Monday, July 1, 2013

A business college professor drilled into us that we should always "narrow our focus and stick to it". In general, it made sense like many of the guidelines in business you hear about but recently it has really made hit home with me. Talking with my business friends over the course of the year which has various careers in health insurance, financial planning, mortgage lending, business consulting and a host of other professions, I realize that all of us are approached or have been presented the opportunity to participate in projects or service requests which fall outside of our normal specialty. When business is less than full capacity, the first inclination is to take any business you can get your hands on; why not, if you have spare time to do it then why shouldn't you go after other similar types of business.

The issue is when doing something outside of your core service; there is usually some type of learning curve, time which has to be invested and follow through. You can't simply hang a new product on your shingle; you have to know and learn about it at some level to sell it with any competence. If you get enough of this same type of business, which initially did not fall in your main line-up of products, then you can perhaps consider making it one of your regular service offerings and you have automatically broadened your product business scope. Instead of just selling widgets A, B, and C, now you have A, B, C, D, and E to sell. If all of them are aimed at the same market group and they naturally blend in together you have a good mix. Still consider that you will have to market 5 products instead of just 3 which automatically increase your marketing expense. A printer friend of mine is a successful example of this; he started with standard paper printing products and now offers specialty imprinted items, banners and even car wraps and it all has been a good profitable blend.

But the problem is that more often, we get requests which come from different directions with no two being very similar. In the effort to get more business and satisfy more customers, you gradually become the "jack of all trades and the master of none". Viewed from the outside, the perception will be that you cannot survive focused on one main thing so you have to do many and your integrity and reputation suffers. One gentleman I've known for years offered financing for various projects, then he added merchant card services and a few months later he include home mortgage financing. Just recently in speaking with him, he justified his strategy by saying that if he offered enough services then he wouldn't have to say no to anyone. After that he added immigration services in helping immigrants get properly documented. He was like the fisherman with twenty poles in the water; problem was that each pole was in a different lake!

Here are 3 guidelines to avoid falling into the "I can do it all" category:

1) Identify your core services and products. What do you really want to do and what do you excel in? Identify your experiences and strengths and market only what you do best. If you are good at analyzing financial documents and think logically then don't try selling prepaid legal services or including them in what you do. Solidifying an 'elevator pitch' will help you narrow your focus because if you can't state your core business in a couple sentences then you either don't know what you are focused on or you're focused on too many things. Become the specialist and avoid becoming the generalist.

2) Learn to say "no". If you spend enough time networking, you are going to be approached to add some service or market some product or perhaps add a new feature to your core business. Be firm in letting people know you are only focusing on your core expertise. Even attending an information seminar on something which doesn't your business model is a waste of time. Discipline yourself to stay on track.

3) If you feel inclined to add a new service then always test market your new offering and only add one new service at a time. By only adding one element, you keep your test phase manageable and more importantly, you do not appear to be flaky and jumping around from service to service to your clients. Your goal is to always add another service which will help your clientele and improve what you already do for them. The test phase will also help you evaluate if there is a real sustainable market for your new product or only a unique few clients which fall into this category. In the interest of efficiency and effectiveness, you don't want to purse a tiny market with little growth potential.

Particularly when the economy slows down, people scramble to make ends meet and tend to accumulate more "add-ons" to their standard product line. It's a natural tendency, which on the surface seems fine, but it will distract and take away time and effort from your core strengths. During slower periods, it makes better sense to improve and re-focus on your main business. What can you do to improve your main services and what new markets can you penetrate. Can you partner with an adjunct business to pool together a marketing strategy - these are all questions you should be asking yourself to keep your core business intact and on target.


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