Sales are always on the mind of entrepreneurs — and are often responsible for many sleepless nights. Without sales, you don’t have a company. But when you are doing well, you must make sure you’re satisfying customers so they come back and help your business grow through referrals.
But how do you net explosive sales numbers? A.J. Saleem, founder of the Houston-based tutoring company, Suprex Learning, has some ideas. Founded in 2011, the company has experienced double-digit sales growth in the last four years and triple-digit growth in the past two years.
The early days
Saleem launched Suprex Learning as a one-on-one tutoring company. He was the only employee, and he was bootstrapping. To market his services, he met with principals and administrators from local schools and dropped off brochures.
“It was really guerrilla marketing back in those days,” he says. “When you start out, you have to do things that are low-cost or no-cost and be willing to hustle. You have to be creative.”
His marketing efforts paid off and soon the phones were ringing. When the workload became more than he could handle, he started hiring employees. Meanwhile, he kept his eye on marketing, invested in SEO, and networked with potential clients. Word-of-mouth referrals began to trickle in and then the company gained some media attention, further accelerating growth.
Just a few years after launching one-on-one tutoring, Saleem founded Excelsior Academy, a full-time private school for children with ADHD, dyslexia, learning disabilities, and developmental delays. By expanding into other categories, he found new sets of clients and sales poured in.
“Excelsior Academy shares a space with an existing Montessori school,” he says. “It is a small program; we have 12 students right now and are focused on kindergarten through eighth grade.”
Saleem says the addition of the Academy and tutoring/therapy for people with learning disabilities has had a major impact on his bottom line.
But even with such impressive growth, Saleem admits he has made mistakes. These days he warns entrepreneurs from being too eager when following up with leads.
“When I was starting out and got a call from someone looking for tutoring, I would follow up the same day, and if I couldn’t reach him or her, I’d call back again the same evening,” he says. “People started telling me to stop calling them, and I learned that you don’t want to overdo it.”
Another mistake was not investing in a professional business phone service.
“In the beginning I used Google Voice, a free VoIP service, but I was missing quite a few calls,” he says. “I realized that I needed to be paying a premium VoIP provider so I wouldn’t miss out on prospects. Once we did that, we haven’t missed anything. I can even get calls forwarded to my email.”
Saleem offers three pieces of advice to entrepreneurs:
1. Don’t wait for clients to call you
“Go out there and hustle,” he says. “Build relationships with the people in your industry. Shake hands with prospects and network with the people who will get you the customers.”
“I get so caught up in running the business that I don’t grow the business,” Saleem says. “I’ve learned to outsource day-to-day tasks and it has made a huge difference. Virtual assistants are fantastic because you only pay for the minutes you use.”
3. Appearances matter
“Make sure the quality of your service aligns with your online presence,” he says. “If you have a great service but a poor-looking website, no one will call you. Make sure your online presence matches your offline offering. Appearances really do matter.”