We are on Post 2 of our Lean Startup Series and now that we have covered the basics, we are going to move onto the first aspect of the process that we are going to be talking about.
Focus: it seems like a no-brainer in business. Honestly, most of you are probably thinking that this is something you know. It make sense. However, in this case focusing involves a lot of things that you may not have thought about.
In a lean startup, you need to have a narrow focus on your product or service. Know what you do and don’t go over that. Many businesses try to get as many products or services out as possible, without truly narrowing down what they are trying to do. This can end up costing you a lot of time and money and ensuring that you never have a clear vision.
Develop a Mission
To start with, if you don’t already have one, develop a mission statement. This may seem like something only needed for nonprofits, but it can be very valuable in a for-profit venture as well. You need a direct plan for what your business will be providing. If you just decide that your goal is to make money in any way, you are going to end up chasing dollars all over the place and never reaching true success.
Once you have that mission statement, live by it. It can absolutely change, but you need to have that goal to be working towards. It should guide not only your product and service offerings, but also your marketing strategies, expansions, your process, even the tools that you will use to complete your work.
Sometimes that may mean that you need to be outsourcing some work. If it does not fit within your mission statement, but still needs to get done, having someone else do it may be your best option. In a lot of businesses and nonprofits there is this idea that if it isn’t part of your overall mission, it can be an afterthought.
For example, if you were running an antique shop, you would probably need to use technology to run your business. Your mission statement for that shop may be to purchase and resell quality, high-end, antique products to customers in your region. That statement has nothing in it about running a website or appraising products. It also does not include anything about constructing a store, manufacturing a cash register, producing lightbulbs or electricity.
Of course, nobody would think that it would be a good idea for the antique shop to do any of the second set of activities, however, many businesses will take on things like managing a website. In this case, this store might also hire someone to do appraisals. Both of those things are activities that could be done by the antique shop, but it would likely be more cost efficient at the beginning to outsource those jobs to experts who can provide those services to many different companies, keeping their services cheaper for you and being able to concentrate on that specific type of trade.
With TownCrafter, I see companies and nonprofits all the time handing off web design duties to employees who have no experience, because they are young, or because they love using their phone or are good with computers. That is not focus. Having your employees, who are trained in your industry, do things completely outside of what they know and what your mission is, is a mistake. While it may seem to be saving you money now, it isn’t. Outsourcing to another company will save your employees time and allow them to do the job you hired them to do. Another company, who hires employees to do web design can accomplish those tasks a lot faster and better than your company can do it in-house.
In the end, when you don’t keep your focus, you end up sacrificing quality. When you move from the things you specialize in and get broader, you end up doing the new things poorly from lack of experience and you lose time to do the things you are good at. Your whole process suffers and you lose money.
Within the lean startup, you must have priorities and you need to keep your purpose in mind. Every business exists for a reason and you have value to offer. Keep that in mind and don’t go chasing after opportunities that do not fit. It will not end up paying off in the long-run.
In some cases, you may need to make some changes to your strategies. Your focus may need to shift and you may need to tweak your mission statement. If that is the case, don’t simple change how you do things. Really look at what your organization needs and make a clear plan as to how things need to be changed. Then communicate that message to your staff and your customers. It has to be a coordinated effort to be effective. The beauty of the lean startup, however, is its ability to change. The reason it can change though is that you have that focus and can make the real change, rather than allowing your plans to fall apart and your vision to fall away.
It may be helpful to look at customer demographics. If you have a website, any good IT maintenance company should be able to give you visitor statistics from your site that you can use in decision-making. If you find that your organization is appealing to a large number of people under the age of 25, you may want to change your marketing strategy to target younger people. Just because you already have those customers, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pay attention to attracting them. It means that you found a market you can be successful in.
That may mean making a change to your mission, or just a change in the way you have your staff do their jobs. Also remember in this though that you do not want to attract everyone. There is very little chance that your product is the best option for everyone, so target the people who need you, not everyone in the world. Keep your focus.
Use the Right Tools
One of the worse mistakes you can make is to try to make do with the wrong tools. If you have your focus and you know what you need, get the tools you need to be effective. While the goal of a lean startup is to keep your costs low, it also requires you to actually be able to start something up. You can’t do that with the wrong tools. Don’t pay for things you don’t need, but also don’t let yourself be slowed down be ineffective tools to save a few bucks. It is going to cost you in the long-run.
Use benchmarks to make sure that you are making progress and staying focused. If you aren’t making your goals, look at what would be needed to do so. If that means you need to outsource a process, tweak your mission, or make some purchases, you need to think about it and make the decision. Above all else, you have to find your focus.