Are you throwing small fish back?

The National Council on Alcoholism called us to have a gavel engraved. The president of our company told me to grab my attaché, jump in a cab, and help them out.

“Stu, we don’t engrave gavels,” I said.

“We will for them. Just go, I’m paying for it” he exhorted with his guruish smile.

It was 1975. I was 21 and in my 4th year of learning to sell in the NYC Sales School of Hard Knocks. Our company created sales incentive programs, unusual advertising support collateral, and unique specialty premiums. Spending my time and his money to take a cab cross-town Manhattan for a $5 engraving job seemed nonsensical. With trust in my mentor, l stopped for my ritual shoeshine and hopped into a cab.

Natalie, then Executive Director for NCA, was in her office chatting with their PR person. They were sharp, witty, and loaded with fun filled NY sarcasm. We got along famously. Natalie looked me up and down and shook her head with a wry grin. “You don’t engrave gavels, do you,” she asked rhetorically. “Please tell us what it is you really do.”

I pulled out my portfolio, described our agency, and showed off some of our projects. An hour or two later, I left with details for a few thousand-dollar project that we were later awarded. In addition to the stream of business and many referrals that followed, I learned three invaluable lessons that earned me tremendous amounts of business over the years.

How many invitations do you receive from potential clients? Certainly not enough, so never discount an opportunity because it appears to be too small. A warm welcome is better than any cold call.

Why is turning your nose up at small orders a mistake? After gently prodding our sales team one afternoon, they convinced me to show them how my revenue doubled theirs. The comparison of monthly sales showed everyone’s doubles, triples, and homeruns. The difference was the string of singles that I regularly hit. I showed them how strings of singles typically add up to more than one homerun. Their numbers increased.

How often do prospects offer you trial business? Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are trust and confidence, so seize opportunities to prove yourself. I had the gavel engraved at no charge. Our efforts won their confidence and trust with a small project that paved the way to earning larger projects. It’s much easier to work your way up from a small share of wallet than to win the whole enchilada in one fell swoop.

Small orders lead to more business, fill the gaps between juicy sales, and maintain your momentum and your enthusiasm, all of which keep your income up.