Mike Southon author of The Beermat Entrepreneur

Mike Southon co-founded, built and sold his own company in the 80s, and worked on 17 start-ups in the 90s, specialising in sales and marketing.

He is co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and is a visiting fellow in innovation and entrepreneurship at London South Bank University.

SmallBusiness.co.uk caught up with him and asked for some words of wisdom on the common difficulties faced by start-ups and small business owners and managers.

What sort of challenges do small businesses face?
I think the principal difficulty that people run into is lack of sales experience. The problem is that very few people are taught how to do it properly. Really you just have to be liked, be yourself. Lots of people push too hard to close the deal and end up alienating the customer – people don’t like to feel they’re being aggressively sold to.

So what can people do to improve their sales techniques?
An important part of sales is perfecting your elevator pitch: a short snappy description of your business, the services you offer, the premise, and examples of why you are better than your competitors. The idea is that it should be about two sentences long, as if you’d just met someone in an elevator, they’ve asked what your firm does and you are short on time.

Another important point is that you can’t sell anything over the phone, unless it’s something very small, like booking someone into a conference, in which case it’s more about getting their details. I do very little phone selling because I find it intrusive and impersonal. Cold calling is hell for those doing it and those receiving the call.

What about sales people, how do you make sure you’ve got the right team?
Everybody has to be a sales person in a small company. There’s a great quote from Robert Louis Stevenson: ‘Everybody makes a living by selling something.’ You’ve got to be an ambassador for your business whether you’re meeting a client or answering the phone. It’s not just about selling your products or services, its about promoting your brand – selling yourself and the company.

There are three types of jobs in the sales process, hunting, farming and management. Hunting is about networking, making contacts and generating business through those contacts. Farming is about making sure that your existing customers come back and management boils down to making sure enough sales calls are being made and that the revenue is being generated. Upfront revenue is probably the ideal way to grow your company at the start.

One problem that SME owners face is lack of training with technology. How important do you think it is to have an online presence to generate that revenue?
I think it is vital to have at least some brochure wear online. Your contact details, the products or services you sell and other basic and relevant details. My advice would be not to worry about understanding the technical side of things, because there are plenty of people out there who do.

Any other tips?
Your ability to build a team and learn to delegate is very important. It’s part of an entrepreneur’s nature to be confident and charismatic, but they can also be pretty arrogant and manipulative, which means that they end up trying to do everything themselves.

The phrase ‘Why buy a dog and bark yourself?’ springs to mind here. You really need to make the most of the people around you – the cornerstones of your business. And I don’t mean people that will agree with you all the time and tell you you’re brilliant. They’re not cornerstones, they’re lackeys. You need to surround yourself with people who will stand up for themselves because business isn’t about spreadsheets and figures; it’s all about people, and having a good team.

Related Topics


Leave a comment