By any chance, have you been following the upcoming U.S. presidential race? (Note to non-Americans, please keep your laughing to a minimum; it rattles the candidates.)
For any number of reasons – nearly all of which I’m not going to get into – it’s been, shall we say, unusual, relative to prior races.
There is one thing in particular that’s caught my attention: This time around, the primaries really matter.
Not just the primaries in general, either. I’m talking about the procedures by which the primaries are conducted and the delegates awarded.
With so many contentious and (often) close battles, these procedures have made a big difference.
Add to that the fact that the rules – in both parties – read like they were hastily agreed upon by a bunch of third-graders eager to turn anything in just so they could hurry out to recess, and it’s all pretty confusing.
I don’t claim to understand most of it.
But I have noticed that on the Republican side, it’s more of a “winner take all” system, whereas the Democrats prefer something closer to proportional allocation.
Which is better? I have no idea.
But I can tell you this for sure: When it comes to getting hired by a prospective client, the “winner take all” model is what you’re up against.
Here’s what I mean…
Clients go outside their organization to hire professionals when they believe they have a problem that they can’t (or don’t want to) solve themselves.
At that point – and it doesn’t matter if they are looking for legal, financial, consulting, coaching, writing, plumbing or whatever type of help – they start looking for the best solution that they can afford.
What’s the definition of “best?” It varies, of course. But however it’s defined in any particular case, the key point is that it’s singular.
They’re not looking for the best three firms that can help them. They’re not giving some of the work to one person and some to another. Like a Republican primary, it’s winner take all.
For you and me that means that coming in second a thousand times is no better than not being considered at all. Only Mr. or Ms. First Place Finisher gets hired – everybody else goes home empty-handed.
As a practical matter, that suggests two things for the way you think about and market your business:
- You need to specialize. The best business advice I ever received was this: “People want to hire experts. You need to become the leading expert in something.”
Will you be perceived as expert by getting smarter, more experienced or more educated? You can try, but that’s difficult, incremental and slow.
Narrowing the field, on the other hand, is way easier, way way faster and way way way more effective.
Don’t be marketing consultant. Be a marketing consultant who specializes in “marketing for child care centers.”
Don’t be a mortgage broker. Be a mortgage broker who specializes in “helping newly divorced women buy or refinance their homes.”
When you specialize in something people (rightly) assume that expertise comes along with it. It moves you to the front of the line.
- Stop worrying about market size. Coca-Cola holds nearly 50% of world market share in carbonated beverages. For them, it matters how big the market is and how much of it they own.
You and I, on the other hand, have individual clients. If I work with 20 clients a year, that’s pretty much all I can handle. Maybe your number is 30 or 40 or even 100. But it sure isn’t 10,000.
So if narrowing your focus – specializing – makes you cringe because you’re worried about “limiting your options,” you’re paying attention to something that is irrelevant.
Your ability to serve the market is so limited (fewer than 100 clients a year) that its overall size is meaningless.
Cutting it down from (let’s say) five million to fifty thousand has zero negative impact and, in fact, greatly increases the likelihood that you will rise to the top.
Here’s the bottom line. In a winner take all world, there’s no such thing as partial credit; either you get hired or you don’t.
Narrow your focus and ignore the people who don’t fit inside of it. With any luck, come inauguration day, we’ll all be cheering for you. (And believe me, given some of the options, I’d vote for you right now.)
- Were you ever in third grade?
- Have you ever run for president of the United States?
- Compare and contrast. Give examples.
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