Careers: Three Secrets of Selling For Small Businesses

by John Viktorin

John Viktorin is an employment consultant at JobStart in Toronto working with newcomers who are looking for work. He is also a small business and employment consultant in his private practice. You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The fun part of owning a small business is that you get to do what you love and what you are good at. The not-so-fun part of owning a small business is that, in order to be successful, you often have to do things that you don’t love and that you are not very good at. This is true whether you are new to Canada, or if you lived here your whole life.

Selling plays a significant role in the success or failure of any small business, yet it is often the area that receives the least attention. Why? Because people don’t like to sell. It’s difficult, it takes time, you have to open yourself to potential failure, and to hearing “No, thank you” a lot. And if you are new to Canada, you may not be sure how to sell in the Canadian marketplace.

What do you need to be focused and help you understand what you need to do to be successful in selling your business’ products or services?

Be ready to ask questions

Good questions to ask are: “Tell me about your situation.” “What are the key challenges you face now and in the future?” “What would help you to be more successful?” These are all probing questions to uncover what your customer really wants. Your role is to ask questions and then listen – the customer should be doing most of the talking.

Build trust with your customers.

For customers to buy your solution, they have to trust you. Along with delivering quality service and products, you can also build trust with the way you act and the way you present yourself and your business. When you meet customers always smile and shake hands firmly. Make sure you are well-groomed and dressed appropriately. Have professional looking business cards, with a phone number that allows you to be reached easily. Have a professional voice message on this phone number and don’t let your kids answer that phone. Return phone calls promptly. If you have a website, make sure it’s professional looking, easy to navigate and presents your business in a positive way.

Offer a fair price that benefits both you and your client

Small business owners spend a lot of time worrying about the price they should charge for their products or services, and it’s often the first question from a potential customer. Don’t assume that the customer knows the correct price for your product or service. Small business owners should remember that what the customer is really looking for is a good product or service at a reasonable price.

So do your research – make sure you have a good idea of what your product or service is worth. And when you decide on your pricing, stick with that price. Be able to explain why your price is reasonable. You can even suggest to the potential customer that they get quotes from other businesses so that they can see that you are reasonably priced. Be open and fair and your customers will treat you the same way. Finally, if a customer refuses to buy unless you lower your price, and you feel you are already offering the best value possible, be ready to walk away from the customer and that sale.

Make sure you understand your customer’s needs, build trust with your customer and be sure you offer a good product or service at a reasonable price. Take care of these three things and you are well on your way to small business success.

The #1 challenge for small businesses:

How to get customers to try what you sell

Getting potential customers to try your product or service is the most difficult aspect of sales for the small business owner. But once a customer tries your product or service, then they are more likely to 1) buy from you, 2) buy from you again, and 3) recommend you to their friends.

As a small business owner, you have to spend time thinking about how you can get customers to try your product or service for the first time. This can be very difficult, especially if what you sell is a service. You may have to be very creative – but be careful that you don’t give away so many things for free that you go out of business!

Here is a brief list of ideas for getting customers to try your product or service.

These ideas are based on small business seminars I have run for the City of Toronto:

  • Free trial such as, first month of service is free,
  • Free samples,
  • Offer a guarantee of satisfaction, or your money back,
  • If you sell something that is delivered over several installments, lower the cost of the first installment, but make sure they know it’s a special deal,
  • Add extra ‘value’ to your offer, such as offering service calls returned in one hour, or a free gift with purchase,
  • If you are a consultant, offer a free first consultation,
  • Use testimonials from past clients to prove your
    abilities. Offering testimonials is like having a list of references attached to your résumé.
  • Make a limited time special offer, such as, for the next two days only, save 25 percent off our regular price,
  • Make the customer aware that your services are in high demand. If you don’t take this offer now, I have someone else who said he will buy it on Friday.

If what you sell is a good value, and if you provide excellent customer service, then repeat business and greater profit are just around the corner.