What’s more rewarding than seeing your business take off and sustain success? You do the legwork, you line your ducks in a row, you jump into the market and see this dream of yours up and running right in front of your face. You’re on cloud 9 in those first years, only to find yourself hitting that three or seven-year-itch. It’s a juncture where you know something must change to reignite energy and growth from an unsettling plateau.
The problem is you end up shooting in the wrong direction, often from angles that aren’t profitable, halting the initial momentum to a standstill.
The itch for renewed growth signals the need to regain focus.
So, what’s the best way forward? It’s common for entrepreneurs to spend a lot of time on expansion efforts that simply don’t work, proving fruitless and all the more frustrating. I find that people with this experience tend to suffer from a lack of focus, not only on how to go about revenue expansion, but also around their brand’s value. Is it possible the way forward is a return to basics - to regain clarity on what makes your brand unique, accessible and important?
The problem of gaining revenue and the problem of lack of focus are not unrelated dilemmas – they are, in fact, connected.
A great example of this is Kenneth.
Kenneth, a first-time business owner I worked with recently, talked to me about achieving his dream of starting his own cleaning service. While he enjoys running his own company, a few years in, he found the business in a place where it needed to grow. Eager to expand his clientele, Kenneth advertised his cleaning company with several online quote services in hopes to garner new and reliable customers that would help the company grow. What followed was the last thing he needed - waves of unqualified leads that demanded time-intensive dialogue, only to provide little turnover. It wasn’t working. The time and money lost was clearly discouraging.
I asked Kenneth, “What do you love about your company?” He thought for a moment and then responded, “I love making people’s lives easier.”
“And who are some of your favorite customers?” I asked him.
“My corporate clients,” he said. I inquired, “Why?”
“Well, my corporate clients are very consistent business, which is good for both me and my employees,” he told me. I knew we were on our way.
A pathway to growth can be found by taking time to re-examine your company’s value. Clarify your brand's personality, mission and values to help you focus on the right target market. After all, it’s your brand that informs your decisions, actions, and messaging. Taking off with a misguided plan without a fully defined brand isn’t a good strategy, costing you time and money you can’t afford to lose.
I urged Kenneth to be more specific, to help him figure out in further detail specifically why his corporate clients were favorable for quality business. He informed me they were reliable, which was important for keeping operation costs down. He also felt they were doing these offices a real service by making their lives easier with flexible, after-hours availability, allowing their workday to run more smoothly. After some thought and reflection, it was clear to Kenneth that working with third parties that cater to mass, national consumer audiences was not where he would find success. He worked to fine tune his business for the corporate market, distinguishing his brand by adding cleaning experience and payment method customization to match business needs. By focusing on the “corporate customer” rather than the “cleaning,” Kenneth was able to hone his business to a pain point and market that would not only characterize his brand, but more importantly, allow his potential customers to easily see his service was the right fit for them.
Lack of focus can be stressful and impact the well-being of the business owner. The implications are wide-reaching, including loss of time, confidence, and scarce resources. Instead, achieve focus by establishing a set of guiding principles. Ask yourself the following questions to help you define those principles and further clarify your brand:
How would you describe your ideal customer? How does your product or service make them feel?
Why are you in business? What do you aim to solve? What makes you happy?
What is your measure for success? What needs to happen for you to feel a goal has been achieved?
While going back to basics may be the last step you want to take, it can inform future decisions, which can help you move forward with confidence. Your brand and its story can help inform website content, sales strategy decisions, and a tighter social media strategy.
Kenneth made it past his three-year-itch with a brand better positioned for expansion; a brand that connects with its audience, stands apart from competition and is known for being authentic and distinguishable. By going back to basics to regain focus, he was able to make better decisions based on his guiding principles rather than on rash, unorganized impulses.