Three reasons your business is not taking off
Have you ever wondered how airplanes fly? It’s obviously not simple, but there’s a very simple principle that makes all modern air travel possible - air pressure differential. An airplane’s wing is shaped like half a teardrop. The bottom of the wing is relatively flat, while the top is shaped a bit like a teardrop. When the plane moves forward, air flows across the wing. The distance the air has to flow is further over the top of the wing than under the bottom, which means air has to flow faster over the top of the wing. That higher speed causes lower air pressure over the top of the wing - and the higher pressure under the wing is literally what lifts the plane into the air.
Just like that principle makes air travel possible, there are principles that will help your business take off. Ignore or violate these principles and your business will never go very far or very high - or take off at all.
In this article we’re going to look at three reasons your business may not be taking off - and the principles underlying them. The reasons are:
you don’t have a well-defined target market with a well-defined problem;
your messaging is not clear; and
what you’re selling is difficult to buy.
These three reasons - and the principles underlying them - are directly related to the three building blocks of the Tornado Method: your Business Model, your Brand and your Product Ladder.
Reason 1: It’s not clear what you do - or for whom you do it
Have you ever visited a website that says: we do strategy, or we do branding, or we do marketing? And here’s the list of services we provide; and here’s how it works?
If this is you, it’s all very nice, and you may even get some business - but chances are you’re never going to have a great business. Here’s why:
If your target market is not clearly defined, it’s going to be difficult for you to find potential clients. The market is so big that you can’t clearly define where you can find your clients and your marketing is going to be ineffective because you’re competing in a crowded and noisy marketplace with hundreds or thousands of other service providers.
On the flip side, it’s going to be difficult for your potential clients to find you. You’re just one more voice in a crowded marketplace, and chances that your message is going to be heard is pretty slim.
So how do you stand out?
The easiest - and best - way to stand out is to specialise. There are two parts to this:
you specialise in a very specific, narrow, well-defined market niche; and
you specialise in a very specific (preferably expensive) problem in that market niche.
When you specialise you will by definition be working with a smaller market segment. A smaller segment is easier to find (because it is better defined) and it’s going to be easier for them to find you (because you specialise in businesses just like theirs).
Similarly, when you specialise in solving a particular problem you’re going to stand out more - because you specialise in that problem. And if the problem is an expensive one for your clients - one they’re willing to spend money to solve - you have a better chance of success.
The principle at work is:
Solve a well-defined problem for a well-defined market niche. The more expensive the problem is for your clients, the more valuable your services.
This is the Business Model building block of the Tornado Method.
Reason 2: Your messaging is not clear
It’s amazing how much you can tell about a business from their website.
An engineering firm in town has a website that has some pretty pictures across the top with key phrases cycling with the pictures. The phrases include things like “environmental solutions”, “the power of us”, “expertise, agility, capability”, and so on. The rest of the front page is devoted to corporate announcements.
Just by looking at the website I suspect that they’re in trouble (they also happen to be a public company and yes - they are in real trouble given where their stock price is).
I don’t know all the reasons this company is in trouble, but their website is not helping. Imagine that you’re a potential client visiting this website. The front page is a complete waste of your time - you still have no idea if they can help you. If you’re really interested in what they have to offer you’re going to have to dig - but chances are you’re going to move on.
To build a successful business, your messaging has to be simple, clear and concise. It has to be immediately obvious what you do and for whom you do it, and if you really want their attention you need to be clear about which problem(s) you can solve.
If you don’t adhere to this principle you’re making it difficult for potential clients to understand that a) they should be interested and b) why they should be interested. There is so much noise out there - and by not being clear about what you do, and for whom you do it - you’re just part of the noise.
Your messaging is not clear if it’s all about you
Another key sign that your messaging is not helping is when it’s all about you. If your website is all about the services you provide and the advantages of working with you versus working with someone else - it’s not helping. Here’s why:
Visitors to your website go there because they think you may be able to help them solve a problem. If you talk mainly talk about the products and services you provide you’re missing the reason potential clients visit your website - to find out if you can help them solve a problem.
So your website has to clearly state what problem(s) you solve and for whom you do it on the front page - your products and services should come later.
Of course, your website is not the only way your message gets across
But your website is probably the one place where your messaging has to be super-clear because you’re not there to clarify any misunderstanding. And if it’s not clear on your website it is probably not going to be clear elsewhere.
In the Tornado Method, your messaging is encapsulated in the Brand building block.
Reason 3: What you’re selling is difficult to buy
Even when you specialise in a well-defined market niche to solve a well-defined problem, you have to compete on a number of other levels to sell your products or services.
Aside from the other service providers out there, you have to compete for your client’s attention and understanding (they’re busy) - and you have to deal with the relative lack of trust when you first deal with them (they don’t know you).
If your services require that your client spend a lot of time with you to figure out how you can help them, you’re making it more difficult for them to buy from you. If there are conditions that will suddenly increase the price you’re adding a barrier to buying from you.
Every time you add friction to the sales process you increase the time it takes to make a sale and decrease the chances of making it. Your costs of sales goes through the roof, the time you’re spending selling goes up and your revenue potential drops.
So you have to make it easy for your clients to buy from you.
You may already know that I’m a great fan of productised services. The concept is that you package your services just like you would package a product - with a fixed price, fixed scope, deliverables and so on. You package your services so that you have an entry-level product that is relatively easy to sell - and buy - and you offer higher-end products if and when the client is ready for it.
In the Tornado Method this is the Product Ladder building block. The principle here is:
Make it easy for them to buy from you by making it clear what you’re selling. Package it in such a way that it is easy to buy the first time so you can build trust and they can come back for more.
And you should not even have to do “discovery” sessions for free either. Package them as roadmapping sessions that deliver real value to your potential client - and reinforce your value by not giving away your expertise for free.
Why do we struggle so much with getting it right?
You just have to look around you to see how many companies still get these principles wrong. Here are some of the most common reasons why:
We’re too close to the problem. When we build a business we’re so close to the problem we’re trying to solve that we find it difficult to see what it looks like for our clients. What we think should be obvious very often is not - at least not for our clients. The solution? Ask a friend. Or a potential client.
Innovator’s bias: When we have an idea for a business we fall in love with the idea. In fact, we’re so in love with the idea we think everyone should want the solution we’re offering - but we forget that we’re (usually) not our own clients, so our understanding of what they’re struggling with is not as clear as it should be. To get around this, we need to leave our ego’s at the door and go ask our clients.
We’re not good at everything. We’re each good at our field of expertise - whether that is social media management, or project management, or helping techies speak business. But we’re not equally good at crafting messages, or designing websites, or building a product ladder. The trick is to recognise where we need help - and then ask for it.
I’ve mentioned Philip Morgan in my blog posts before - he runs Philip Morgan Consulting where he helps technology professionals with their positioning - effectively defining their target markets and what they do for their clients.
Philip has compiled a list of specialisation examples - you can find the list here.
There are three principles you have to get right to get your business to take off. They correspond to the three Building Blocks in the Tornado Method:
Business model: Solve a well-defined problem for a well-defined market niche. The more expensive the problem is for your clients, the more valuable your services.
Brand: To build a successful business, your messaging has to be simple, clear and concise. It has to be immediately obvious what you do and for whom you do it, and if you really want their attention you need to be clear about which problem(s) you can solve.
Product Ladder: Make it easy for them to buy from you by making it clear what you’re selling. Package it in such a way that it is easy to buy the first time, so you can build trust and they can come back for more.
Planes use most of their fuel during take-off
On short flights, a plane can use as much as 25% of its fuel to take off and reach cruising altitude. The actual amount of fuel required is quite complex (just adding more fuel increases the weight of the plane which requires more fuel to get where it’s going) but the principle remains.
The building blocks of your business (Business Model, Brand and Product Ladder) is what you need to take off and climb to cruising altitude. If they’re not fit for purpose you won’t get where you want to go. But get them right and you will take off faster - and reach cruising altitude sooner.
What to do now
Here’s a simple exercise you can try to determine if your building blocks are fit for purpose:
Rate yourself (or rather, your business) on the following questions:
Is your target market clearly defined?
How clearly defined is the problem you solve for them?
How clearly do you state this on your website?
How easy is it to buy from you?
One of the best ways to determine your target market - and the problem you solve for them - is with the 15-Minute Vision & Mission Guide. You can learn more about it here.