Your business is defined by what you say no to

by | Jun 1, 2017

Your audience doesn’t always hear you as clearly as you think they do.

What your business is and why it exists may be clear in your head, but most entrepreneurs are surprised when they ask their prospects, customers and even their own employees to describe their business back to them and it isn’t so clear and strong.

Sometimes you have to tell people what you are NOT in order for them to really hear what you ARE.

You make great software for small businesses? Say “Sorry, we only serve companies with fewer than 100 employees” upfront on your website. Tell your sales team to politely refer prospects from bigger companies to other vendors, even though they could close those sales. Don’t show logos of big companies on your website as example customers.

Be the Best at Something for Somebody

It’s hard to proclaim your focus to the world by saying no, but it’s the price you pay to be known as the best at something for somebody.

Amazon just sold books for the first four years of its existence, even after they went public. That was an intentional NO to everything else they could have sold at the time. They were known around the world as the best place to get books before they added CDs and DVDs in late 1999. Jeff Bezos had a clear goal to be known as the best in the world at selling books online and he did that before expanding their product offerings a little bit at a time.

Remember all those other online retailers who sold everything to everybody back then? I don’t either.

Just Say No

Think of all the successful restaurants you know that have long lines and wait times. They are clearly known for being the best at something – best hearty breakfasts, freshest donuts, tastiest pizzas, incredible experiences, best hot dogs. They have a narrow focus and proclaim it to the world. These hotspots are clearly not everything for everybody.

I’m sure it was hard to focus when they started their businesses and the crowds hadn’t come yet. Now these entrepreneurs politely resist the temptation to expand their focus every day. 

Believe me, they are asked to “add just one more thing” every day.

Will Starbucks’ sales go down when they expand their menu with wine, food and more? Maybe not, but coffee lovers will move on to the serious specialists who take coffee to a new level.

What will these upstarts say to win against Starbucks?

Just Coffee.

  • Are you clear about the boundary lines of what you sell and who you sell to?
  • Is your focus narrow enough that you are perceived as the best?
  • Would your story get stronger if you declared what you are NOT more clearly?