocus and define two things for myself: one, my personal definition of success and two, a vision for my business, TAP Resources, that was compatible with my definition of success. Once I did this, I was more capable and focused on defining, building and strengthening my skill sets both as a meeting planner and as an entrepreneur.
In terms of my skills set, sales was a major stressor for me and so it quickly became my primary target of development. Prior to becoming an entrepreneurial meeting planner, I was an executive in a government funded social services agency. Sales was not even a term in my vocabulary let alone in my skill set.
Over the last 15 years, I have become comfortable with sales. In fact, it has become second nature to me now as I am comfortable knowing that my planning skills will help present and future clients achieve their objectives. Thanks to the many sales gurus out there who took me under their wings, both formally and informally, and helped me become comfortable and confident, sales no longer creates the high degree of stress it did before.
Learning to focus on what is important to my clients, I now cherish building my business relationships with a wide group of amazing people, who have in many instances become good friends. I’m clear on my strengths and that knowledge definitely helps me assess my market and how to engage with it. During the recent CanSPEP Business Summit we engaged the services of sales guru Jill Harrington, whose company, SalesShift, provides sales training around the globe for many large brands. Despite her eminence, I admit, when I first heard we were going to spend 75 percent of our time on sales I said, “Really, we’re going to do that again?” I am happy we did!
The CanSPEP investment in education is serious, and bringing Jill to our members was a fantastic reminder that I need to continue strengthening my sales approach and my understanding of my clients. This is truthfully, something I didn’t realize, Jill showed us in simple but powerful ways that sales is constantly changing and evolving as our context and business climate changes and we need to evolve to maintain pace. The business world is not the same as it was five, 10 and certainly 15 years ago. I have learned to “work smarter and help clients to continue to choose TAP Resources!” Thanks to Jill’s insights, I have already started to make the changes in how I approach sales at TAP Resources and how we at CanSPEP approach sales. Even our dialogue with each other has changed!
So whatever you are selling – define your very important people, know and understand them and always be doing the research on how you can increase your value to them. In the movie, Patriot, Mel Gibson said a line, “Aim small, miss small.” – which meant that if you narrow your aim, you lessen your chances of missing the target all together.
Tuesday Johnson-MacDonald is president of CanSPEP and owner of TAP Resources. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Canadian Society of Professional Event Planners (CanSPEP) is a dynamic, diverse and innovative society of independent event professionals with a leading national voice in the event industry. It is the only association in Canada that offers an exclusive membership to independent event planner entrepreneurs. Formed in 1996, CanSPEP provides forums in which members exchange ideas, develop skills through educational programs and create a public awareness around the profession of event planners.