How Many Hats Can a Person Wear?

You are working hard on designing your brochure, business card, or the home page of your web site, when suddenly it hits you: “I’m trying to offer so many things that they won’t all fit on the page! But there are so many kinds of work I can do, and I don’t want to limit myself…”

This dilemma affects much more than the words you select for your marketing materials. To begin with, when you choose a particular line of business to pursue, you aren’t limiting yourself, you are packaging yourself.

According to an advertising industry study, the average American sees or hears 2700 marketing messages per day. If you want your marketing message to stand out, it must be brief, clear, and memorable. Giving people a long list of things to remember is a sure way to have them forget everything.

You need to find one sentence, listing no more than three items, that describes in a nutshell what you do. Here are some examples. Rick Evans of RAE Consultants describes himself as a “coach, trainer, and facilitator.” His programs and services “improve workplace effectiveness.” Erin Ferree of Elf Design helps companies “increase their visibility and improve their image,” by offering “logo, print, and web design.”

These three-item lists, along with a simple tag line, are easy to remember. Many people who hear about you will not be ready to do business with you right away, so you want them to remember you when they ARE ready.

Consider one of the typical ways you might promote your business — introducing yourself at a networking event. If you introduce yourself as a graphic designer, desktop publisher, copywriter, art director, and production manager, people will go to sleep before you’re through. But if you tell them, “I design and produce annual reports and employee publications for corporate clients,” they may even have a lead for you.

Marketing is not the only reason you need a business focus. One of the most common mistakes small business owners make is to start off going in several directions at once. The start-up years of a business are stressful enough without diffusing your energies in this way.

Having too many balls in the air will use up both time and money, the two most precious resources you have in business. The true path to success is to begin with a strong foundation in one area, then branch out to others as you become more established.

If you are having difficulty choosing where to focus, consider the problem from two different points of view. First, which type of work do you most want to do? What is the most satisfying and enjoyable? What will allow you to best honor your personal values, and work with people whose problems and goals you care about?

Second, what will allow you to make the kind of living you would like? Which markets most value the kind of work you want to do? Who can afford to pay what you need to charge?

As with many things in life, your business focus will often be a compromise between your personal desires and practical considerations. But don’t compromise too far. Look for ways to get most of what you want all in one place.

For example, some people focus on offering their services to socially responsible companies, while others choose to pursue only those clients who truly value high quality work. Your best bet is always to follow the path that YOU feel the most excited about.

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