Look at Your Small Business with New Eyes in 2017

By John R. Aberle | Small Business Management

Jan 03
Graphic for What Business Are You In?

As you move into 2017, does your vision and definition of your company serve you for success in the new year or have you limited yourself by your limited view of your own small business or entrepreneur operation? Ask yourself, “What business am I really in?”

Graphic of “What Business Are You In?”

The Railroad Story

In July 01, 2004, Ted Levitt wrote “Marketing Myopia” for Harvard Business Review, Ted Levitt gave examples of how describing your business too narrowly can radically impact the future of your business and its ability to survive. One of his stories is particularly well known. Levitt described the railroad company board meeting where someone suggested they get into air freight. The chairman got really upset and made it clear to everyone, “We’re a railroad company!”

For decades, railroads have struggled in a world increasingly defined by overnight delivery and trucks that can go everywhere. What could have happened had the board defined themselves as a transportation company instead? Today they might be thriving with overnight delivery as one of their services and another being the trucking company to pick up shipments from their trains to deliver throughout the region. Or, they might have pioneered the container concept that is now used on ships then loaded onto container carrying trucks for delivery from the seaport.

Cartoons or Entertainment

Think about Disney. Walt Disney could have been satisfied with being the king of cartoons, especially full length feature cartoons. However, he saw a wider vision. He was into helping people experience his cartoon characters so he created a family-friendly theme park. Gradually, his company expanded their self-definition to being an entertainment company.

Fast Food or Real Estate

If you ask yourself what business McDonald’s is in, what would you say? Fast food? That’s the common perception about McDonald’s. However, Ray Kroc, the founder of the McDonald’s chains allegedly on said that McDonald’s is in the real estate business.

This is because of the advice Sonneborn gave Kroc in 1956 when he pointed out that the money was in real estate. The company eventually bought the land and buildings for the franchise location then leased them back to the franchisee.

Keeping Your Brand Flexible without Losing Focus

With all of this talk about what business are you in, notice that each of these business examples is truly about sticking with related businesses. Trying to be all things to all people is a disaster. You do need to remain focused on your ideal customers, ones you can write an ideal customer profile for. You need to understand what their problems, issues or desires are that you can solve or fulfill for them. Then you need to speak to those concerns in such a way that they fell you understand them – and that you have the solution they need and want.

The issue here is that you need to avoid being too short-sighted. What self-image for your small business or entrepreneurial endeavor allows your business brand to be broad enough for upsells and growth yet still focused on your ideal customers? For instance, if your core business is musical instruments, you could offer an upsell for a summer music camp or summer concert tour through Europe. On the other hand, a dude ranch vacation might not fit naturally as an upsell.

As we roll into 2017, look at your small business with new eyes. Are you properly focused on your ideal customers and their problems while avoiding being scattered? Does your brand definition allow you upsells and product growth while keeping you core focus? If so, 2017 should be a successful year for you.  

To receive information regularly on how to develop and apply strategy to your small business, get your free e-course, “9 Steps to Finding Prospects Who Want What You Providenow.

Open your heart in selling,

 John's digital signature written with mouse
​John R. Aberle

Aberle Enterprises


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Do you love taking care of your customers and prospects? If you yearn to build more long-term business connections with your customers, get your copy of the Amazon Kindle eBook:

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About the Author

I have a strong love for small businesses, especially brick and mortar companies. After an 18-year career in sales and marketing, I started my own service company, which I grew in both sales and profits for the first five years. In my sixth year, the bottom dropped out of the printer market such that it made more sense to sell my assets and return to Southern California. There I went to work for an international small business consulting company. I spent over three years on the road with them helping small businesses to become more profitable and better managed. I then started my own company specializing in sales and marketing consulting, coaching and training. My emphasis is on heart-centered, relationship selling that empowers prospects to make their own choices.