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Focus, Too Many Targets, Too Few Bullets

November 26, 2009

In Hollywood’s version of the Old West, the hero gets up each morning, straps on his six guns and goes out and shoots at everything that moves.

Not all that different from our hero of today’s West, the independent business owner. Strap on the guns and head to the office. Never knowing what evils or opportunities the morning mail might bring, our hero must be prepared to deal with them.

There’s one big difference however between the movies and the real world. In the movies, the heroes get to shoot as often as they like. In business, you’ve got a limited number of shots

To be successful in business, you can’t shoot at everything that moves. You’ve got a limited number of bullets and you have to make them count. That inevitably means that you’ll have to let some good opportunities go by. Businesses operate in the real world with finite limits on time, energy, and resources. If you’re not focused, you won’t succeed.

The ability to focus on a specific opportunity is a key ingredient in the building of a successful business. Sure there are a lot of things you can do, but there comes a time when you have to decide what you are going to do and then you have to do it, and do it well. Implementation and execution are where the value is created.

“Too many targets, too few bullets.” That’s the reality that today’s hero must deal with.

You need to focus on your specific market opportunity. The ideal market niche for a business is one that is small enough that you can dominate, but large enough that you can live on. When you find that opportunity, focus all your attention on it.

Invariably that will mean that other attractive opportunities will pass you by. That’s OK, there will always be other opportunities. What’s important is to take maximum advantage of the current opportunity that yields the highest probability of success. If you allow yourself to be distracted by other passing targets, you will jeopardize you probability for success.

It’s not uncommon for entrepreneurs and investors to have different viewpoints on the issue of focus. Entrepreneurs are inclined to “cover their bets” by developing several products in addition to their primary ones. These additional products often are looked upon as sources for badly needed income in the short run and alternative sources of growth in the long run.

Investors want see that a young business is concentrating on the one or two things that they do best without diluting their energy and resources on secondary interests. “Too many targets, too few bullets.”

Businesses that lack focus are reluctant to put all their eggs in one basket. They are concerned that if their main product or market does not develop as planned there will be other products and opportunities to make up for the shortfall. This defensive diversification can quickly become a self fulfilling prophesy as energy and resources are diverted from the primary area of interest. “Too many targets, too few bullets.”

Sophisticated investors and managers know that any company that tries to do too many things won’t be able to do any one thing well enough to excel at it.

There are many businesses that end up being successful in markets different than they originally assumed. That doesn’t happen because they had multiple focuses, it happens because they changed focus based on changing circumstances. The focus can change and often will, but whatever the focus, it can’t be diluted.

New ventures that are focused on one particular product or service which will be sold to one particular market have the greatest probability for success. True, if its the wrong product or service, they may also have the greatest chance for failure. But that’s what marketing planning is all about. If you have done your homework and determined there is a market and an opportunity, you need to focus all your limited resources on that one target.

Two engineers had built a nice small company in the chemicals business. They achieved average, but satisfactory results for their hard work. “Too many targets, too few bullets.”

Over thirty different products were sold to a variety of different markets. With the help of an outsider’s analysis they realized that a half dozen of those products, all selling to the same market, accounted for nearly 75% of the company’s total business.

The partners decided to focus their time and energy on that one market and to let the other products die a natural death. Although they were swimming in a smaller pool, they quickly became bigger fish. Focusing their energy resulted in several new product enhancements and the company more than quadrupled in size during the next three years.

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