"And", and how it can kill your business

Focus is extremely important when starting a company. It is easy to think that the best thing to offer your customers is everything they need. I mean wouldn’t you want to be the one stop shop for someone’s needs so they can keep wanting to come back for more? Unfortunately, that always sounds great in theory, but in reality it’s a concept that kills. McDonald’s does burgers, and even though now they have a fish fillet and a McRib now and again, they are a burger joint and when they started and took off they did burgers better then anyone in the biz. After a while they added more products to stay current and further saturate their market but they had to start somewhere, and dig into the dirt. Creating a business on the sidelines often gives people a chance to improve on a big company’s ideas, but they neglect to realize how long it took for the company to get there and build their brand off of doing one thing great.

The mishap is much like a sub shop that notices that people on their lunch break often needs copies made, so they become a sub shop and copy center. Would you eat at a sub shop that does copies when you want subs and vice versa? The problem is everytime you add an “and” to a sentence about what you do when you are a growing company you are devaluing each individual thing in that claim by half. I mean if one person is great at flipping burgers and they put all their time into that skill what happens when that same person makes shakes? Well you can hire another person for the shakes, but the problems still trickles up — now the manager must be great at spending half his time on managing burger flippers and half of his time on shake makers. Make your core your focus and do that one thing better than anyone in the world. If you find yourself using the “and” in your value prop raise a red flag.

Another way to think about it is that often times you try to increase value with increasing your offerings. So you say we are a company that focuses on the very best linens (but then you think how do I get the linens to the customer so you continue on) … and we deliver the linens to your door. What just happened there is once you started thinking about alternative ways to increase the value of your company you have inadvertently admitted that the “fine linens” part of your company’s offerings isn’t good enough to stand on its own. I have the finest linens – [period]. I am so focused and great at making fine linens you will want them – [period]. It rings stronger and internally, in every conversation and meeting that comes up if the discussion doesn’t ultimately improve the quality of your fine linens don’t waste your time talking about it. Every new offering (if you want it done well) deserves all the attention it needs and will suck attention from another offering unless you have the brand, management, money, exposure, customer base to help carry you onto something else.

You just can’t avoid it no matter how smart or hard working you are you will give your customers mixed signals, employees diffused objectives and passion, and a mitigated product that can’t compete with a rival that could spring up and do everything they can to be better at one thing than you. Information gets around quickly and people know how to manage multiple systems, if they can save time by finding someone who does something important better than anyone they will use them in no time.

Note: I should make one more point. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have new ideas, just recognize that the new idea will need focus and attention and if you think your original idea/business isn’t good enough to stand on its own you should decide whether to keep the old business or shift focus completely to the new one.

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