This is the heaviest time of year for new business start-ups, and so starts the onslaught of new business owners cold-calling potential customers to get their foot in the door. If you are moving into commercial contract cleaning, this step is a necessary evil.

Cold-calling creates two major concerns for new business owners: 1) the various ?no-call? lists that may affect your activities; and 2) overcoming our own personal fear of rejection.

Regarding No-Call lists, there are both federal and state lists. Each state has slightly different rules, but in general these lists apply to residences, not businesses. Since you are calling on other businesses ? probably with phone numbers right out of the phone book ? these rules probably won?t affect what you do. Call your state?s Consumer Affairs office for clarification, or check out the state?s web site.

Now to the real enemy ? your personal fears. People are reluctant to make any contact where the other party may not be happy to get the call. As human beings, we tend to exaggerate this fear of rejection until we are too paralyzed to make the call. We tend to fill ourselves with negative feelings about what we are doing and what the other party will think of us.

We deal with these emotions by avoiding making the calls or by rushing through our canned presentation or by going completely blank with the first question we get. You can overcome all of this pain through a little mental exercise and a little experience.

Cold calling can be a productive and even pleasant experience if you change your approach. Think of it this way. Most people who play sports (and particularly wrestlers) visualize their entire match mentally before they ever step on to the mat. If you prepare this way, you stand a better chance of remaining in full control of the process from the beginning to the end.

As you imagine the call, think about similar calls that you have received. If someone calls you and they are bent on selling you something, you immediately tend to raise your defenses and stop listening to the caller. On the other hand, if someone called you intent on finding out what they could do to help you, you would be much more inclined to talk with them.

That brings us directly to our first point: Think only about what your potential customer needs ? not what you want him to buy. If you adjust your thinking this way, you have a half decent chance to establish communication ? two-way dialog ? instead of giving a sales pitch. You should be able to build trust and awareness in a single call if the person you are calling believes you really are there to solve his problems and make his life better.

This takes some thought and practice to accomplish. You want to sell your cleaning services, and you want the customer to hire you. Saying things like ?I want you to hire me?? will never work, though (even if that is what you really want).

So, in an effort to be more customer-friendly, you switch to ?Don?t you want your storefront kept clean?? This approach does not address what the customer needs as much as it is just another way of saying ?I want you to hire me?. Of course the business owner wants his storefront clean, but that is no reason to dip into his profitability to pay you to clean it.

A much better approach might be ?Of course you realize that the curb appeal of your storefront affects your customers? perception of the products and services you offer, and that is something I can help you with? Following that with ?My company can provide an ongoing service that can improve your customers? perception of your store and increase your sales? to get the business owner?s attention. From there it is a simple step to set up an appointment to demonstrate what you can do and make a formal quote for your services.

Changing your approach to solving the needs and ego of your potential customer is the easiest way to make sales. It also takes away the fear that the person you are calling will reject your message.

Which brings us to the second point. Don?t worry about making a sale during a call. No one ever buys from someone who calls them from out of the blue. People buy from friends and people they trust. You need to establish a relationship before you should expect to make a sale. The purpose of your call is to communicate the reason why the potential customer should get to know you. Rehearse in your mind ?When I make this call, I?m going to create a relationship through conversation so that he will be comfortable exchanging information with me.?

Once he trusts you, the customer will be willing to listen to the solutions you can offer.

The third point is to put yourself in the other person?s shoes. You are calling a successful business owner, and those people are always busy. That?s how they got to be successful in the first place. The phone rings and interrupts what the business owner is doing. He answers, and you immediately launch into a sales pitch. Odds are you lost the opportunity with your opening ?Hello?.

The problem is that you are hoping for a ?Yes? without the presence of any relationship with the potential customer. That won?t work in 2006, and you will get shut down quickly. If, on the other hand, you really try to put yourself in your customer?s shoes you?ll find it easier to avoid that ?shut-down?. Taking a few moments to listen to what the customer needs and wants will tell you exactly how to approach making the sale. Asking open-ended questions to draw out what the customer likes or doesn?t like about his current supplier will guide you through the sales process better than just telling the person what you do.

Prospects bond with you when they feel that you understand their issues before you start to talk about your solutions. When people feel understood, they want to talk with you. Along those lines, wouldn?t a caller saying ?Just thought I?d give you a call to see if you read the article I wrote on curb appeal and its affect on home sales? stand a good chance of getting into a meaningful conversation with you?

That leads to the fourth point: start a conversation, don?t just give a presentation. You want to engage potential customers in a natural conversation. The kind you might have with a friend. This is the start of your relationship with the customer, so make it as warm as you can.

Start with questions that will reveal what the customer?s real problems are. Once you know what problems you might be able to solve, you also know exactly what to target in your conversation. It?s simple. You begin with, ?Hi, my name is Pete. I could sure use your help for a moment.? How would you respond if someone said that to you? The thing is, when you ask for help, you?re being honest because you don?t have any idea whether you can help them or not. That?s why this kind of question works. When they reply ?Sure, how can I help you?? avoid the teMPTation to pitch your services. That?s the time to ask whether the problem you have fixed for other customers is also a problem for him.

So you say, ?I?m just giving you a call to see if you folks are struggling with service contractors who don?t show up when they are supposed to?. We haven?t even mentioned power washing yet. We?re just getting them to open up about their pet peeves and problems. There will be time to offer to help them get rid of their headaches once we have bonded over common ground.

A question like this will open avenues of trust that will lead to a solid relationship with your client. If you practice this skill over time, you will naturally bond with your potential customers and they will trust you to be the solution to their problems.