Is It Time to Say, “No!” to More People?

You want more customers, right? That’s a good thing. The only problem is that most owners, entrepreneurs and service professionals try to solve that problem by trying to be all things to all people. “You want what? Of course we can do that!”

For example, this year I have a number of clients who happen to be attorneys. When I ask them, “So who do you want to be your target market?” Their answer is usually, “Anyone who has money.”

When I ask them, “Okay, so what area of the law do you want to be known for?” They’ll answer with something generic (note: to protect my clients I’m picking a different legal area), “I want to be known as the go-to-guy for wills and estates.”

“Okay, but could we get a little more specific?” After a few stops and starts, they may say, “… for owners of privately held companies in Montgomery County, MD.”

Now, at first glance that response sounds pretty good. It fits a specific area of the law (wills and estates vs. commercial real estate or IP litigation) and it focuses on a very specific group of people (owners of privately held companies) within a certain geographical area (Montgomery County, MD).

However, within the VERY NEXT breathe, they’ll usually say, “But I can really do anyone’s will and estate planning. I can also do their elder care plan for their parents. Oh, and since I used to be a litigator for the US government when I first graduated from law school I can also do commercial litigation cases. And …”

The Problem With Saying “Yes!” to Everyone

The problem with this approach (and you can find examples of this in every industry) is that when you or I try to be everything to everybody, we usually end up being nothing to nobody. By saying, “Yes!” to everyone, we actually end up hurting our ability to attract more clients.

For example, if you were looking for a restaurant and you wanted to go out for a Spanish tapas meal, would you be more likely to go to a Spanish tapas restaurant or a Japanese/Chinese/German/Italian/Modern American/Mexican/Spanish/Indian tapas restaurant?

In other words, because the “every cuisine on the planet” restaurant was trying to be all things to all people, you and I would probably pass by it because we would assume that no one can be great at all those things. We would assume that most of the food selections would be average at best.

On the other hand, we would also assume that if the Spanish tapas restaurant really specialized in that one cuisine, there’s a higher probability (no guarantee) that the food will be better there than at the “every cuisine on the planet” restaurant.

Or to put it another way, the Spanish tapas restaurant would attract more people who wanted Spanish tapas than the “every cuisine on the planet” restaurant.

Saying, “No!” is Actually A Better Option

Think about this. To everyone who wants Modern American food, the Spanish tapas restaurant is saying, “No!” to them. To everyone who wants sushi, the Spanish tapas restaurant is saying, “No!” To everyone who wants Thai food, the Spanish tapas restaurant is saying, “No!”

In fact, the Spanish tapas restaurant is saying “No!” to far more people than it is saying “Yes!”  But can a restaurant survive being that focused? Absolutely! Here in DC, Jose Andres has a chain of Spanish tapas restaurants called, Jaleo (notice I said, “chain.”). He also has Oyamel which is a Mexican (vs. Spanish) tapas restaurant and Zaytinya (which is a Mediterranean tapas restaurant) along with several other restaurants.

In other words, by not trying to be everything under the sun (just a Spanish tapas restaurant), Jaleo has accelerated it’s growth. And if someone in the DC metro region wants Spanish tapas, there’s a high probability that Jaleo will be top of mind.

But what if Jaleo was just another restaurant? What if it offered a diverse menu so that everyone within a five mile radius could find something on the menu that they would like. What do you think would happen to Jaleo? Exactly! It would cease to be a chain.

Want to Grow? Turn Some People Away

If you want a simple rule, this would be it. You don’t really know who you are, until you have people who, when given the choice, would choose not to use you (and not because of poor service or inferior products or annoying behavior …). Everyone has likes. And everyone has dislikes.

If your business is trying to make everyone happy, that’s a recipe for failure. I learned this early on in my church work back in the early 90’s. We were one of the early rock ‘n roll contemporary music churches. New people would come to our church, become regular attenders and then try to get us to do hymns during our services. My answer was always, “No, that’s not who we are. We do contemporary music with a contemporary sound, which means that if you like our music now, you probably won’t in three years because as music styles change, so will ours.”

Shortly after that conversation a lot of them would leave—which was fine with me because we were being true to who we were. And the good news (fitting with the theme of this post) was that we were also the fastest-growing church in our community during that decade.

In other words, by not trying to be all things to all people, we actually attracted more people than those churches that were trying to do what’s known as blended worship (a blend of traditional and contemporary music). Interestingly, I did ask our music team to try an experiment at one point of putting contemporary music beds behind traditional hymns to see how that would go over. What we discovered was that by blending the two we were alienating both groups.

The traditional music people who wanted hymns weren’t happy because the arrangements we used didn’t “sound” like the hymns they grew up with. And the contemporary music people weren’t happy because the words found in hymns sounded “foreign” to them. Once again, trying to be all things to all people backfired.

So What Does This Mean For You?

If you want to grow your business or organization, maybe the next thing you need to do is to decide, “Who are we willing to say, ‘No!’ to?” “Who are we willing to not put in our target market?'”

Note: If someone who isn’t in your market shows up and wants to give you money for what you offer, great. For ex., back in my old church days, we had couples in their 60’s and 70’s who came regularly who didn’t like the music, but they loved the church and tolerated the music. However, and this is key, we never changed our music (or marketing) for them. They came on our terms.

Likewise, if you were an attorney who did will and estate planning for owners of privately held companies in Montgomery County MD and someone came to you who wasn’t an owner of a privately held company, you wouldn’t have to turn away their money for an estate plan—you just wouldn’t be marketing to the world that you do whatever anyone wants.

Instead, you’d be marketing that you do one thing for one group of people. And chances are, you’d grow your practice far faster than most attorneys who still market that they do it all. If you don’t believe me, ask the orthopedic surgeon who only does rotator cuff and ACL surgeries. Or the sushi bar that only sells sushi. Or the software sales person who only sells charting software to rural outpatient surgery centers

Remember, the more you say “No!” to the everyone markets, the closer you are to attracting more and more people who will say, “Yes!” to your more focused offering!

So to whom (meaning markets) do you need to say “No!” to today?

To your accelerated success!

P.S. If you have a story of how you’ve done this, make sure you share it below in the comments section! (Note: If you’re reading this by email or RSS, click here to comment)