Why you grow faster when you do more of less.
When listening to successful entrepreneurs, one ingredient to their success keeps coming back: Focus.
Their businesses only took off, once they stopped trying to help everyone or trying to be great at everything. By doing less, they were able to accomplish more.
Now, I get it. It feels counter-intuitive to focus when you're starting out as a creative entrepreneur or freelancer. It's scary even. Perhaps, it's sometimes even better to at the very start say yes to anything.
And, I don't even like focus. It feels restrictive and I prefer to keep my options open. I enjoy doing many different things.
But! Even I have come to believe that focus is actually great. So, if you're resisting, believe me, I understand.
In it, I'll give you the 10 reasons why it's better to focus when you're starting out. Hopefully, this will save you the years coming to that conclusion on your own.
[This is the first post of a series. Next up, I'll get in to the mental resistance and counter-arguments to focus. And I'll guide you in how to bring focus in your work and defining your niche.]
But first, what kind of focus do I mean?
Broadly speaking, to focus is to know and decide what to do and what not to do. But in the specifics, it applies to a lot of different things. You just know it's going to be hard when the word itself doesn't even have clear focus...
In this series, I'm not talking about focus in the productivity realm: Focusing by not getting distracted and doing one thing at a time. While important, that's not the point of this series.
I want to talk about focus on a strategic level. To strategically cut back the different number of things you do. You can do so in 4 different ways. And even pruning your business in one of these areas will already help you!
1. Market -> "Who's it for?" Bringing focus to who you are trying to help. Are you really gods gift to everyone? Of course not. So instead of being for everyone, you're focusing to help only producers of sustainable cat food.
2. Product -> "What do you help them with?" Bringing focus to what it is you offer. What problems do you want to solve? What's your promise? Can you really do everything related to your field at a world-class level? Of course not. So instead of taking pictures of everything, you specialise in doing product photography of artisan food products.
3. Packaging -> How do you offer your products? Bringing focus to the way you offer/deliver your value. Deciding on the specific products/services you offer and laying out how you'll (and won't) be going about that. "When you ask me to help you with website design, I'll give you Y and Z for €X. And this is how it's going to go."
4. Business Strategy -> How do you grow your business? Bringing focus to the way you choose to run or grow your business. Instead of trying 3 different ways half-heartedly, you really commit to one strategy. "This is the plan for growing my business I commit to".
Ok, focus Tijmen! Let's get back to why we're here. Why should you focus?
Why is focus so great?
Glad you asked. It probably still sounds horrible. I didn't even like it. But I do now. I hate doing it, but I love having done it. It's similar to me as waking up early. Or going for a run.
Wait no more, this is where I'll give you to 10 reasons why I (have come to) believe focus actually helps me!
1: Tailor to specific needs. "I've got exactly the thing for you."
Not everyone needs, wants or believes the same things. Even though you might be perfectly capable of providing value to many different kinds of people. It's impossible to please them all at the same time. Or with the same product.
When you only serve a specific type of people - a group with specific needs, beliefs and wants - you can tailor your product exactly to their specific needs. That way, you'll create a solution that will fit them better.
This comes one step before customising your existing product to the specific client that comes knocking on your door. It's about being one step ahead and crafting a solution that's amazing for only those type of clients.
It's about picking a subgroup and understanding their wishes, circumstances and needs só well that your product really hits home.
Another way of thinking about this, that really gets to me, is: Every time you are trying to accommodate for more people, you're watering down the quality of your product.
Even if my trainings can be pretty good for both freelancers and startup founders, if I'm opening up to both, I'm compromising. It will be twice as good if I make it only for creative freelancers who want to get some business acumen.
And the same is true if sometimes you help these types of clients and then others. So, pick!
Decide to do only logo design for small companies producing skateboard decks. Decide your ceramic coffee mugs are for older families with lime green walls, so you design them to fit exactly with that color. Those specific clients will be all the happier for it.
2: Supercharge your skill improvement
As a freelancer, you already have to learn to do sales, marketing, managing yourself and your own administration. When you insist on offering different products, you put the burden on yourself to be great at an additional craft. And is it possible to be world class at both?
Especially in the beginning, it's better to pick a problem you want to solve (for a specific target group), and to absolutely nail being able to solve that 1 thing.
Sure you have the talent to do more. Or are already pretty skilled at other things. But it's obvious that you'll become world class at one of them much faster if you commit more time to it.
The learning curve of a skill is steepest in the beginning. Dabbling allows you to quickly pick up a basic understanding of many skills. However, the real value - the thing that's scarce - is in making it past the dip to get really good at something.
So don't dabble in too much in the beginning. Pick one thing and make sure you become really great at that.
[There is an argument to becoming relatively good (but not the best), in a couple of different areas. Because the overlap of those areas is still scarce. So, check if that's the case and if such scarcity is valued in your market.]
3: Becoming the advisor
Becoming really good at solving a very specific problem has a second benefit. It makes you the expert. Especially when you've done it successfully a couple of time.
Your relationship with your client becomes one of the advisor. And, that's a much more attractive role than being the technician. He gets told what to do and generally gets a lower fee.
Plus, who would you call when you're in need of something? The one who specialises in large scale outside murals, when that just happens to be what you need? Or someone who paints portraits, and "can also do" murals.
For someone who's boss has asked her to find a solution, it's much less risky to go with the specialist.
Becoming thé one to call for:
- Introductory bio video's for heavy metal bands.
- Flower interior designer for couples with kids with allergies.
- Coaching graduating high school students with ADHD with their decision what (and if) to study.
4: Clarity in your brand
Whether you like it or not, you have a brand. It's the impression you leave with who you interact with. It's everything you do and don't. The promises you make and/or keep, the value you deliver. It's the way you speak, and the way you listen.
And, you're already communicating that brand. And thus, people will have a perception. That perception is probably an unfair generalisation. Because nobody knows exactly who you really are or can do.
The question then becomes "What do you want people to think of you?". And what resources can you spend on that?
You need to get known for something. And something is not everything.
Complexity and nuance require more time, attention or interactions to understand. Given that it's so hard and you don't have those resources, you want to make it easier for them.
A simple idea fits easier in the crowded mind of people. The less you do, the easier it is to understand what you're about.
Doing something consistently makes people trust what you do, and everyone will have the same perception.
Only when people understand what you do, will they think of you when they need your help.
And not only that, it also allows you to recruit them in promoting you. When someone who knows about you has a conversation with someone who needs what you do, you want them to be like "I know just the one". But only when you're specific enough to be retrieved from their memory during the conversation.
So, even if you're capable of more than one thing, what do you want people to remember about you?
5: Super specific communication. It's like you're talking to a human being.
If everyone is your target market, your message needs to cater for everyone. That's nearly impossible to do well.
If you message (brand, website, marketing) is only for a specific group, you can address and speak to their needs, reservations, and values. You can use specific examples and metaphors to show them you understand them. You want them to think: "Hey. Yes! I need that!"
In practice, this means you can also be super specific in the words you use. If your product description doesn't have to be true for everyone, you can move away from the high-level, conceptual, deadweight zombie words, void of all emotion.
That's why every text of a big corporation, government agency or bank will make you fall asleep. Luckily, you don't have to play that game. You can afford to choose a select group of people to talk to and use actual words that resonate.
6: Free up your mental capacity
This one is related to #2. And something, I've learned the hard way. It frees up mental capacity, when you're not trying to cater to multiple different types of clients that all work differently. Not having to juggle different processes. Not trying to learn and embed your skills in different areas.
Can you really remain your quality level at all things at the same time? It's a recipe for stress and mistakes to juggle so many balls in the air.
Being immersed in one thing makes you so much sharper. When you just design logo's for specific types of companies, you know what specific fears clients have in that phase; you know the effects of every little change in nuance in a logo; you know what works to stand out in their industry.
When you just coach starting freelancers, you know what process you generally have to take. And having that on top of mind, allows you to be present with the particular person on another level than free styling. Plus, because you come across so many, you have every resource, tip, best practice at the ready to dole out.
Imaging how much calmer you will be when everything you do would actually fit in your head.
It's refreshing to drop things you don't have to do anymore or have to pursue anymore. Yes, it can be painful not to get asked anymore for certain kind of work. But, it's worth it.
7: The path becomes clear
An additional benefit of focusing on a product and market in the beginning, is that it will give you clear next steps. Once you formulate who you want to reach for what solution, it becomes much more tangible. They become actual companies and people with names.
They meet in certain places. And thus you can figure out where to be in order to meet them. They read certain blogs. So, you can try to write for those. They trust certain people. So, if you can convince those people you do good work, you can earn their trust.
Now you can actually formulate and pinpoint next steps. You can list the 10 optimal clients, the companies or people you need to speak to. It might be an incomplete list. But, when you name these 10 real people or companies, you can think of a way to approach them.
8: People love a tide package
When you're just starting out, you can't use a track record to convince people that you'll actually deliver on your promises. This can be stressful.
One thing that always seems professional and like you have your shit together is to offer a nice, clear package. From the type of product you offer, to the rules you set up in collaborating.
"This is how your problem is best solved and this is how we will go about it when we agree to work together." It's very clear to the client what they can expect.
You're supposed to be the expert. So, they expect you have thought about it and come to the conclusion that this is the best way.
Or, consider the opposite. As a client, I don't want to have to do the work of defining what the options are. I don't like second-guessing. But, I definitely don't like first-guessing. I am hoping you're the solution I'm looking for! If you give a potential client a wishy-washy plan that could go in any direction, you come across as not knowing what's best for me.
And almost every time when I formulate a clear proposal, people agree to it. The success rate has dropped significantly when I ramble doubtfully about the possibilities.
This is of course not an excuse to bluff and just 'do something'. You need to offer quality. But, it helps to pick a way you think is best.
9: Why now is the best time to focus
Picking a niche when you don't have a lot of business yet. It may seem counterintuitive. Doing less when you don't have a lot. It might feel like you can't be too picky because you could use any client.
Though, the good news is: you don't have much business yet. "Wait, how is that good news?" Because, you also don't have much to lose either.
Imagine doing this when you have gotten used to the stability of income flow/the lifestyle. Or when you have people working for you, depending on you. You might think it's hard now, but how exactly will it be easier later?
10: Only a real choice gives real answers
When you can't seem to decide which of all options is best, the only way through that is to make a decision. Ironic, I know.
Thinking about whether or not it's possible or whether or not you'll like it, doesn't give you real answers. Trying to do a few things half-assed, doesn't tell you whether or not you could really make it work.
It's only by trying out one of the options for real, that you'll know! So pick something! Pick one and forget - for now - about the other so you can run a real experiment.
Next up in this series: What mindsets to adopt to circumvent the mental resistance to focus.
Thanks for reading!
I hope this helps you. If so, clapping along or sharing the article really helps others find it too. Both would be much appreciated!
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