A while back I sat in on a board meeting at a business that wanted to grow its revenue by 10K per week in the coming year. In the slide presentation that informed the meeting was a pie chart broken up by categoric sales for the year to date. This chart revealed that more than 50% of revenue for current year had been generated in three categories of sales, while nine other categories each claimed only a sliver of revenue.
Basically, picture a pizza cut twelve ways, but three pieces are half the pizza, and nine are the other half.
When the slides were over and discussion opened up for how to drive sales in the coming year, the first several ideas that bounced around the table had to do with adding more sales categories—more products to sell. Some of the ideas were good. Some were even very good. But while more and more ideas were added to the pile, something very obvious seemed to be getting overlooked.
“What are we doing about capacity to do more of our best-sellers?” I asked.
Given who was in that meeting, and the kinds of conversations we’d all had with one another previously, I kind-of thought that my question would return with a we-had-that-conversation-in-another-meeting response. Instead, I watched as the board members around me blinked and took in the question, opening their mouths to speak every couple seconds but then not saying anything.
That one question took the rest of the conversation in a whole new direction. Give the people what they want. The business could do more of what it was already succeeding at, just learn to do it better, and in that simple process increase revenue exponentially.
As much as it stunned the few people in that meeting, the idea was nothing new. Chalene Johnson of Build Your Tribe calls this “finding what drives the needle in your business.” If you’re in business to do business, then when you discover what drives the needle—what causes your business to go from a 5-mph crawl to cruisin’ right along—you put the pedal to the metal. You pursue that thing. You put a hold on all other things and concentrate your efforts in that area until you can afford to fiddle around with other possibilities.
Hilary Rushford of Dean Street Society is a great example of this. Her story goes that her business coach had to sit her down and ask her if she knew why she was so exhausted. “You’re doing twelve things!” said the coach. “You only need to be doing two!” The next year, Dean Street Society dropped ten products and increased revenue 500%.
Simplify, simplify, simplify. This ought to be the mantra of every businessperson in the world. Not only does simplicity help ensure a stabler business, keeping the creatives behind the scenes sane; it helps keep the consumer engaged, as well.
Consider the restaurant that offered a mozzarella and tomato panini for the first six months it was open, then switched this vegetarian option to a roasted beet sandwich on a falafel roll with feta sauce and carrot tahini slaw. I can tell you from experience that the beet sandwich was mind-blowing—but it tanked on the menu. It had too much going on. Visitors to the restaurant said to themselves, “I like falafel, but I don’t like beets,” or, “I like beets, but I don’t know how I feel about having them in a feta sauce.” Or even, “Tahini slaw? What’s tahini doing on a—what’s a falafel ‘roll’?” The sandwich wasn’t simple. It didn’t send a clear message. No one wanted it. The BLT, on the other hand, did exceptionally well, as did the roast beef on rye.
This idea can be difficult to grasp in the same way that when you want to lose weight, a healthy diet and regular exercise seem “too obvious.” It can be especially hard for creatives. But it is an imperative lesson to learn. If you can’t master simple things, how can you expect to manage a business attempting complex things?
Simplification starts with IDing what’s working and what isn’t. Is there something in your business that clients keep asking for but you don’t offer? Do you have the capacity to do it? Is it within your brand to do it?
Is there a product you offer that you consistently sell out of? Could you offer more? What would it take to do that? Could you set up an action plan to get you there?
Sometimes we think that we have to come up with something fresh and exciting to propel new life into our business, but really all we need to do is focus on our strengths. (Sometimes we need to focus on making it easier for clients to get what they want.) Eliminating the products or services people don’t want to make room for the ones they do will mean higher revenue. Cutting down the costs to offer that product or service is another way. Building on the foundation of a single product can be another—i.e., if your business sells a legendary doughnut, specialty versions of that doughnut might be more successful that deviating to making muffins.
And do YOU think? Do you see this in your own business, or a business you love? I'd love to hear. Come on over to Instagram and leave your comment @alexisthegreek.
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