By Ian Altman
I love it when everyday life provides a great business lesson. Recently my wife and I learned that our son needs a gluten-free diet. Whereas before we would select a restaurant based on what we felt like eating that day, now it seems that each and every dining decision first starts with “Do they have a gluten free menu?”
What Problem Do You Solve?
I often say that in order to grow your business intentionally, you must be in touch with the problems you solve for your ideal customers. Almost every year for the past 15 years, we take a family vacation to San Diego. Years ago during our San Diego vacation, we first discovered Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza & Grill located near our resort. We first went there because Sammy’s catered to families with young children and offered healthy, creative options in addition to wonderful pizza. Sammy’s has become a favorite spot for our family, but the gluten-free need had us wonder if it would be possible on this trip. However, when we visited their website, we noticed that their menu had a GF icon next to all of the gluten-free items. Sammy’s solved our gluten-free needs perfectly, so they earned our business for many meals during our vacation.
Don’t Just Sell “Food”
By highlighting the gluten-free options, Sammy’s caught our attention. Statistically, sixty percent of restaurants fail within the first three years of business. When we first came to this area on vacation, Sammy’s had one location. Fast forward to today, and Sammy’s just opened their eighteenth location including four in Las Vegas. Even if other restaurants happen to have items that do not contain gluten, the fact that those other restaurants don’t specifically address our gluten-free issue means that we don’t even consider them an option.
How Does This Apply To You
The same principles hold true for your business. If you are a “full service accounting firm” or “full service law firm” or “management consulting company” or “IT consulting firm” you are the equivalent of an apparel store that sells “clothes” or a restaurant that sells “food.” Your differentiator might not involve creating something new. We recently passed a popcorn vendor that displayed a “gluten free” sign. Of course, unless you do something odd, all popcorn would be gluten free. They are just making their position known given the times.
Pick Three Specialties
Sammy’s does not just offer gluten-free items. In fact, if you look closely at their menu, you’ll also notice that they have a “V” next to their vegan items. The vegan customers would similarly notice the vegan options. I’m sure there are other restaurants nearby that also could prepare vegan or gluten-free items by request. Sammy’s makes it clear: If you have a specific dietary need, they will accommodate it with flair. Keep in mind that of our four family members, only one needs to eat gluten-free. But, Sammy’s gets the whole family because they meet his needs.
The lesson is that you need to evaluate what types of challenges you solve for your ideal customer, and then carve out three niches. This does not mean that you are not allowed to offer your services to others. However, by putting a stake in the ground around your specialty, you will stand out from the competition. By being specific, the organizations that fit that criteria already know that your “menu” automatically aligns with their business.
You cannot specialize in “everything.” You also do not need to limit your scope to one area. However, you will find that if you identify three areas of specific challenges you solve, that you can attract a large segment of the market with your “unique” offering. Your firm might specialize in helping government contractors, or family-owned businesses, or companies owned by two or three partners.
It’s Your Turn
What area of specialty do you serve for your customers? Share it in the comments, and I’ll offer feedback for every entry (and I’ll bet others might chime in, too).