ANNA CLARK, SALES STRATEGIST
Anna Clark is a woman on a mission. Breaking down the social stigma of sales, one business at a time, this mother, a former sales executive for blue-chip companies, speaks out for female business owners everywhere to reclaim their confidence, unapologetically sell for all their worth, and rock the process.
Setbacks, personal loss and pressure, might be part of her story, but they will never define this force of nature. She may have been down but never out, and her story will surely motivate and inspire entrepreneurs worldwide. Over to you Anna...
SO, ANNA, WHAT'S YOUR STORY?
There are many but as a general overview. My life began in a small North Eastern village near Newcastle. I was born into a family of four kids and had a relatively stable upbringing with hardworking parents who afforded us a nice, comfortable lifestyle. I was encouraged to do well in sports, and at school and with my mother as the prominent matriarch and a hardworking father, I did benefit from seeing the rewards of consistency and hard work. We had values instilled in us, and we benefitted from a close-knit community where everyone looked out for each other and provided a sense of community and family values.
The family enjoyed holidays in the U.K. at a holiday home in Northumberland and happy times with friends and neighbours. I have great memories of growing up in lush summers in Northumberland, namely Bamburgh. My heart never feels far away from that beautiful place—lovely summers of picnics and beaches and a community with children at its heart. I always seemed encouraged to follow the 'norm' as society appeared to be then. But I always felt 'different'.
Life became more of a challenge through my need to 'be different'. I favoured learning about English Language, driven by a deep desire, no doubt, to be understood. I was not a huge conformist or a significant rebel in high school. I was a diligent and interested pupil. I was sporty and very much into the arts. I had a fairly formidable mother; if not for fear of her, I would have 'gone off the rails', I have no doubt.
I have always been drawn to unusual characters in life, but I conformed throughout high school. I was rarely overlooked in drama, often playing the lead role in school plays, competed in many sporting activities, and took up dancing as my main hobby. I adored ballet and tap and disco dancing. Much to my embarrassment, however, I grew to be 6 foot at the age of 14 years and developed a size 9 (U.K.) shoe size. Goodbye ballet career, goodbye white skating boot only to be mortified to only fit into the men's black ones. I doubt that has changed, as I still cannot get shoes easily!
I was offered the chance to study A levels at school, but this was not encouraged by my mother, who informed me that 'you should work and contribute like everyone else'. I recall when she then frogmarched me to a job centre aged 16 years and promptly had me assigned to work at a government office for child benefit. I detested it. A job for life, they called it. My brain fiercely resisted. However, I did take the opportunity to study at A level on day release whilst doing a two-year stint at this place. I giggle that the site is a residential housing estate now. I despised the drive into the offices but got a laugh to myself that I could say I had signed the Official Secrets Act in the U.K.!
I made a break for freedom after taking part in a beauty contest that a London modelling agency observed. I had begun modelling locally at 14 years, Dad having been an avid amateur photographer and encouraging me. This led to fashion shows and catwalk work which I loved. It was as close to the acting career I had wanted to pursue but had been forbidden. I recall a funny story of saying to my mother, 'I could have been an actress if it weren't for you'! In her formidable style, she promptly responded, 'Don't worry dear, you are one, you just don't get paid'! I guess I gleaned my sharp wit from her. You'd not be far from the truth if you think 'The Dowager' in Downton Abbey in terms of her sarcasm.
After a while of pursuing work in London, my big feet and inability to stay super thin took their toll. I could not compete and was not a typical 'beauty' for much else.
I returned to the North East of England, where a friend encouraged me to work at the local newspaper in advertising sales. Initially, I hated it. They literally (it was the 80s) handed me a briefcase and car keys and pointed me to the east end of Newcastle to sell. I had no training, and that part of town was 'dodgy', to say the least.
I cringed walking the streets and talking to used car salespeople and the city's colourful business owners. I suddenly became shy at the need to be authentic, unable to hide behind stage lights and a character. I was so tall for the times, and people loved to mention it and always draw attention to it. Ultimately, I forced myself to harden and invented 'Anna No. 2' to cope with the attention. I developed a secondary persona who took control before anyone else could and was known for a fast and sharp wit. At times it was crippling.
I became determined to master the craft of selling and took an avid interest in anything I could learn. Anthony Robbins was becoming known in the States at the time, and I devoured all things him. I loved what he was teaching; society was rolling out a mindset of limitation, one we need not adhere to. This was 'gold' to me as I had never felt 'ordinary'. I'd always despised the limitations put on girls and women and was a self-proclaimed 'equalitist', formerly known as feminist. The idea I could be paid less or discounted due to my gender was abhorrent to me.
My beliefs have made personal relationships difficult for me. I found that ironic, as being an equalist meant I'd get the drinks in! Yet it also threw me into what is now known as my 'masculine'. I have continued to be a very interested observer of gender differences. My physical presence matching my direct and proactive spirit has never been easy for men to deal with.
After leaving the newspaper, I pursued a sales and marketing role with a leisure company. Shopping malls were emerging everywhere, and leisure companies were opening up venues inside them. I was asked to attend a sales training program through my employer at the time and had no idea how much this would change my life. I attended the course with 20 other delegates from the U.K and was blown away by what was being taught. Not only did I value the teachings immensely, but I also watched the sales trainer and decided there and then this was to be my calling.
There was great value the teaching skills that could be deployed in my work and earn me more money. It also showed me that there was a profession where I could teach what I was passionate about, entertain, and help people simultaneously. That was it. My mind was made up, and I asked the sales training company if I could join them. And they agreed!
By now, I was 23 years old. I had continued in further education in English disciplines and had been offered a place at university to complete a degree In English Linguistics. However, the sales training company wanted my attention, and I chose that career. I had always contemplated a career in journalism but somehow decided, given my eternal quest for 'truth', I'd end up in big trouble in some far-off destination!
Looking back, I was right and made the correct choice. To prove my salt to the training company, they assigned me a role with another company, training opticians how to sell. It was a role working for a hugely successful optical company that manufactured Ralph Lauren, Diesel, Burberry and Gucci eyewear. I was selling the hard product and teaching the optical staff how to sell it to their customers. The company portfolios grew, and I was given the whole of Scotland and Northern Ireland to work in. A lot of money was made, and I was given multiple trips to Italy. It helped me feel pretty 'international' at that point.
I lived in Edinburgh on a very posh street for quite some time. I met a man on a rare night out, an American who turned out to have been my neighbour all along. We began dating, and he was the Manager of the American Football team who played for Scotland. This brings us to the '90s. We were engaged and together for five years. It was not always the easiest of relationships. However, we had great fun, and I got to tour America extensively. After years of watching Charlie's Angels and Dallas, that put my childhood fantasies to rest!
Sadly, it did not work out, and the boyfriend returned to the States. He had three children with different women, which was my first proper heads-up on how complicated life had become for people. People were trying to 'settle' down in marriages that didn't work. I surmised, most likely, feeling societal and parental pressure and doing the wrong thing, so I have never felt the need to be married, although I always wanted children.
I returned to the North East and took up my pursuit of working with the sales training company directly. I finally did it. I fervently picked the brains of every trainer they had and followed the M.D. around like a puppy! I went all over England facilitating and delivering sales training. We worked with various companies, from hotel chains to white goods sales to waste removal companies. And it is such good stuff! Inevitably, the training company somehow lost its business footing due to internal changes and disbanded. It was terribly sad. Many trainers became employed elsewhere in senior roles or began freelancing.
I then took up with a well-known mobile phone sales company. They were a highly successful chain of stores that truly took advantage of the ever-increasing phone sales market. The director of the sales training company was employed directly by the Founder and rolled out training for all U.K. staff, and I could tell you precisely what would happen no matter which stores you attended. The training was an integral part of putting that company firmly on the meteoric rise to success that it enjoyed. I enjoyed my time there.
After that, I was offered a role with B.T. Directories, another blue-chip organisation. Again the role became integral in what I could learn about management. But as a people person, I always preferred to be customer-facing, where I could make the most money and influence the most people. I had a great time at B.T. until, yet again, another management change put paid to what felt like the right environment and after three years, I moved on. I went on to work for an online daily deal site and once again loved influencing business owners in their abilities to increase their sales conversion rates through the power of words.
After that, I realised it was time to focus on getting this stuff online. To take what I knew, which so many have found invaluable and get it out to a broader audience. It just so happened that I timed these intentions with having my first baby at 42 years old. And therein lies the story of my truly falling in love for the first time and sustaining it.
I had my son at Christmas in 2009. We both nearly died in the birthing experience, which took some recovery. By this time, life 'online' had kicked off. I nursed my baby, watched a few women launch online businesses, and learned many things. But a shift had occurred in my ambitions, and I wanted to spend time with my baby. I kept putting off action again and again, preferring to be a full-time mother.
By the time I wanted to step up and my son had commenced primary school in North Yorkshire, I thought I had missed the boat. I saw all sorts of exceptional businesswomen and marketers outdoing themselves online, and I almost became defeated several times. Luckily, some key people saw my work in sales training and compelled me not to give up and go for it. So whilst raising my son, I set out independently to keep teaching.
It's been a struggle to always be consistent as a single mother who sadly, in 2020, lost all of her close family. I was burdened by no less than 18 bereavements in 2020. It took a terrible toll on top of what was already a catastrophic year. My compassion for the grieving even compelled me to complete formal, qualified training in becoming a Civil Celebrant at funerals, which I am qualified to do now. Despite my corporate background and outgoing persona, I do, in fact, possess a very compassionate side. I am also frequently involved in the wedding business (but please, don't publish that part where I said I don't believe in marriage, it's bad for business, I say, laughing). It's tongue in cheek mostly, and although it won't ever be for me, I remain a huge believer in celebrating everything until further notice!
As my son grows into a teenager, I conclude that residual incomes are where it is at if you have a 'time v money' challenge. I will soon launch access to my online course to teach what I know, and I could not be more excited, along with another soon-to-be-revealed sales directorship. The world is now brimming with incredible men and women doing such great work online. As a veteran of the sales industry and the rise in the need to sell services and products, I cannot wait to further help so many people have access to all I know and benefit from the power to be found in the art of the sale!
Watch this space!
YOU HAVE FACED MANY CHALLENGES IN RECENT YEARS. HOW HAVE YOU MANAGED TO KEEP GOING IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY, AND HOW DO YOU KEEP YOUR DREAM ALIVE?
I remind myself constantly that there is someone always worse off than me, and that keeps things in perspective. I have friends who have lost children. I still have to face my relevant challenges around loss and fears, but my son is my greatest reason to do anything.
The dream stays alive through meeting all the people who want and need what I teach. Helping others is a large percentage of my nature. Although now, after examples of betrayal and other unfortunate things, I live by the adage that 'givers need boundaries because takers do not have any'. I am more controlled in who I offer my time to, and I no longer define myself through an overt need to help everyone.
An old expression, 'Give them a fish, they eat for a day, teach them to fish and it lasts a lifetime', is a perfect thing to keep in mind. Learned helplessness is now a thing, and I do not want my son to possess that. So, lead by example because I have a 13-year-old watching me.
HOW WOULD YOUR BEST FRIEND DESCRIBE YOU?
Please do not ring her! She remembers much more than I ever could. I am pretty sure I can be described as having been wild, adventurous and funny. However, they would also say I was kind, generous and loyal. I can't ask for more than that, really.
WHO DO YOU ADMIRE AND WHY?
I admire my son. He has incredible grace and resilience for someone who, at only 13 years old, has lost many family members, is an only child without cousins his age and moved to a high school and village at 11 years without knowing a soul.
I admire many women in business and love people like Bethanny Frankel in the USA. She optimised her fame on The Real Housewives of N.Y., created a drink, built up the company, and sold it for millions from nothing. She does an enormous amount for charity and world crises too. Hats off to her 100%.
The story of Malala Yousafzai is remarkable—a prominent activist for the right to education. None of us should lose sight of her journey and her work.
SALES IS OFTEN PERCEIVED AS PUSHY OR SCARY, AND THERE'S NO DOUBT THAT THE NEED FOR SUCH EXPERTISE IS ONLY GOING TO GROW EXPONENTIALLY IN THE COMING YEARS WITH THE RISE OF THE ONLINE BUSINESS. DO YOU FEEL THERE IS A GAP IN THE MARKET TO DEMYSTIFY THE WORLD OF SALES AND RE-THINK ITS NATURE?
I do! Primarily because I occupy the online space myself, and my 'feeds' don't present me with much competition. I wish I could change the perception in one fell swoop, but I'd need to change the use of the word itself, and you can't. We've had 'solutions', ' hustle', and so many other attempts, but at the core is 'sales'. When I was younger, the negative connotations stemmed from the rise of UPVC windows, house alarms, timeshare properties and used car sales. Then, governmental laws put paid to 'mis-selling' in a fair few industries, like finance. People lost homes and policies, and pensions through mis-selling.
There are also terms such as 'bait and switch' applied to a situation where you try to buy one advertised offer ('Holidays from £99'), only to discover there aren't any at that price. I do not ever condone any of that.
I teach honest, friendly, professional consultative ways to take your customer through a potential buying journey, which sells to need or want. I ensure it is a diagnostic tool where your clients are fully 'heard' and you demonstrate how your product or service can meet that need. It is done in such a way that I can guarantee your customers will feel reassured, happy to buy and refer you to friends and family. Can I say 'it's brilliant' at this point? It's a taught set of skills, and once you have it, it can never be taken away.
YOU MENTION THAT YOU'VE SOLD FOR BLUE CHIP COMPANIES. HOW DID YOU HANDLE THE PRESSURE TO PERFORM AT SUCH A HIGH LEVEL?
I think I handled myself well overall. The opportunities were often there to make it a healthy sort of pressure. We must have SMART goals in business, something to strive for but achievable, or we'll lose momentum. The issues around undue pressure are different. They are often a 'people' issue, and I've met my fair share of people who shouldn't ever be in a management role.
HOW DO YOU HANDLE CRITICISM?
It depends on the delivery. I like to think I am now only involved with people who will care about delivery and the need to 'criticise'. I question people's motives, of course, and primarily rely on my self-awareness. I am always open to self-development, personally and professionally.
Most people wish to offer constructive insights these days, and I'm all for taking those on board. I respect people's journeys, mindsets, and the fact that we are not all alike, and neither do we need to be. I am not beyond apologising if I need to, either.
WHAT HAVE YOU FOUND DIFFICULT ON YOUR JOURNEY, AND WHAT WOULD YOU AVOID IF YOU COULD DO IT ALL AGAIN?
A lack of self-esteem has hampered much of my journey, such as staying in unhealthy relationships. In business, at times, my confidence and belief in myself. I've probably been guilty of not recognising my strengths and a bit of paralysis due to 'comparitis'. I now have more self-acceptance and can increase my education where I need training. It's now at our fingertips much of the time! So, no excuses. Knowing our strengths but improving our weaknesses is an important thing to place our focus on.
WHAT'S YOUR TOP TIP FOR OTHER ENTREPRENEURS AND BUSINESS OWNERS READING THIS ARTICLE?
Naturally, I am going to say 'learn to sell'. It is a fundamental necessity. Many don't like the word 'sales'. But we can't change it, and many have tried. But semantics aside, finding a sales process that works for your business keeps it either afloat or, more importantly, in profit. Nothing happens until somebody sells something in business.
YOU'VE WORKED FOR SOME OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL SALES COMPANIES IN THE UK. THAT'S QUITE A RESUMEì! WHAT ATTRACTS YOU MOST TO SETTING UP ON YOUR OWN, AND HOW SCARY IS IT TO LEAVE BEHIND THE SECURITY OF THOSE CORPORATIONS AND GO SOLO?
Most people in self-employment will have hoped for a 'time v money' balance in their lives, and it may not work out that way because knowing when to put down your tools is tricky if you are passionate and opportunistic. I feel compelled to teach sales training because I found it life-altering, and I want to help others who have not had the opportunity to be formally taught what I know.
It has also been hugely beneficial to the 'bottom line' of money in all my roles. I am not sure I would say I was 'scared'. My first business in self-employment became a very profitable endeavour. That's a great experience to have and spurs a person on. Self-reliance is a far easier prospect than working for someone else. At least then, my own choices alone determine the outcomes. My fate is not in the hands of someone else.
I teach people how to CREATE opportunities to do business and convert those opportunities into sales. And as long as there are 'opportunities', I'm ok. Whenever I witness someone doing it poorly (selling and customer service), I remind myself that my business has a future. None of us are beyond improvement.
SALES IS AN INTEGRAL PART OF ANY PROFIT-MAKING BUSINESS. CAN YOU SHARE WITH OUR READERS ONE THING THEY NEED TO KNOW WHEN IT COMES TO SELLING A PRODUCT OR SERVICE TO THE WORLD?
The words you use are all that differentiate the likelihood of someone buying from you or buying from a competitor and following a process. It takes coaching to know what these words are and why and when to deploy them. I'd be mad at this point not to offer myself for the job of teaching the readers if they'd like to see it! Overall, being open to the fact that it is a necessity and investing in increasing your knowledge of it will never harm your business but can most certainly, improve it.
WHICH MOTIVATIONAL SONG WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO ADD TO THE FEMALE CEO'S #GIRLBOSS PLAYLIST ON SPOTIFY FOR YOU?
It has to be 'Don't tell me how to live' by Monster Truck. The singer references respecting those around him but not wanting to wear the weight of their choices. He wants to decide for himself to 'soar like an eagle'. That is me! To a T!
DO YOU HAVE A BOOK OR FAVOURITE PODCAST RECOMMENDATION FOR OUR FEMALE CEO READERS?
So many! The usual suspects are fantastic, like The Seven Habits (Stephen Covey) and much of Anthony Robbins. I love all personal development work, and it can only help. On a personal note, 'My Mother Myself' by Nancy Friday changed my life, as did 'Ask and It is Given' by Esther Hicks.
WHAT DO YOU KNOW FOR SURE?
Working on our 'mindset' is paramount. All things begin in the 'mind'. Some thoughts are helpful, and some are not. It's figuring out which beliefs hold us back and choosing to work on how much we allow them to alter our state. Self-awareness for the better is never a wasted choice.
WHAT MAKES YOU TRULY HAPPY?
Heavy rock music. I was raised on it and have been a lifelong fan. It's almost up there with breathing!
Naturally, my son is and should be, the love of my life.
Laughter. My best friend Keith's jokes. He is unbelievably funny, and all I need to alter a bad day into a good one.
I should also mention my two favourite places worldwide, Bamburgh Beach and Beamish Museum. If you live in the U.K. and have not seen those, fix that immediately!