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When you're starting a business, it is extremely helpful to learn from the best. The best salesman I ever met was my Dad. In business for himself for nearly 40 years, he built what came to be one of the largest independent insurance agencies in East Tennessee, and the largest in our home county. He would love it if I shared with you five secrets to his success, in the hope that you can take these principles and use them as a guideline for your own club, business or job.
The year was 1948. The place - Shelbyville, at the annual Tennessee Walking Horse Show. My Dad, then a single man working as a high school professor, had been invited by his cousin to attend the show. Our cousin was Charles Eblen, who would later become mayor of an East Tennessee town - Lenior City. His parents had purchased box seating beside a wealthy woman, Dora Stowers from Fayetteville, a nearby town. Little did my Dad know that night would change my Dad's life as he met a beautiful young lady named Charlotte Baites - the niece of that wealthy lady - Mrs. Stowers.
That night my Dad began a courtship that would result in his eventual marriage to Charlotte, and the subsequent birth of his 6 children. For my Dad, it was love at first sight. All this to say, that like my Dad's courtship with my Mom, you need to "fall in like". Show you care about the things your prospects care about. It could very well lead to a marriage between buyer and seller.
My Dad was really good at this. He listened well to others, and made them feel comfortable and valuable - from that first smile, handshake, and "How are ya?"
When starting a business, prepare in advance to show genuine interest in each and every one of your prospects. Recognize that every one of them is made in God's image - a human being with a mother and father, with needs, desires, and a history of life. Your job is to try to find out what your prospect's interests are, and you do this by asking questions and listening carefully. Don't be afraid of silence. It will give them a chance to tell you more about themselves.
How did my Dad manage to generate so many leads? His secret? He was the most cheerful giver I ever met. I never knew 1/10th of all he did for people in our town and county - a lot of them strangers and acquaintances. He was a true servant.
My youngest sister once told me that she went into a local auto parts store in our city, and the store owner told her that her Dad had just left. When she asked what he was doing there, the owner told her that he had bought a car battery for a stranger that was broken down on the side of the road. That was normal for him.
When the garbage men would come up to our house, he would greet them outside with either coffee or iced tea. He also would also keep track of anyone who recently moved to the area, so he could travel to their home to welcome them to our county with an ample supply of greens or tomatoes as a gift.
At least once a week without fail, my Dad would phone home just before lunch to let us know he was on the way - and by the way he's bringing someone with him for lunch. It seemed that we always had guests in our home, and my Dad made sure our guests got the best we had to offer in terms of food, drink, and fellowship. He was always thinking of others - it's what he did. There were countless times when my Dad would visit the sick, offer financial support to those in need, and invite new residents to our church.
In short, my Dad used his resources to build friendships and generate leads for his business. It wasn't something that he consciously did to "generate leads". He just did what was right, and his business grew and grew.
In order for you to make money (which is the purpose of starting a business, isn't it?), you also have to invest money back into your business and sometimes invest in people. And then, they might become your clients. Remember those greens and tomatoes I told you about? Read about my Dad's next secret to find out where he sometimes got those fruits and veggies.
One time my Dad was shopping in the produce section of a local grocery store, when he overheard a lady he did not know, complaining about the price of greens in the store. He then walked up to her and offered to give her some greens he had in the truck of our car. She immediately walked out in disgust, thinking that my Dad was just hitting on her. After all, who carries greens in their trunk? Well, my Dad did.
He would shop at the grocery stores, the tire stores, and the clothing stores that bought insurance from him, making the rounds from store to store as he constantly met new people and stayed in touch with old friends. He attended community events, and built relationships with community leaders throughout his career. He was in fact more well known than the mayor of our town. Everyone loved and respected my Dad.
My Dad would often take us out to eat on Sundays. Sometimes we would take a visiting family from our church out to eat, or the pastor and his family. He could afford to enjoy a day of rest each week, because he worked so hard on the other six days. But it wasn't a burden for my Dad to work hard - his work gave him joy, because he knew he was helping others and glorifying God. Each morning, he would quote the following verse from Scripture with his encouraging twist on it.
"This is the day the Lord hath made.
Let us rejoice and be glad in it."
You see, my Dad had developed a habit of hard work from an early age. Raised on a 250 acre farm, each morning he would join his brothers at 4:30 AM to milk the cows and begin a day of chores and school work. He and his siblings cared for thousands of apple trees, peach trees, and livestock - chickens, hogs, horses, mules - the whole 9 yards.
Later, he would work his way through college through manual labor on the Agricultural campus, shoveling cow manure and cleaning horse stalls. Working hard was second nature for my Dad, but when it came time to have fun after a hard week of work - he knew how to do that too.
When it came to organization, my Dad faced challenges. On more than one occasion, I remember coming home from school and coming up the long, long driveway to find pieces of my Dad's business mail scattered all along the side of the road. My Dad would sometimes set his mail or his coffee on top of the car, open the door, get in, start it, and drive off.
My Dad's desk usually had papers scattered all over the place. He misplaced things. That was his one business weakness. But, he was able to cope by hiring some secretaries who were very good at what they did. These weren't ladies eating bon-bons and talking gossip. They were dedicated professionals who excelled in communication and organization. My Dad was a team player, and he only hired team players.
Handing over important tasks to those whom you trust is extremely important when starting a business, because you can't do it all yourself, even if you are good at everything you do. I've known only a handful of folks who have the Midas touch - whatever they do, turns to gold. Most of us, however, can't do it all. If you are good at sales (for example), but not good at other tasks - it's important to consider how you can find people to help you, so that your sales performance is not put at risk.
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