When I work with entrepreneurs, the first questions they ask are always about the details of running a business; how to prepare a budget; how to market their activities; and how to be more efficient. The focus of the questions is on hows, and I appreciate that there is a lot to learn. But before entrepreneurs learn the hows, they first need to clearly and precisely define what problem the business solves.
WHAT PROBLEM ARE YOU SOLVING? On the surface a simple question, but one that is surprisingly difficult for some entrepreneurs to identify. It is worth the time and agony to be clear about the problem and your solution because it is the bedrock of your new business. Your marketing decisions, your budget, your staffing plan, your inventory selection, all the ‘hows’ decisions you will make must help you solve your customer's problem. So first, define the problem, put all the energy and attention into providing a great solution, and that will determine your business plan and your future success.
I am currently working with a passionate, smart, persistent new business owner. His dream is to build a successful company that serves his customers with integrity and value. That was why he started his business. For a year he focused on an extensive list of hows; he found the perfect space, ordered high-tech equipment, bought supplies, and spent hours learning and becoming accomplished. The fun of working through the logistics consumed him while he happily experimented and ended up creating a wide variety of products.
When he finally turned his attention to selling his products, his enthusiasm for starting a business was replaced by confusion and frustration. Despite a few sales on eBay and a random custom order from friends and families, sales were elusive. Like so many entrepreneurs he had allowed working through the hows of starting a business to distract him from clearly defining what he was in business to do. As a result, his marketing plan remained undefined, his product mix scattered and he was wasting time and money trying first one thing then another. His business venture was becoming an expensive hobby.
I had been with him on this journey and watched as he chafed at suggestions to focus on providing just one solution. It felt too confining, it meant saying no to other options; but chasing too many rabbits, pursuing too many options was proving to be expensive. The breakthrough came when he acknowledged that did not have the time, the staff or the money to continue to play in all possible markets. He realized that he had to decide what customer problem he wanted to solve and put his energy and focus into providing that solution.
He now has a clear, simple marketing plan, and is taking steps every day to put that plan into play. He will spend the Summer, and early Fall communicating his solution to targeted customers and he is moving forward with confidence and clarity. He has focused his time and his resources to solving one problem very well.
The old Indian proverb, “Chasing two rabbits means you lose both,” is true. Stay focused on defining the problem and your unique solution and make that your North Star. Broadcast that solution via a thoughtful marketing plan, build a budget to support this solution, and gather resources that solve this problem. A robust solution to a small problem is the foundation of every successful business.