Say No – Stick to your Strengths and Specialize

In the video I avoid a lot of the details, part of the drawback of being politically correct (and new in front of the camera) and trying to keep the situation as neutral as possible.  Some time has passed since I filmed that right after getting off the phone and I wanted to add some context to the situation.  I believe it is your duty as a startup to say ‘no’ more than ‘yes’ and stay true to your core offerings.  While this limitation is forced upon you more easily in a product business, service businesses get caught in the trap of saying ‘yes’ to requests when trying to grow.  Especially when bootstrapping.
Define your Target Market
Figure out who is in your target market and who isn’t.
Sometimes is easier to filter things out that figure out what exactly you need to do.  If there are 10 things and you need to pick just one, you’re still making progress by eliminating 7 things.  Sure you still need to pick from the 3 remaining options, but that’s a lot easier than picking from 10.
You’re making your life easier by selecting a specific group of people that you will be servicing or who you foresee gaining tremendous value from what you do.  Its better to sell to a person who values what you do than to educate them on your industry before trying to even sell your offering.  Get focused and spend time figuring out who this target audience is.  Start here, who is your perfect customer? – then see how many of them you can reach.
Specialists Earn More
This is true in every industry, the most common is doctors. Your general practitioner doesn’t earn as much as a doctor who specializes in a particular field.
Its much easier to be great at one thing.  Its also more fruitful for your business to be recognized for being the best at that one thing.  Become specialized in your skill set for a particular audience.  I have a friend who just does Facebook advertising for companies that are in the real estate space.  Does he manage posts on Facebook? No.  Does he work with other social media channels? No.  He’s a great web designer too, will he build you a website? No.
He has developed a very distinctive process for a very narrow audience and he is doing very well.  Referrals are coming in because everyone of his clients that rave about their Facebook advertising success leads to more business for him.  He chooses to say no so he can specialize and you should too.
Concentrated Growth
By focusing on one audience and one service you concentrate your message.  It will never be diluted and your audience will appreciate the relevance.
We are all fighting for attention.  We really need to have the attention of our audience and it helps to keep them focused on your brand when you’re consistent with your message and its concentrated on an expectation you’ve set.  The adventure of guessing what you might post today really kills audience engagement.  I’ve told many clients to be careful about posting personal things on their business social media accounts and it has nothing to do with privacy.  Its about diluting the brand that you have carefully crafted.  Keep your brand focused.  You can be diluting your brand by offering too many things and losing your audience because they are getting mixed messages.

The story:
What started this for me was a project that we were potentially going to take on.  It was something that our agency could have executed, but it would have really taken a toll on our business.  To give some background, our speciality is working with clients that have high-value leads like Real Estate developers, Fitness companies, Sports & Entertainment organizations and companies offering professional services.  Writing that out feels like its a broad spectrum of clientele, but in reality, there are a lot of parallels and overlapping tactics.
What we were approached with was an commerce start-up.  How much of a start-up you ask?  They had a name, licensing to a range of products and some sales materials.  This was a big contract opportunity, but it didn’t feel right from day one.  There were too many variables, too many questions that were unanswered or deferred to us (“you decide”) and a big reliance on our agency to execute the entire sales & marketing function of the business.
Quickly identifying if there was an opportunity in the space, we agreed to budget the project out internally before presenting to the client.  What was a reasonable quote would have taken us in a totally different direction.  The amount of resources that would need to be dedicated to this project were not worth the return.  Saying ‘no’ was the best option before either of us were too invested.
Looking at this now, I think of each project we take on should increase our specialization.  It should be a reference point for new clients.  The portfolio should grow and be consistent, rather than show off the range of “possibilities” that we can deliver on. Stick to the core offering and become recognized as an authority in that realm.

The Action Items:
I need to say ’no’ more often when its outside of our expertise.  I like helping people.  I now realize that I cannot help them will my full efforts if they are outside my space.  If someone asked me tomorrow to be their lawyer, I would say no instantly because I’m not a lawyer.  I need to have that same response with opportunities that fall outside of our strengths.  I encourage everyone to do the same, especially start-ups. 
Your goal is to be growing your company and that starts with top line revenue.  New revenue comes in with new clients.  New clients want to see that you have built a strong reputation over a short period of time.  Referrals come from happy clients, and its easier to give a referral with a specific goal, rather than a very open ended one.  Get serious about saying no and focusing on your strengths. Don’t worry about the short-term setback, saying no is the best thing you can do for your brand.

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