Nothing is more critical to building a successful startup than figuring out where to focus your limited time and resources.
You start a business full of unanswered questions.
– Who is my target customer?
– What is my most effective sales channel?
– What skills are missing from my team?
Answering these questions is a painful process that always takes longer than you expect.
When you find the answers, however, you gain traction and accelerate your business growth.
This process is called ‘finding your focus’.
In this blog, I talk about the benefits of focus and reveal a simple 5-step process to help you find your focus as quickly as possible.
Focus gives your actions purpose
Without focus, it’s easy to get lost and frustrated.
You end up wandering aimlessly. You try a little bit of this, and a little bit of that until one day, you either run out of time or money.
Either way, your business is dead.
With focus, you experience a clarity of purpose. Making decisions becomes easier because you know exactly what to do next.
You make more progress because you naturally concentrate on the opportunities that are in focus and get the things that aren’t out of the way.
Focus makes most aspects of building your business easier: developing your product or service, creating a sales and marketing strategy, hiring new team members, raising funds or just getting through your ‘to do’ list for the next few weeks.
Finding your focus is so empowering, I wish every business owner could experience it first-hand.
Finding your focus means saying ‘no’
So, why do so many early-tage businesses lack focus?
Because finding your focus means saying ‘no’ to things that could, in theory, make sense.
We all know saying ‘no’ is hard.
The other day, I was helping a client in B2B services set their goals for the next six months. We agreed it was important not to spread the company’s resources too thin, especially during this time of great uncertainty.
We went through a rigorous process to identify the three European markets and the two industries they would target in their sales and marketing efforts: Germany, Austria, UK, and telecom and pharmaceuticals.
“Ok,” agreed the sales director, “but what if we get interest from an energy company in Israel?”
“Simple,” I said. “You say ‘thank you for the interest, but we’re not servicing your market or industry at this time.’ You say ‘no.’”
He didn’t accept my answer.
“What if we miss out on a valuable opportunity?” he asked.
Eventually, the sales director understood that by following up on opportunities that fall outside your focus, you take away time and resources from pursuing the opportunities that support your focus.
Jobs’ new strategy was to produce only four products: one desktop and one portable device each for consumers and professionals.
“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do,” Steve Jobs said. “It’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.”
The result: during Jobs’ first fiscal year in 1997, Apple lost $1.04 billion and was “90 days from being insolvent.”
One year later, the company turned a $309 million profit.
Focus drives opportunity your way
Focus is so powerful because it literally drives opportunity your way.
Some of the world’s most successful people have discovered this power, often referred to as The Law of Attraction.
If you stick to your focus, you start discovering business opportunities that fit your focus. Incredibly, your incoming clients and partnerships will start matching the parameters you set.
Don’t believe me? Try this experiment.
The next time you’re driving around town, pick a type and color of a car. Let’s say, you decide on a red Volkswagen.
As you begin scanning the road, you will discover what an incredible number of red Volkswagens there are on the road. “I’ve never seen so many red Volkswagens in my life!” you’ll tell yourself.
If you pick a focus, you start noticing opportunities that you never thought were available in the first place.
Finding your focus is a process
Identifying your focus will take some time. You will probably need to experiment with a few options before you settle on the right one.
You can try various strategies for a short time, assess the results, and adjust as needed. This is better than simultaneously focusing on multiple options.
When I left my last corporate job as a Senior Vice President at NBCUniversal International, I knew I wanted to do something more entrepreneurial.
I started out consulting in the media industry because it was within my comfort zone. This was fine, but I was bored quickly and realized I needed to make a stronger move into an entrepreneurial direction.
Next, I shifted my focus to new business opportunities in sports and theme parks. These are both areas of personal interest, but I couldn’t manage to get enough traction in either area to build a meaningful business.
Eventually, I realized that my mix of corporate and entrepreneurial experience was quite unusual. This knowledge combined with my expertise in sales and business development made me uniquely qualified to help B2B tech founders sell and market to enterprise customers.
Since I’ve found my focus, my business opportunities have flourished, and my level of personal satisfaction and financial success have grown with it.
Five steps to find your focus
No matter what the context, here’s a process you can follow to narrow down your options until you find your focus.
The key is to create clear parameters by which you evaluate each option, categorize the options into smaller, more manageable bites, and eliminate each option one-by-one until you arrive at a clear choice.
For example, here’s how you can apply this process to find the focus of your ‘To Do’ list.
1. Collect your options
Make a list of all the potential objectives, directions, and actions that come to mind. Make sure it’s an exhaustive list of everything you could be doing in the following few weeks and months. Don’t leave anything out!
2. Categorize your options
Place your options into three groups: must do, nice to do, maybe later.
As you go through each item, apply strict standards to evaluate each one.
Do I have to do this, or am I considering it out of a force of habit? Which one of these steps will have the biggest impact on my desired outcome?
If you’re successful, about 20% of your items will fall into the ‘Must Do’ bucket, 60% will be in the ‘Nice to Do’ group, and 20% will land in the ‘Maybe Later’ category.
Keep the first two groups and set the ‘Maybe Later’ category aside. These are not worth your focus.
3. Identify the options that somehow don’t fit.
Take a second look at your ‘Must Do’ and ‘Nice to Do’ categories.
Most likely, you’ll find items that someone else is more qualified to do or should be doing because it’s their responsibility in the first place.
Either eliminate them from your list or pass these tasks along to someone else. Put a system in place to make sure these items are completed, for example, by setting a deadline or following up with the person later.
4. Choose items that deliver the greatest impact with the smallest effort.
Ask yourself, ‘which of these items, if completed, will enable someone else to take the next step?’
Typical tasks that fall into this category include signing a contract, reviewing CVs for a job opening, preparing a proposal for a client, or responding to a simple question or request.
Every one of these actions, when completed, will enable further progress to happen without your direct involvement.
5. Take immediate action for instant impact.
Pick the top three items left on your ‘Must Do’ list – including those that fall under point four above – and make a commitment to follow through on each one.
Even if it’s a tiny step, take it immediately. Start with the tasks you can complete quickly so you gather momentum.
Once you’ve either completed or started every item on your ‘Must Do’ list, identify the top three items in the ‘Nice to Do’ bucket and repeat the process.
Remember your focus when opportunities come
The true test of your commitment to focus will come when you are presented with an opportunity that is interesting but clearly not in focus. This may be a new type of client, and unplanned geographic customer, or a potential team-member without a clear fit in your organization.
Resist the temptation to veer away from your focus! If you don’t say ‘no’ now, all the time and effort you spent finding your focus will have been pointless.
Make sure you keep this in mind: if you try to do too many things at once you will end up doing none of them well. Instead, commit to identifying things that fit your focus and progress will follow.
I’ll HELP YOU FIND YOUR SALES FOcus!
Apply to work with me and I’ll personally take you through The Launch Code in just 8 weeks.
You’ll learn how to add 3-to-5 enterprise clients to your startup each quarter by focusing your offer and message, building a structured sales model, and executing based on targets.
I’ll tell you about my ‘Online Course‘ and ‘Course + Mentoring‘ options, as well.