Selling services without being sleazy

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One of the most challenging parts of being a new entrepreneur is getting comfortable with sales. I looked to one of the smartest young entrepreneurs I know for a bit of advice — Ramit Sethi, founder of I Will Teach You To Be Rich and a new course on earning more money.

In the four years I have known Ramit, I have seen him grow from exceptional blogger to exceptional best-selling author and businessperson.  He inspired my Perfectionists are Losers post, was interviewed for my pricing series, and was featured in my book in the Testing chapter, with the story of his co-founding of PB Wiki. He knows what he is talking about. Enjoy the read!

Who is this sleazy sales guy?

Is this the ONLY way to sell your services?

“But I HATE selling…”

If you’re thinking about starting your own business on the side, this should be a familiar thought. In our experience, worrying about how to sell yourself is one of the top barriers to getting customers who pay what you’re really worth.

Who likes sleazy sales guys? We’ve all seen those movies where the slick, fast-talking salesman is trying to push a product or service that nobody wants. We don’t want to be like them. We might even go out of our way not to be “sales-y” just to avoid any affiliation with snake oil and used cars.

It’s natural to feel uncomfortable selling yourself and your services. Have you ever gone into a meeting, enthusiastic and ready to deliver an amazing service to a prospect…yet when it came time to make the sale, you just couldn’t ask for what you’re worth?

Lots of people find themselves irrationally discounting for services that they could easily charge 2x, 3x, or even 5x more for.

Selling yourself and your services is a deeply psychological act. I could give you sales script after sales script, but if you haven’t practiced and valued yourself, you’ll never get the rates you deserve.

How do you grow your business without selling?

The ability to sell is one of the most important skills for anyone — even if you’re not ready to escape from cubicle nation, and you just want to earn more money on the side. But if it’s simply not your thing, then there’s another solution.

The best sales pitch is an explanation — a no-pressure conversation with your prospect showing them that you understand their problems and offering them what you truly believe to be the best solution.

Ask yourself: If your prospect had all the motivation and information in the world, would he go with your solution? If so, it’s your job to explain why you can help him.

How to flip your mindset on selling your self

1. Acknowledge the value in what you do. Don’t just dismiss this. Imagine you went to a cocktail party and someone said, “What do you do?” Would you say something flippant like, “I dunno, I’ve started trying out this coaching thing…”? Or would you look them in the eye and say, “I’m a coach who helps women grow their 1 to 5-person businesses.” We tend to think of sales as persuasion, and, specifically, persuasion against what people really want. Selling yourself should not be antagonistic. Instead, you should be a guide, a sherpa, leading your prospect to what he wants, anyway — you just know a quicker, easier way to get there.

Be valuable to your customer, then tell them so.

2. Stop thinking about what YOU value and start thinking about your clients. Warning: Don’t confuse what you value for what the client values — you’re likely coming at it from a completely different standpoint. That’s why a consultant might have doubts about his rates and think, “I’m too expensive…even I wouldn’t hire me.”

Of course you wouldn’t hire you!! Do you even need a consultant right now??

Get inside the head of your customer, and recognize what your value is to them, not just to yourself.

When you start communicating on the client’s terms (“How can I solve your problem?”) instead of your own (“How can I convince you to buy my service?), the sales conversation gets a whole lot easier. (This is such an important concept that I spend 4 weeks covering it in my course on earning more money.)

3. Be the one who gets to choose. Let’s talk about dating for a second. When most people think about dating, it looks like this (I write for a lot of guys, so flip this if you’re a woman): Guy pursues girl, and girl gets to choose to reject or accept. One of the most effective dating tip for guys is to flip this relationship and become the one who gets to choose. Instead of futilely chasing women who have the power to reject or accept him on any whim, he becomes an attractive person that others flock to — and now he controls his destiny. (The same is true of women chasing vs. being chased.)

This concept also applies to selling to clients. When you speak with a prospect, you should be communicating (implicitly, through words and actions) that you’re choosy with your clients. It’s counter-intuitive, but being selective will increase your perceived value because it shows that you’re probably in high demand.

For example, here are two similar pitches. Note the difference:

Hoping to be selected: “If you’re not too busy, can I talk to you for a minute about one of my coaching programs?”

Being the selector: “I’ve got a great coaching program that has helped my past clients achieve X, and I’d love to chat with you to see whether you’d also be a good fit for it.”

In the first case, the client’s instinctive reaction is to come up with a reason to say no. But in the second, the client is ALREADY thinking, “I wonder if I’d be a good fit?”

Be the one who gets to choose if that client is right or not, and apply this across the spectrum of your client relationships. Instead of dropping everything on a client’s whim, get used to sticking to your schedule. Instead of always being the one to make promises, inform your prospects about what you expect from them. And finally, always be willing to walk away from a prospect, because if they won’t pay for your time, someone else will!

4. Find out what the client really wants, and let it do the selling for you. People have no problem spending money if you deeply understand their needs. So when we see something we really love, we’ll often do anything we can to get it – and here’s the kicker – price becomes merely an afterthought. You can use that to your advantage.

Case in point: Just recently, I was on a conference call with one of my Earn1k students. I had briefly mentioned that that I’d love some home-cooked food but was too lazy to make it on my own. A few days later, one student offered to personally cook and deliver all my meals for me.

I instinctively asked him about the price, and his response was brilliant. He said: “We can definitely talk about that in a second. But first, let’s just talk about what you want – after that, I’m sure we can figure how to make the money work.”

How could I say no to that? I went on and on about all the details of how I’d envisioned the cooking service. By the end of the conversation, I had one thing and only one thing on my mind: how was I going to get that convenient, home-cooked food to my house?? And how quickly?

In the end, I happily paid him even more than I’d originally expected, because I was focused on my wants — and so was he.

I paid him hundreds of dollars per month for this service — and I was happy to, because he was SOLVING MY PROBLEMS.

Selling is serving, not battle

Closing high-value clients is NOT about hard sales and high-pressure tactics. In fact, if stoop to unsavory hard sales techniques and you’ll basically guarantee that you’ll never be dealing with the highest value clients for your service.

Instead, the best sales techniques — and the best kind of clients — come when you show with confidence that you have something valuable that the client really wants, the perfect solution to an individual customer problem. After that, you can let the sale can happen all on its own.

* * *

Pam here again — Ramit is  launching a video course with step-by-step videos, case studies, worksheets, and live training on how to earn your first $1,000….and then grow it. I have taught in his live program, and he has great, results-oriented practical information. He also pulls no punches, so be warned. 🙂 If you’re interested, you can get a free preview of the course here. I used my affiliate link in this post, since I totally support what he is doing.

Ramit Sethi is the author of the best-selling personal finance book I Will Teach You To Be Rich. His new program is designed to help regular people earn money on the side while keeping their full-time jobs. Sign up here to get a free preview course on finding a profitable idea, marketing, sales, and advanced techniques.

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19 Responses to “Selling services without being sleazy”

  1. Terry Divyak says:

    I run a small photo tour company and at the end of our tour I ask people a couple of questions:

    What did you learn most from us today?
    Would you recommend us to friends?

    This accomplishes a couple of things. It allows me to focus on what is most important to our customers so I can be enthusiastic when describing my service to others I am “Selling” to. If they would recommend us to others, then we are doing something right. I never really feel like I am selling, I just use my previous customers enthusiasm and feedback to hone in on what is important to potential customers.

    I think if it is hard to “sell” your business, one either doesn’t have enough conviction in what they are doing or may not know what business they are in.

    Just found your blog today.. definitely adding it to the top of the list as well as picking up your book.

  2. Rob Linn says:

    I strongly agree with Ramit’s perspectives. I have been selling management consulting services for 25 years. Consultants tend to have very little confidence in their value causing them to either err on the side of being too reticent to sell or overcompensating and pushing too hard. My guideline is “confidence without arrogance.” Ramit articulated how to pull that off very effectively.

    My perspective is that the key is to pull the pressure away from your prospective client. Give them space to make up their own mind. The business will come to you. Timing is everything and you can’t force it.

    My business partner, Rich Ottaviano, and I publish a monthly video newsletter sharing our perspectives on how to effectively sell and deliver management consulting services. This month’s issue actually consists of two short videos on “Selling by Not Selling.” Ramit captured the essence of that elusive skill.

    Also inherent in Ramit’s advice is that the best way to sell products or services is to establish a trust relationship with your prospective client. You have then transcended from salesperson to partner…a very big difference! The July 23rd post on our blog talks about how to accomplish this.

    Ramit, I really enjoyed your post. Its not often that I come across someone who sees the selling process in terms similar to mine. I look forward to reading more in the future.

  3. […] Selling services without being sleazy -Excerpt:  Who likes sleazy sales guys? We’ve all seen those movies where the slick, fast-talking salesman is trying to push a product or service that nobody wants. We don’t want to be like them. We might even go out of our way not to be “sales-y” just to avoid any affiliation with snake oil and used cars. […]

  4. […] One of the most challenging parts of being a new entrepreneur is getting comfortable with sales. I looked to one of the smartest young entrepreneurs I know for a bit of advice — Ramit Sethi, founder of I Will Teach You To Be Rich and a new course on earning more money.In the four years […] Original post […]

  5. Simple yet powerful instructions!
    Thanks for allowing Ramit to post this here.
    Going to check out the Earn1k program. now!

  6. Just to confirm what everyone thought when they saw that first picture.

    A yellow-checked shirt is no way to sell anything to anyone.

  7. This was a wonderful post. I particularly like the comment “recognize what your value is to them, not just to yourself”, which is another way of saying sell what the customer wants, not what you want to sell.

    I have found that sales people with backgrounds in selling tangible products are often thrown for a loop when they have to sell consulting services. When selling a consulting service, you need to be personable. You’re selling a belief that you can do something for the customer in the future, something that can’t be touched and felt today.

  8. Jason Dick says:

    Hi Pamela,
    Thanks for this article. It cuts to the heart of where many entrepreneurs live. Yes, we want clients. But, we don’t want to put on leisure suits and fast talk. I loved the part about rephrasing your pitch to make it seem like they are choosing you.
    Nice job of selling Ramit’s products without it seeming so. 😉

  9. Jason Dick says:

    Hi Pamela,

    Thanks for this article. It cuts to the heart of where many entrepreneurs live. Yes, we want clients. But, we don’t want to put on leisure suits and fast talk. I loved the part about rephrasing your pitch to make it seem like they are choosing you.

    Nice job of selling Ramit’s products without it seeming so. 😉

  10. Thank you Pam and Ramit for this post! I’ve been trying to escape my own cubical through launching a photography business for five months now, and while I’ve earned $1k myself in that time, that’s clearly not enough to live off of.

    My biggest hurdle to being self-employed has definitely been selling my services without stumbling over the price. This post is exactly what I needed to read. Thank you so much!

  11. Linda Eaves says:

    I would totally pay for Andrew’s services too. That food looked scrumptious.

  12. Brett Henley says:


    Thank you for laying out a subject near and dear in such a straightforward fashion. I’m in the trenches/slow grind of going out on my own for the first time, so I’ve struggled mightily with certain aspects of the planning process, especially pricing.

    I’ve never related to the hard-sell approach, especially considering most suit-and-ties I’ve worked with that utilized this approach were masters at the cold call, and utterly abysmal when it came to research and building relationships based on value. Selling out the long term for the short term has never made sense to me.

    Oh, and I’d gladly share some home cooking tips with you any time 🙂

  13. Will Kenny says:

    Point #2, the focus on the prospect’s needs, not only takes some practice, it takes some homework. My own clients (who are independent training consultants) think first about explaining what they do. When we get them past that stage, they are likely to think of “focusing on the prospect” as saying something like, “So, tell me about your business.”

    A little research, either at the company level or at the industry level, can generate the information you need to ask a customized question about a challenge they may be facing, or a trend in their line of business. Asking them how that merger is affecting their employees, or whether new regulations are demanding additional training, or if changes in labor markets or supplies and materials are making their costs harder to control . . . these are only slightly more specific questions, they are not highly detailed, but they will open the door to an extended conversation about the client’s needs much wider than just prodding the prospect to tell their tale.

    It really doesn’t take a lot of time and resources to learn enough about a prospect to ask a narrower question. (And if you have just met the prospect, do that research before you follow up with your “nice to meet you, thanks for your time the other day” call.)

    It is, as are so many of these things, more of a mindset thing.

  14. Audrey says:

    These are great points. I’ve learned that meeting the need is half the battle. Thanks for great article! There’s a good book on persuasion you might enjoy coming out in September called, “27 Powers of Persuasion,” by Chris St. Hilaire. I’m in sales and what caught my attention with this one is the author’s view that persuasion in and of itself is not negative. He lays out strategies in simple steps. You should check it out!

  15. Allison says:

    Great practical advice on adding ‘selling’ to your long list of skills as an entrepreneur

    Allison Galbraith – Moving you from Redundancy into Business Success

  16. Dana Frost says:

    Timely encouragement and advise as I’ve just launched a program I’m really excited to offer. I feel it meets a felt need and I’m confident in what I’ve created but I’ve felt a little “shy” about the sales part.

    Most importantly, I’m coming to your house for dinner! smile.

    Thanks, Pam.


  17. David Wang says:

    Hi Pam & Ramit, thanks for a great post. Ramit’s really been knocking it out of the park lately.

    In point #2, you mentioned that it’s important to understand what the client values. My way for trying to understand this is to use the “and then what” trick. I sit down with a client / friend and ask what their immediate goal is. Inevitably they’ll say something like they want more traffic.

    I ask them “and then what?” This leads them to articulate their thoughts further. Continuing from the example above, my client may go on to say that more people will hire him for his services.

    Now, I know 2 things:

    1. What my friend / client values is to get more customers (the goal)

    2. The step to reach there isn’t more traffic (what he thinks he needs) – it’s getting people to view the services that he offers.

    I hope that made sense. Thanks for a great post again and all the best on your course, Ramit.

  18. Peri Pakroo says:

    These are great tips for getting over the psychological hang-up about selling — a hang-up shared by a huge number of self-employed folks, especially in their early days. Unfortunately, even though I *love* seeing entrepreneurs who are motivated by their passions more than get-rich-quick dreams, it’s often a real hurdle for them to get their minds and hearts wrapped around the sales thing. The good news is that with the right mindset (as described above), and a little experience (there’s no substitute for getting out there and just doing your best), the jitters, insecurities and self-doubt will melt much more quickly than might be expected.

  19. I really liked this article post. What I find interesting is the fact that sales can be nerve wrecking at first. I was a bit nervous but soon overcame that after my first few sales. You get used to it and know what to expect.