"ON YOUR OWN"- COLUMN 5-
First of all, apologies to all for the lengthy delay since the last column. I've been in Florida, counting votes, and... well, anyway, let's get down to business.
One of the biggest problems I''ve encountered as a self-employed individual has been the issue of focus. One of the reasons many people strike out on their own is for the sense of autonomy- the wonderful feeling that nobody can tell you what to do. The problem is, too much freedom can be overwhelming. When your options are unlimited, you can become paralyzed with so much choice. To move forward, you will need to focus.
Most of us really don't like making choices. For example, there is a well-known phenomenon in the sales world, known as "buyer's remorse". Basically, after someone makes a big purchase, there is a certain amount of regret. Once your decision is irrevocable, you begin second-guessing yourself. For someone running a business, we hate closing off any possible avenues of revenue. We touched on this topic in an earlier column, but it's such an important concept, it bears repeating. No business can possibly appeal to all people. If you try to reach everyone, you end up standing for nothing. The strongest brands have become that strong by narrowing their focus. If you are serious about building your business, you should do the same.
Let's look at some examples of businesses where self-employment is common. For example, many chiropractors are self-employed. In discussions I've had with friends in this field, it seems that one of the biggest problems is that there are many chiropractors, and not so many patients. It would appear that the best way to succeed in this overcrowded field would be to find a special niche, and become known as an expert in that field. Perhaps you have noticed that many people seem to be developing a certain type of injury from playing golf. (Mind you, this is all hypothetical- my knowledge of chiropractic is nil.) Golfers, as a market segment, tend to be more affluent than the population at large. It would make marketing sense to learn more about this specific type of injury, and determine if there is a course of treatment that would not only alleviate the pain, but perhaps help the patient improve his/her golf game at the same time. Focusing on this segment would suggest some possible avenues of advertising strategy- golf magazines, sponsorship of local gold tournaments- that a traditional chiropractor may have overlooked. Another chiropractor may have discovered that LIRR commuters seem to have a higher proportion of neck ailments, from sleeping on those oh-so-comfortable train seats. Perhaps advertising in the stations and car flyers would be a way to generate traffic. The key is to focus your business on a particular segment, which directs your marketing activity.
Another field where there is a lot of competition and very little differentiation is day care. There are many day care providers for children, and yet, from the advertising at least, there seems to be little difference among them. Every ad talks about "caring environment", "nurturing" and "learning", but none really stand out. There are some unique ways to differentiate- for example, one day care could focus on the niche of special needs children. Another might do well focusing on non-English speaking families. Another way to segment might be geographically- locating your day care right near a LIRR station, and keeping longer hours than other day cares would be a great way to attract Long Island parents who work in Manhattan. Again, focusing on a particular segment would lead you to explore avenues of advertising that your competitors might never think about- every day care provider advertises in "Long Island Parenting", but how may are advertising in publications aimed at LIRR commuters?
No matter what business you are in, one of the best things you can do as the new year approaches, is to strengthen your focus. The momentary pain you may feel by sacrificing potential clients will be offset by the reputation your company gets as a specialist in the field. To qoute Andrew Grove, CEO of Intel, "I'd rather have all my eggs in one basket, and spend time worrying about whether that's the right basket, than try to put one egg in every basket." Or to put it another way- "Man who chases two rabbits catches neither."A must-read on this subject is one of my all-time favorite business books- "The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding", by Al and Laura Ries. It will open your eyes to the power of focus in your business. See you next time!
Any questions, comments, etc can be sent to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.