8 Ways To Re-Invent Yourself In A Crisis – 6. Narrow The Hourglass

Business owners are being forced to re-invent their business in one way or another as the pandemic continues to impact our lives. Adjustments have had to be made to the way we all operate.  I work with a training business that has pivoted from having all face-to-face training cancelled to selling online training. Even working from home can make a business owner reconsider how the business operates. One Yorkshire business I know has found that home working is just as good as being in an office, so they are talking to prospective employees in Scotland and the Ukraine!

How Will You Re-Invent Your Business?

This article is number six of a series that I’ve  been writing to suggest different ways of re-inventing your business if Covid-19 is forcing you to have a rethink. In each article I refer to businesses I personally know plus I will refer to the ultimate outcome of a business re-invention: a successful sale of the business.

I have also done some re-inventing in my business. Switching my peer group from monthly half day meeting with breakfast butties to bi-weekly 2 hour virtual meetings supplemented by a tea, coffee and biscuit gift pack sent in the post! I have also set up a Free Virtual Peer group to support business owners for the period during lockdown. Check it out for a taster session.

The story of those business sales will be told by John Warrillow, the founder of the Value Builder system, through his podcast series, Built to Sell Radio. John has consolidated 8 of his ‘re-inventing’ podcasts into an eBook, 8 Ways To Re-Invent Yourself In A Crisis, available to download here.

So, what is the sixth way of re-inventing yourself?

This re-invention is a build on way 1 (do one thing) and way 3 (strategically prune).  Focusing on a niche sector or niche product is critical to growing a valuable business. This fifth re-invention adds the marketing focus, especially for a start-up. In the early days of doing business you may offer additional services beyond your core offer just to get cash in. This re-invention is about keeping your marketing focused so that you feed the growth of your core offer.

That’s something many of you probably do in a form already and have escalated in the few months of lockdown. Exploiting social media and social support to promote your product or services. But does it work for you?

So the sixth way to re-invent yourself is…

Narrow the hourglass – focus on one offer that attracts more clients

‘I’ll lose sales’, I hear you say. ‘now’s not the time to reduce my offer’. Re-invention 1 was about focusing on what you are really good at and sticking to it. Well, a follow on from that is that when you put all your marketing effort into that one offer, you will probably see a sales increase. Here’s the thinking:

  • Focusing on what you are good at and becoming the expert is a really simple marketing message. You build up credibility, trust and differentiate yourself from your competitors;
  • Because you focus on one offer you will know who are wrong-fit and who are right-fit customers, making marketing and sales activity much clearer. You can quickly jettison conversations with prospects that don’t meet your absolute criteria for an ideal customer;
  • People who refer you to prospective clients have only one message to think about when talking about your business – you become the dream referral.

How Aater Suleman Did It

The story of Aater Suleman emphasises how to make that single-offer focus work. His business, Flux7, focused on helping businesses exploit the technology of Amazon Web Services (AWS).

It’s hard to say no to sales, frankly, when you’re a small business owner with a few employees, people that you have to pay and you have to put food on your table. It is always hard to say no, it takes a certain amount of restraint and discipline to be able to say no and continue to focus on the single offer.

Aater talks about his desperation index. Essentially, when his business was short of sales and cash he assessed his desperation index as being high and would widen his offer just to get work. When times were less tight and the desperation index was low then he was much stricter of the type of work and client he took on. So, in the early days not all Aater’s business was AWS work, but he found the constant focus to make it 100% of sales eventually paid off.

Going to the effort of writing down where you put your focus and your customer qualifying criteria really helps. “This is what our focus is going to be” does not mean that you have to say no to everything else, you can still be a bit dynamic about it. But the difference is, it’s how you go to market. It’s how you introduce yourself that should focus on your area.

Aater built the company from 2 guys with laptops to 70 employees in the space of 7 years. So, when it was two guys on a laptop, the sales offer was very wide at the top, ‘I’ll take any project, just give me some money, we’ll make it happen, right’. But then his business got very, very narrow for the next seven years. They became the best at AWS implementation, and then, the aperture started to widen like the bottom of an hourglass as they took more and more work on that met their focus. So many business owners start at the very top and they get really wide and never go through the narrowing process.

He successfully sold the business in 2019 to a Fortune 500 IT giant.

Aater Suleman was interviewed by John Warrillow, author of Built to Sell: Creating a business that can thrive without you. John is also the host of Built to Sell Radio, a regular podcast revealing the stories and advice of business owners who have sold their businesses. Listen to the full interview with John.

A Local Story

One business that is much smaller and closer to home for me is Swan Energy, based in Slaithwaite, near Huddersfield. Swan was started by Andrew Park, who had years of experience as an engineer and energy manager at the likes of ASDA. When he started he offered a range of energy-related services such as audits, energy buying, permit applications, etc. He soon decided to focus on one service that:

  • He understood well and could quickly become an expert in;
  • Allowed him to build a recurring revenue model;
  • Could be developed to have product-like features.

That service was consultancy support to large organisations that are obliged to report under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS). As the scheme requires annual reporting and external verification, Swan works with its clients throughout the year in readiness for the external verification visit. The proof of the support for that visit is a standard reporting pack for the client to give to the external auditor. Andrew’s team also do that type of external audit work so are experts in how to make an auditor happy. That reporting pack has become a strong marketing offer – ‘the power of the pack’.

The result is that Andrew’s hourglass narrowed very much onto offering EUETS consultancy and growth has followed. The hourglass is now widening. During the current Covid-19 Swan Energy has continued to pick up EUETS clients and recruited staff to support that growth.

In my next article I will be introducing Scott Moore who invested in himself to open a restaurant chain in a recession and eventually sold out for over £25million. In the meantime if you want to see what our peer group is all about register here.

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