Most small businesses stay small. For some, it’s an intentional choice made for the sake of focus, flexibility, or the love of providing high-quality, relationship-based service to a very particular community. But for those small business owners who do hope to expand, development can be stunted when the team starts chasing growth in all the wrong places.
When you strip away the layers, it all comes down to darts.
Imagine a dart board: a bull’s eye surrounded by a series of wider and wider circles. The bull’s eye is where people just like you hang out. They’re the people (or businesses) directly impacted by whatever problem your company is focused on solving. They’re usually your first customers and are your most likely audience to become raving fans if you do the job well.
The further you go outside of your bull’s eye, though – the more disconnected your audience becomes from the problem you aim to solve – the less those prospects will resonate with either the pain point or your proposed solution to it, no matter how inspired or effective that solution may be.
So why do entrepreneurs target prospects outside of their bull’s eye at all? When you’re a self-funded start-up, you’re scrambling — just trying to bootstrap your way to a company. You don’t have a lot of money to invest in traditional marketing, so you rely on word-of-mouth and referrals. If you’re taking any connection you can get, you often end up pitching ideas to people far outside your bull’s eye.
Sometimes these prospects may actually be experiencing the problem you’re trying to solve, but they exist in a slightly different space or context than your intended audience – pretty close to the center, but not the bull’s eye. They like your product or service but want to add a little tweak to it: a customization or a different version. You don’t see the harm in making a change, and start to adjust your offering to accommodate the customers outside your bull’s eye.
Your new (slightly-outside-the-bull’s-eye) customer tells her friends how great you are and how willing you are to listen to your customers, and she refers a prospect even further outside your bull’s eye who, again, asks you for another tweak.
Making these changes to your original product or service to accommodate customers outside your bull’s eye seems innocent enough at the time – customers are customers, after all! – but eventually, it undermines your growth.
To grow a business beyond your efforts, you need to hire employees (or build technology) that can do that work. As humans, we’re usually pretty lousy at doing something for the first time but can master most things with enough repetition.
Think about teaching a toddler how to tie their shoes. It’s a new skill, and their tiny hands have never had to make bunny ears before. The first few attempts are usually rough.
You break it down for the child and show them how to master each step. It can take weeks, but eventually, they get it. As adults, we don’t even think about tying our shoes — we’ve mastered the skill by repetition.
The same is true of your employees. They need time to master the delivery of your product or service truly. Every time you make a tweak for a new customer existing in a context outside your bull’s eye, it’s like you’ve changed their muscle-memory process of tying shoelaces. It’s disorienting for everyone and leads to substandard products and services, which customers will be less than enthusiastic about.
Having unhappy customers often prompts the owner to step in and “fix” the problem. While some founders can indeed create the customized product or service for their new, outside-the-bull’s-eye customer, those that succeed are making their company reliant on them in the process.
A business reliant on its founder will stall out at a handful of employees – when the founder simply runs out of hours in the day.
The secret to avoiding this plateau and continuing to grow is to be brutally disciplined in only serving customers in your bull’s eye, often for much longer than feels natural. When you want to grow, the temptation is to take any revenue you can, but the kind of growth that comes from serving customers outside your bull’s eye can be a dead end.
What other smart, simple choices and attitudes can help your business thrive – without requiring you to have your fingers in every single pie?
May 25, 2023