Shape up and ship out

After several years working very hard on my first business venture, an experienced mentor and friend drew me a simple diagram to demonstrate how to run a much more effective company.

“It’s all about getting the shape and direction right” Chris said, taking his pen off the paper and sitting back in his chair. I peered at the illustration. None the wiser I looked up at his smiling face and asked him to explain.

What he told me influences my thinking everyday…

Getting to Lands End

And Chris’ explanation also reminds me of the time I journeyed to Lands End with a friend who liked the idea of hitching but she didn’t want to travel to Cornwall alone. The distance was about 350 miles but other commitments meant we had to get there in a day (I had to be back in Nottingham the following evening).

When I hitched alone I normally just stuck out my thumb to passing motorists. However, given the distance, time constraints and novelty of the destination for this particular trip, we decided to create a clear sign with the obvious words ‘Lands End’ in large black ink. We knew we might put off some people who might otherwise have picked us up, but the idea was to only attract motorists who were going in our direction.

And it worked a treat! From the very first hitch at 8.40am (on Junction 26 of the M1) people going our way were drawn to the sign. We travelled by motorway around Birmingham and down to Exeter and then along ‘A’ roads to our destination. We arrived dead on 6pm.

The Lands End journey was a real success because we were very focused both in terms of what we wanted to achieve and how we appealed to people who might offer lifts. We were surprised by our speed and efficiency especially as we were travelling as a couple. However, if I had known the fundamental principles that Chris taught me years later, the swiftness of our journey should have come as no surprise.

So what did the drawing look like?

Chris drew the bow shape of a boat (see image above). And in common with so many solutions his accompanying explanation was remarkably simple.

Focus is everything in business

“Businesses that have a sharp focus not only progress quickly but actually draw the market to them. They know where they are going and offer something different and appealing in a very clear manner – and this marks them out from the crowd” Chris explained. “In contrast, so many businesses have a flat bow end and spend way too much money and time trying to sell and market their product or service – and progress is laborious because customers can’t distinguish them from the rest.”

Chris’ diagram and explanation went onto underpin the whole strategy for Venture Simulations Ltd and the creation of the business simulation ‘SimVenture‘. By understanding the market and competitor activity in detail it was possible to design a product that when accompanied by appropriate pricing and promotional strategies, cut through the market in a highly efficient and effective manner. Today, most of of new customers find us before we find them and the business has become a global leader within 4 years of launch.

Key Learning Points: Great businesses are ruthlessly market focused and everything they do is driven by customer demand rather than product need. Adopt this approach and your business will find success far more quickly.

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