If you look at my phone, you won’t see much.
I used to have an adorable picture of myself and my boyfriend, but the new year came around and it was time to change it.
I knew that 2018 was going to be a watershed year for me. I knew I was going to be starting a business. I knew that I was going to start increasing my fees to livable wages. I knew that I was going to have to make some hard choices about what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go.
That’s why instead of a cute picture, my phone background now is very simple: thin black letters spell out the word “focus.” on a clean white background.
Why is focus important in business?
If I’ve learned anything in the last 6 months of my life, it’s that focus is maybe the most important part of any business.
Well, what you focus on defines what you do (duh).
What you don’t focus on falls behind you to be left in the dust. In business, if you’re not focusing on things that are going to propel you forward and make your dream a reality, then you’re bound to fail.
How do you know what to focus on?
If you’re like me (or entrepreneurs I’ve worked with), you might be wanting to grow your business by thinking outward.
Maybe you’re considering adding a new service. Maybe you want to push your business into a new sector. Whatever it is, you might be thinking of introducing something new to grow.
I argue against that. Instead, I think you should turn inward for your growth and focus. Instead of trying to produce something new for your company, you should focus on improving what you’re already doing.
In my opinion, choosing what to focus on comes down to one thing: looking at the foundation of your company.
Why the foundation of your company is where your main focus should be.
In certain cases, there’s no room for growth from what you’re already doing.
But I genuinely believe that those cases are severely limited.
The vast majority of the time, you can find a way to make your existing base happier and stronger.
I like to think of Little Man Ice Cream as an example.
Little Man is an ice cream shop in my hometown. It’s one of the top 3 most popular ice cream shops in the entire city of Denver.
What’s crazy about it is the line. It’s not uncommon to stand for more than 45 minutes in line to get a scoop of ice cream. No matter what time of year, rain or shine, people will be standing on the sidewalk outside of this outdoor-seating-only restaurant.
All for some fucking ice cream.
What makes Little Man so popular isn’t it’s ice cream flavors. Yes, they have some that are off-the-cuff, but you’ll be able to find chocolate, salted caramel, etc.
It’s also not their prices. They don’t charge exceptionally high or low.
What makes them different is that they focus on their product. Their ice cream is really fucking good. I personally think it’s the best in the city.
That’s why people consistently line up for 40+ minutes (i.e.: new business).
That’s why I take people there every time they visit town (i.e.: repeat business).
That’s why I drive to the opposite end of town and pay for parking (i.e.: jumping over a high barrier to entry).
Because I want some really good fucking ice cream.
Little Man’s foundation is solid. And it’s a testament to why we should all be focusing on the core of our business. They’re not popular because they suddenly opened up a ton of stores around the city. They’re popular because they’ve remained consistently good and work hard to keep people happy. Now they have something to build off of and can expand to create more business.
There is always room for improvement, yes, and at a certain point you might find that growth needs to happen from an expanded product line, but that’s only after a long time.
In the case of Little Man, they’ve added an “Express Cart” outside of their main location to help speed up the lines and opened another location in a different part of town.
But they didn’t do any of this until they earned their reputation through hard work and sacrifice. They made sure that their foundation was strong; that their roots were firmly dug into the ground, before trying to branch out.
How to improve your foundation.
Now that we’ve determined how necessary it is for you to focus on the core of your business, the question is going to be how to do this.
Well, I’ve learned that there are a couple of ways. And it’s something I’ve been going through myself in the last few weeks. I’m thinking of it as a “business health checkup”.
Ultimately though, it involves asking yourself a lot of hard questions, and giving yourself honest answers.
1. See if you’re achieving the original goal of your business.
We all start a business for a reason. For some, they want to create a community. Others want to give back and make the world a better place. Some want to make boatloads of money. Others want to serve as an inspiration.
Regardless of why you started, ask yourself if you’re actually achieving that goal.
If the goal of your business is to create a community, ask yourself if you’re already doing that before deciding to launch into a new venture.
If your goal is to give back to people, ask yourself if what you’re giving is actually improving their lives.
If your goal is to make more money, ask yourself if you’re already treating your existing clients well.
If your goal is to serve as an inspiration, ask yourself if you have proof that you’ve already done that.
Frankly, I would say that you need to try to quantify these answers as well. Come up with ways that you can measure your success rates. Some places to start might be:
- How many clients have you served?
- How many people have returned for repeat business?
- How much do you make per client?
- How can you increase the profit per person?
- How many people have changed their ways because of you?
Write this shit down and be honest with yourself. If you can measure it you can improve it.
I’ll be honest. When I did this exercise I answered no to almost all of the questions, and I had no way of quantifying what I was doing.
I wasn’t treating clients right because I was distracted by my normal life. I wasn’t serving as an inspiration because I wasn’t writing about what I was learning.
I was really stuck, but these questions were able to help me realize what areas I needed to improve on in the future.
2. Zone in on your current customers and employees.
Wanna know the key to your business?
The people who are already buying your product...and the people who are selling it to them. Without your customers and employees, you wouldn’t have a business, let alone one that’s thriving and can be grown.
That’s why you need to be treating them really, really well. They’re part of your foundation.
The benefits of treating your people well are numerous. If you treat employees right:
- They’ll be happy to sell your product, improving your company’s daily relations with customers.
- They won’t want to leave, reducing turnover costs.
- They’ll talk about your product outside of work to their friends and family, building trust for your service among their network.
When you treat customers right, they become your best salespeople. If they love your product and company enough, they’ll spread your message far and wide to their friends and families without you even asking them to. And because people trust their friends and network more than they trust a random company, you’ll see your sales increase and your customer loyalty grow.
Some ways you can do this?
Improve relations with your staff.
Your employees are the bedrock of your business. And if they’re not happy, you should be very worried.
If your employees feel like they can’t stand behind your company for one reason or another, it’ll show in their interactions with clients. You want your staff members—on all levels—to feel like this is more than just a job. You want them to feel like it’s the best solution to your client’s problems possible, as well as the best solution to their own.
Why? Well besides just trying to make people happy, replacing people costs a fuck ton of money. As written by the Center for Nonprofit Management:
“A study by the Center for American Progress found that, turnover costs are often estimated to be 100% to 300% of the base salary of replaced employee, depending on wage and role of an employee.”
These costs break down to:
- “20% of annual salary for mid-range positions (earning $30,000 to $50,000 a year). For example, the cost to replace a $40k manager would be $8,000.”
- “Up to 213% of annual salary for highly educated executive positions. For example, the cost to replace a $100k CEO is $213,000.”
That’s a lot of fucking money.
It makes sense though. Think about everything that you have to do to bring an employee on. You need to utilize a team or recruiter to find a replacement. You have to then train that replacement. Then you have to wait for them to get their feet on the ground. The whole process can take months to go through, months where you’re paying recruiters, HR teams, and the new employee while ALSO missing out on the productivity of the new employee.
Some ways to think about treating your staff better:
- Get to know your team on a personal level.
- Make sure they have all of the information they need to do their job.
- Throw a party for them. Take them out to dinner.
- Give your employees a raise.
- Don’t work with volunteers or interns until you have a structure for them. Pay people to join your mission—they’ll care more and will try harder.
- Send out an anonymous survey to your team asking for constructive feedback.
Give your customers more
Your customers are the key to your company’s success.
It doesn’t matter how good of a salesperson you are; if you don’t have a quality product or make your customers feel valued, they won’t come back with return business or refer you to their friends. Your reputation can be damaged pretty quickly among an entire network if the customer doesn’t feel like they’re receiving anything of value.
That’s why you want to deliver more than what they pay for. Your brand’s reputation is worth more than whatever it is you’re selling to them, because ultimately new customers are buying into your brand, not the service.
Some ways to do this are:
- Give them a free gift as a “thank you”
- Get some face time: try to understand who they are and what draws them to your company.
- Look for similarities and differences across your fan base.
- Read your comments online and try to fix the negative reviews.
Ultimately, both of these are learning lessons. And you’re going to make some mistakes in both fields (I certainly have). But the sooner you turn these actions around, the sooner you can get your business back on track.
3. Ask yourself if your intended actions will build or hurt your brand.
As I previously mentioned, you might be thinking of adding a new product or service line. But before you do, it’s important to ask yourself if it will help your company’s image or hurt it.
When thinking about your brand, it’s important to think about how you look to your customers. As Adam Kleinberg wrote for Entrepreneur back in 2013:
“In the mind of the customer, you get to be one thing. One...You don't get to be five things. You don't get to be three. If you say you are three things to your customer, you are saying you are nothing. If you say you are three things that your competitors already say they are, you are saying you are less than nothing. Your one thing is the unique value that your brand delivers. Volvo keeps you safe. IBM is building a smarter planet. 7-Up is the uncola.”
He continues with:
“Your customer doesn't care what you want to be. They simply walk through life and perceive things. They don't perceive you a certain way because they're being difficult. They're doing it because they are humans and that's what people do. Just like people make impressions on other people, so do companies.”
You really should go read the article. Every word is gold. Here’s the link again.
The point is that as you grow, your customers will know you for one thing and one thing only.
KFC sells chicken and only chicken. So some customers might go there instead of McDonald’s if they want chicken nuggets. It makes sense—why go to a burger place when you want chicken?
Coca Cola sells soda. They’ve done so for a long time and have become the unparalleled industry leaders. They haven’t tried to break into making food because they know that would confuse the customers.
You can see that some of the best brands in the world stick to one thing. They don’t open their doors to tons of new ideas because they know it will confuse their customers.
That’s the power of focus. When you zoom in on one aspect of the market you can become the unquestionable leader that is known for what you do.
An example of a brand fragmenting is Apple. They started off selling computers that were easy to use and accessible to everyone. They focused on simplicity for the common man—and as they expanded into more products, this core concept remained.
Now however, as their products get more complicated and they’re less focused on providing a high quality product (like shortening the battery life of their phones) their customers are getting frustrated and it’s becoming harder to understand just what exactly they’re selling. Is it computers? Is it phones? Is it watches? Is it a simple operating system? Is in meant for the common person?
Overall, whatever you do should reinforce your brand’s mission and identity, rather than splitting it off.
Overall, your business is your business and you can do whatever you want. But by focusing on your foundation and core values, you can actually create a lot more room for expansion and growth than you think.