I occasionally write copy for a guy that teaches gym owners and personal trainers how to grow their businesses. As part of his business model, he provides his clients with marketing materials including emails, postcards, sales letters, etc. I was surprised, one day, to see some negative comments about this guy’s materials.

“Too Pushy” was the phrase used to describe his content.

When I wrote freelance copy, I occasional wrote pieces that my client didn’t like. “Nope,” they would say, “I can’t send that. It’s too aggressive. Can you put, ‘call me when you’re ready’ instead?”

What has happened to the small business community? A significant number of business owners seem terrified to ask for a sale. They spend all their time (and their entire marketing budget) educating their prospects and then hope and pray someone will buy. As a group, they tend stay far away from the S-word (sale), the B-word (buy) and focus all their energies instead on the F-word (free).

Now sure, there are those who, grateful for the free content, might consider a purchase, but in today’s society, gratitude is scarce and repaying that gratitude even more rare.

So what is it? Why do small business owners do everything in their power to coddle their prospects and customers? I think it may have started when email marketing became the primary method of marketing. People were afraid of being marked as spammers, so they focused on content and avoided the sale like the plague.

Marketers told them that content was king and promised that the more you gave, the more you would receive. But I don’t think marketers were counting on a society of egocentrism that doesn’t allow room for reciprocating generosity.

While I still advocate educating your contacts and providing them with great content, I think small business owners need to find a little more courage. Ask for the sale. Not always, but frequently enough that someone might actually buy. Let your prospects know what they’re missing out on by not buying your product or service.

If your prospects want to be removed from your email lists, get rid of them. Don’t hang on to names in your database for years and years – sending them soft, cuddly messages – for the rest of your business career. In other words, stop apologizing for being in business. If you want to bend over backwards and never make any money, then start a charity. But you have a right and an obligation to yourself, your employees, and your family to make a living. And you know what…

…it’s okay to make a sale.