“I’m having trouble building a website for my business,” a student told me. “The web designer I’m working with says I’m trying to do too many things, and I shouldn’t put it all on one site. But there are so many kinds of work I can do, and I don’t want to limit myself.”

When you have a problem like this, it affects more than just your website. Consider that when you choose a particular line of business to pursue, you aren’t limiting yourself; you are packaging yourself.

The average citizen of the developed world sees or hears hundreds of 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, plus no more than three “labels” that describe what you do.

Here are some examples. I often introduce myself with: “I help self-employed professionals land more clients. I’m an author, speaker, and business coach.” An image consultant I met said she “helps real people get dressed,” by offering assistance with “colors, clothes, and closets.”

These three-item lists, along with a simple sentence, are easy to remember. Many people who learn about you will not be ready to do business with you right away, so you want them to remember you when they are ready. You also want them to be able to refer you to others.

If you’re not convinced how important this tight focus is in marketing, consider one common way to 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 for corporate clients,” they may even have a lead for you.

Marketing is not the only reason you need a narrow 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:

  • What 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 self-employed professionals focus on offering their services to socially conscious companies, while others choose to pursue only clients who value quality work. Your best bet is to follow the path that you are personally the most excited about.

C.J. Hayden, MCC, CPCC, is the author of the bestseller Get Clients Now! A 28-Day Marketing Program for Professionals, Consultants, and Coaches, Since 1992, she's been helping entrepreneurs survive and thrive. C.J. is the author of five other business how-to-books, and has taught marketing at Mills College and John F. Kennedy University. Find out how you can work with C.J. as your business coach or strategic advisor or attend one of her upcoming programs.

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