“I don’t like to sell.” “Asking people for business makes me uncomfortable.” “Selling feels manipulative and sleazy.” “I’m good at what I do. Why don’t clients just come to me?”

How can I help?

If any of these thoughts seem familiar, you may be hanging onto an unhelpful perspective about selling that is holding back your success. Traditional sales models invoke adversarial images, as if selling is some sort of battle between you and your potential clients: “hook the customer,” “convince prospects to buy,” “overcome their objections,” and “get past their resistance.”

The combative images of this type of selling persist, and unfortunately, so do some of the manipulative sales practices they represent. But just because you see them used doesn’t mean they are effective sales approaches for your professional services. The reality is that being on the same side as your clients works much better than opposing them. And it’s a lot more comfortable for you.

In fact, some of the most successful professionals in your field probably never “sell” at all. What they do instead is simply be of service.

A primary reason that people hire a self-employed professional like you is to serve as an expert resource. Your clients count on you for guidance, advice, support, resources, contacts, expertise, specialized techniques, access to technology, and up-to-the minute information. Every one of these elements is something you can begin to provide your prospective clients before they ever become paying customers.

By freely offering information, advice, and resources to people who have not yet decided to hire you, the need for any clash of wills between prospect and salesperson disappears. Instead of creating sales resistance, your generosity dissolves the barriers between you. Potential clients begin to think of you as a trusted resource instead of a vendor who wants their business. You become the first person they think of in your field — for their own needs and to refer to others as well.

Making the shift from selling to serving requires changes in more than just how you ask for the business and close a sale. Your service attitude must begin with your first contact and pervade every aspect of your marketing. Here are some examples of the many ways you can substitute a service attitude for a sales approach in all of your interactions with prospective clients.

In a social media post:

Selling approach — Five reasons to hire me as your accountant
Serving approach — Ten ways to save money on your taxes

On your website:

Selling — Download our free survey on the benefits of executive coaching
Serving — Download our free survey on best practices in leadership development

At your speaking engagements:

Selling — Give me your card if you would like to find out more about chiropractic
Serving — Give me your card and I will send you a free report on drug-free alternatives for back pain

In your newsletter:

Selling — In my work with resolving workplace conflicts, I use a proprietary model for diffusing messy situations
Serving — Here is a summary of the conflict resolution model I’ve developed and some tips for using it in your workplace

As a blog post:

Selling — Why work with an interior designer?
Serving — Choosing a design theme for your living room

On the phone:

Selling — I’d like to introduce myself: I’m a change management consultant and I specialize in…
Serving — I understand your company is going through some changes and I’d like to see if I can provide any helpful insights

In your ads:

Selling — Call for a 15% discount on your first appointment
Serving — Call for a free subscription to our wellness bulletin

To a networking contact:

Selling — Here are the web design skills I can offer your clients
Serving — If any of your clients are having web design challenges, I’ll be happy to provide some tips at no charge

What you’ll notice about these examples is that they don’t necessarily require you to do more about sales and marketing. If you have a good marketing plan in place, you can keep right on using it. The difference is that you begin to treat your prospective customers like paying clients from the first moment you contact them. Instead of reserving your expertise for only those who have paid your fee, you share it with everyone you can.

Am I suggesting you give your professional services away for free? Absolutely not. Writing ten tips for saving taxes is not the same as preparing a tax return at no charge. Offering a few minutes of free advice on the phone is quite different from entering into a consulting engagement without being paid.

What I am suggesting is that your potential clients deserve as much consideration as the close friends and family for whom you probably provide this type of quick, easy help routinely. After all, those people are unlikely to ever pay you for your time. Prospective clients, on the other hand, will be eager to pay your fee once they get a taste of what you can do for them.

As a service professional, what you excel at is serving, not selling. Doing what you do best allows you to shine. You’ll be more comfortable, your prospective clients will trust and respect you, and you will naturally be in contact with them more often. As a result, more prospects will become clients without either of you having to suffer through an awkward sales conversation.

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