I think one of the hardest things to do as entrepreneurs is to maintain a narrow focus amidst all the things that are competing for our time and attention. Do you all agree with that?
What should I be working on? What’s the most important thing? Where do I commit my time? How do I stay motivated? How do I measure it all? All those questions, right?
I remember starting out, I was all over the place. Now I think I can say that a part of that season in my life served me because there was a LOT that I had to learn. There was also a LOT that I had to try and fail to get myself going down the right path. Does that make sense?
Because think about it, there have to be seasons of struggle. You have to experience failure. Otherwise, if everything I had given my time and attention to had experienced any level of success, how would I know what things to let go of and which things to narrow in on?
I remember some aspects of my business early on that I thought were going to be the core of my future prosperity, and I was so off base. I really went all-in on a lot of things.
What’s funny is that I remember going to a network marketing conference in my first year and had the opportunity to take part in a small group Q&A with a 7-figure earner in the company.
I remember being super eager and excited to tell them ALL THE THINGS that I was doing and get their feedback about how I could succeed at it all. Their advice was sobering, and I actually wrote it down.
This is a snippet of my notes from that session in 2016 titled “Thoughts from Tracy”
“It sounds like you’re a little all over the place, and not focused on any one thing that will produce results for you. I’d pick a single thing that satisfies your short-term objectives and make a plan to spend an intense 3-6 months on it, and then execute on it a minimum of 3 hours per day (ideally the first 3 hours of the day). Since you need money, it should pay you in the short-term. You’ve got several different skillsets that could get you paid, but you need to commit to one of them for 3-6 months to build a good reputation, get money coming in the door, and gain lessons from that area. Then pick another project after that, once you’ve got some regular income flowing. Too much of everything results in too little of anything, and that’s the #1 reason why startups fail.”
Sobering right!? This was the best advice I could have ever received! It was exactly what I needed to hear and two weeks later was when my mom challenged me to start live streaming. I found my focus point, and for 6 months that was my one thing. And it changed my life.
The bottom line is that I stopped trying to do so many different things at once and I shifted my focus to something that I knew I could develop into a very lucrative skill. I knew it was my best shot and clearest path to creating income, building a tribe, and gaining valuable experience along the way.
There’s a great Oprah Winfrey quote that says “You can have it all. Just not all at once.”
The first, most important, and typically most difficult step to finding focus is setting clear priorities because it forces you to decide what you really want and subsequently what you probably need to live without.
It reminds me of one of Courtney and I’s favorite places to eat out (pre-covid) was an upscale buffet in a casino that we have near by. Their Sunday buffet is just nuts. They have every delicious entrée that you could possibly imagine and everything is first class.
When we would go, we would really have to make up our minds about what we want most because it’s just not possible to have everything, and if you have too much of everything you’re going to get full and possibly miss out on what you REALLY WANT.
This is where many fail, afraid to reject a good alternative for fear that the loss will deprive them of some essential ingredient to their future happiness. As a result, they pursue too many things at the same time, achieving few or none of them.
This was how I operated early on. I was afraid to eliminate ideas and focus on a clear path for fear that I would surely miss out on some game-changing opportunity. I was trying to dabble in too many areas so I wasn’t having measurable success with anything.
So with that in mind, here are 3 of the best tips I can give you to help you narrow your focus and do your single most important thing.
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1) Vertical success vs. horizontal success
A lot of startup businesses fall into the trap of attempting to compete across multiple segments of their target market. But success doesn’t require you to serve all segments. It just requires that you serve one well. This is the difference between horizontal success and vertical success.
Very few businesses are able to achieve real horizontal success, although many attempt it because it has the illusion of being the most profitable strategy, even though horizontal players statistically struggle to be profitable. Even the big ones!
Take General Motors for example — General Motors is a horizontal player if there ever was one. They make just about every type of vehicle known to man; cars, trucks, suv’s, big, small, short, wide. They’re catering to EVERYONE. That’s horizontal.
Now think about Porsche, a car company that focuses on one vertical segment of its market. And for most of the past few decades, GM has been one of the least profitable car companies in the world. Guess who has been the most profitable? Porsche.
Vertical positioning challenges you to focus on truly understanding that narrow niche consumer, developing the best possible product to meet their need, providing premium service, and usually, collecting higher fees.
This is why the premium brands in categories from golf clubs to outdoor furniture are niche players, not a convenience store. The very definition of excellence is to master something in particular. It’s not only impractical for a business to attempt to be excellent at everything, it’s also pretty much impossible.
So, narrowing your focus starts with a vertical business plan.
2) Narrow is not the same as small
A lot of entrepreneurs struggle with equating “narrow” with “small.” I’ve heard it so many times. “But Justin, if I narrow my audience it will be so much smaller. How will I ever attract enough people to make money?” “If I condense what I offer and limit my services, how will I ever get to the point of having multiple income streams?”
Narrow and small are two completely different concepts. To have a narrow business strategy doesn’t mean you’ll have a small business. Quite the opposite. Think about Starbucks, Starbucks is narrow – they sell coffee – but they have a global footprint few companies can match. Do you think they would have achieved this kind of market penetration as a “full-service restaurant?” Not a chance.
And even in the conversation of Starbucks, they didn’t start out with the expansive menu that they have today with all the edible add-ons like cake pops and breakfast pastries. They started out specializing in what they believed they could go vertical with. Great coffee. Only after they mastered that and established their position in the market, they started to expand their menu and offerings.
Beyond size and profitability, the most focused companies tend to also be the most valuable. Apple is the most valuable company in the world, yet carries one of the narrowest product lines of any company in the Fortune 500. Interesting isn’t it?
So how can we apply this to us as small business owners? It is more essential than ever to truly define what you want to be known for. It can’t be everything.
Again, to be excellent in your business is to master one thing in particular. Then expand one segment at a time once you’re ready.
I started out only designing logos.
Then I added more branding services.
Then I started selling branding packages.
Then I added digital products.
Then I added a fee-based community.
Then I added website development.
Then I added more targeted specialty services that my clients were requesting.
Then I added mobile app development.
All of that was over the span of 6 years. Branding has always been my specialty and still is my core service above anything else. Everything else I have added over the years has been a support to my core and to position me as the go-to expert in my field of business with an all-inclusive service. When you hire me you don’t need anyone else for your branding, tech, or business development.
So what’s your core? Do you want to offer a very specific and unique service (like branding for me) to 1:1 clients? That’s how I started, and that’s what I mastered.
Do you want to be a digital content creator that specializes in mini-courses?
Do you want to be a creator of duplicatable systems that people can invest in to save them time or help them make money?
Do you want to be an author or a speaker?
Narrow is powerful, and it’s also the quickest way to grow beyond being small. It’s also the quickest way to get past collecting pennies for your time and actually acquire premium clients who pay premium fees.
Now for your third and final tip.
3) BE DELIBERATE
When I began to figure out the impact of being deliberate and being intentional, that’s when I really started seeing a shift in my momentum.
Every day I discipline myself to sleep 8 hours. (which doesn’t happen if you aren’t committed to an evening routine.)
Every day I am up at 5:00am and no snooze button. (even with a newborn in the house.)
Every day I give myself a 2-hour “warm-up” time to set up my day which includes my quiet time with the Lord.
Every day I work a minimum of 3 hours on my single biggest business priority.
Every day I also commit intentional time for general life stuff (what I call my breath portion of the day) which helps me stay sane and healthy.
I also commit specific time to connect and spend time with my family. (I have a very clear cutoff point every day.)
Instead of feeling like a complete workaholic (or a complete failure depending on the day) my life suddenly felt way more purpose-driven and I am so much more focused (and productive) than ever before. Because I’m balanced.
The key components to being able to maintain this routine successfully are..
I plan my day out the night before so I know exactly what I need to accomplish.
I go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
I eliminate “annoyances” in the evening so I can be hyper-focused in the morning
I almost always complete 90% of my workload for the day in the first 7 hours of the day (by noon) which opens up my afternoon and evening for flexibility.
Be deliberate in your routine.
Be narrow with what you offer.
And be vertical in your strategy.
The 3 absolute best tips I can give you to help you narrow your focus and do your single most important thing.
That’s what I’ve got for you today Crew.
If you’re stuck and you know it, I challenge you to reach out to me.
If I had the opportunity to go back in time and tell myself one thing in the early stages of my business, all I would say is “Get help sooner.”
I didn’t. I tried to do it all myself. And listen, there’s nothing wrong with being a do-it-yourselfer. I think that’s a natural trait of an entrepreneur.
The problem comes when you are a do-it-yourselfer AND. IT. SHOWS.
Get help sooner. Invest in the tools, training, and support you need to accomplish the things that you’ve been unable to do on your own.
I guarantee it’ll change everything.
Cheers and be great! ~ JC