Since I started the business, we have served the largest companies of thousands of people and the smallest companies of just 10 people. From MNCs like Cisco, WeWork, KPMG, EY, Xiaomi to Indian companies like Practo, 91 springboard, Phable Care, MaxLite and Makemytrip we've served many people but I still think we have barely scratched the surface. Today, I'm sharing some of my experiences.
In 2019, I walked into a conference room, greeted by the General Manager of a company along with two of his top executives. I’m not from a corporate background, so walking into these office buildings itself is a thing of discomfort for me. I remember doing a 6 week internship that was a desk job during college at an MNC and thinking to myself that I never want to choose this as a career. There is nothing particularly bad about it – but the silence of the hallway, the seriousness on everyone’s face and the cubicle format just made me feel very uneasy in my stomach. It made me feel like I didn’t belong.
Now that I was walking down a similar hallway, I reminded myself to straighten my back – I was representing my business and that was something to be proud of. I got this meeting as a reference from another client, who called this person as soon as I requested her for an introduction and insisted that “he must meet Megna.”
When I saw him, I realized he must have been 20-25 years more senior than I was and the two ladies sitting next to him were also easily 10-15 years older than me too. But that’s not why I wanted to exit the room almost immediately. When I shook hands with the second lady, both her and I understood that this was not our first interaction. Coincidentally, a week ago I got her reference from another client – I was trying to pitch my product to her over call and she kept brushing me away, the way you would do to a credit card agent. Now that her general manager was introducing us, she was obliged to shake my hand. It was embarrassing and comical at the same time.
Just as I realized how senior they were, they must have also realized how young I was, 23 years old – just beginning my business. My voice doesn’t help either, I am well aware that I sound like a child so in the first impression many people don’t take me seriously. The ladies suggested that I do free events for them, even distribute free samples because it will “give me so much exposure to work with their huge brand.” She gave me examples of many startups who regularly do free work with them like this.
I nodded respectfully until they had finished speaking. Then I showed them my side, not by talking about my product – but by pointing to their competitors. I described in detail the success I had while working with their competitors and the value I had created for them. They didn’t expect it, I could see that. They knew, that neither my voice nor my age mattered – because work speaks louder than anything else. I quoted my price and we started working together. As a matter of fact, in the year 2020, they were my top client.
The power of references
As I reflect back to all the companies that we’ve done business with – most of them have come from references. But these references are not just from close friends or family, anyone that you’ve ever had a conversation with can be asked for a reference.
Once, a customer from the neighbouring building came into our kitchen to buy cupcakes. She had to wait a few mins until our team finished packing it, so I casually (but strategically) asked her what she did and where she worked. Even 3-4 lines of conversation, is mostly enough to build trust. After a couple of days, I asked her for her HRs email ID – I got in touch and we had an order of 80 gift boxes from them for Diwali. This hasn’t been a one off thing for me – everyone from the uncle you meet in the elevator to the old school teacher you bump into at the grocery store can be the source of a reference. But you’ll never know if you don’t try.
Find yourself a Sam
Sam Daniel Mathews is one of my favourite people - simply because he is so genuine, so resourceful and is always ready to help with no vested interest. We may talk only few times a year, but anytime he sees an opportunity where he can push us forward, he always does. Way back in 2015, he helped us bag a stall at a TedX event in his college where we serviced our first bulk order of 200 cupcakes. Since then, he's introduced me to every company he's worked at and no number of "thank yous" can ever be enough. Every time we meet it's always a stimulating conversation full of ideas for Dream a Dozen's growth. You only need a handful of Sams in your life who believe in your dream and is willing to build the bridges that will get you there.
Breaking the Ice
I used to think that while working with corporates, you need to be super formal and professional. Then I realized they’re just normal people like us who like making friends with nice people.
So I adopted a funny strategy.
Depending on the sense I got from our conversation, I would pitch in different facts about myself that may be similar to their background. If I sensed they’re from north India, I’d drop a few hindi words and tell them I’m from Rajasthan. If I sensed they’re from Bangalore, I’d tell them where I studied and invariably find a common connection. Most times – I’d even go into a meeting after having explored their social media profiles to see if there is anything that I can discuss to break the ice.
When I was in school, I would categorize people as bad and good. You can do this when you’re younger, because you really don’t need anything from anyone except from your parents. Maybe you can even continue to do that as an adult if you are employed – because as long as your boss is getting your salary processed - life will go on.
But in business, everyone needs to be a friend. You never know who you are going to bump into and you don’t want to pick a fight unnecessarily. This is not to say that you shouldn’t stick to your values – don’t do anything that goes against your principles because that’s what shapes your character.
There was a time when a lady from a very large company gave us one of the biggest orders we had gotten till that moment. It was a huge deal for us. After successful delivery of the order, she wanted a cake for her personal use at the same discounted price as what we had given for the company. It was just a few hundred rupees of discount for us, but it could have meant that we would get continuous bulk orders from that company. But the thought that she was using her position to get a discount from us just did not sit well in my mind. I told her I’ll sell it to her at retail prices or not at all. We never got any more business from that company and I’m perfectly fine with living with that fact.
Things don’t always go as planned
In normal circumstances, it is awkward to ask for payments. Everyone thinks it is polite not to talk about it. However, with corporate companies – you NEED to talk about payment terms right from the get go. The earlier you address it, the less awkward it is later.
I’ve had companies paying me very very late because I did not take the terms in writing. And let’s be honest, even if they are in writing – what are you going to do if they pay you a few months late? It is unlikely that you will go through the trouble of suing them. I did two things to solve this problem:
1. I registered as an MSME: This is super easy and I’d recommend that every small business should do it because when the books of a company are audited, they are required to first clear their dues with an MSME vendor. I’ve written in more detail about this in my blog – 5 ways to manage your finances.
2. I started quoting two prices upfront: This was to the clients who would insist that their payment terms were 90 days or more. The lesser price would be for immediate payment and if they wanted to delay, then they would have to pay a premium. Most likely, the client will choose the first option.
Apart from learning the hard way about payments, I also learnt the hard way about order confirmation. When an order is verbally confirmed – it is as good as not confirmed. We were left with 4000 extra cookies during the Diwali of 2018 and I wrote about this adventure in my blog post about my biggest challenge.
The real question:
You might say Megna, these anecdotes are okay to learn from – but give us the real deal, how did you find 100+ many companies to buy from Dream a Dozen? The truth is, I already gave you the answer. Every person you meet can either be a potential client or can refer you to one – and that’s why you have to learn the art of making friends. Doing business is nothing more than building relationships. Earlier on, I even used to host corporate baking workshops – mostly so that I could meet the HR in an informal environment and gain their trust. After one such event, I was able to follow up to get an order for 600 muffins for their annual day.
I understand that a person can only make so many friends in one lifetime, so how do we go beyond the current network? Cold emails, cold calls or messages through Linkedin. Let me tell you that you need to simply get over your inhibitions and pick up the phone or write that email. The larger the net, the more fish you will catch. To give you an idea, I reached out to more than 1500 people during Diwali and finally sold to 10 corporate clients in 2020. But each of those ten were bulk orders made up the best season we have ever had.
If you haven't used Linkedin actively yet, Vaibhav Sisinty's 5 day workshop is was one of the best resources I can point you towards. For Rs 500, his pre-recorded videos + live sessions format works really well irrespective of how you are trying to leverage Linkedin. He shares tools that will speeden up the painful process of finding new leads and at the end of the day, the more time you save - the more people you can reach.
Apart from building your own clientele, you should also build relationships with third parties who get clients for you. Every industry has these types of people, you just need to identify them. In our case, they might be event companies that work with corporate clients. You might even find independent sales people who are ready to bring their own list of established relationships. There is no doubt that you will need to give up a chunk of commission in each of these cases.
But I learnt that it doesn’t matter how big your slice of the pie is, what matters is - how big is your pie?
Tell me your if you've had some insane experiences and I'd love to exchange interesting stories with you!