April 20, 2018

You might actually have to care

Picking a vertical makes good business sense for a generalist looking to increase the value they deliver to their clients. But picking a random vertical in which you have no connections seems like a recipe for failure.

If you’re like a lot of people I talk to, you might now be thinking:

But.... I don’t have any meaningful number of connections in any vertical other than software development.

People say this to me all the time but I have a hard time believing it. I don’t know how functioning humans make it to adulthood without hundreds of connections from family, school, work, church, professional organizations, etc.

Sure, your network of direct connections might not have critical mass in any particular industry, but every single person you know probably has hundreds of connections.

So if you can pick a target market, you can almost certainly have a trusted third party intro you by sending a message to everyone in your contact list like:

“Hey there! Quick question: I’m looking to talk to people in $targetMarket for $goodReason. Know anybody you could introduce me to?”

Of course, this requires requires you know what $targetMarket you want to explore.

And herein lies the rub.

When I first started coaching, my advice was “pick a target market that you are passionate about.” I’ve eased up on this advice over the years, but am coming back around to it now.

Someone who has a purpose or mission or vision or passion or big idea doesn’t need the “circle of friends” thing as a starting point. They have something deeper.

It seems like few people I talk to believe that they can make a business based on something that they’re passionate about, but... what is the alternative?

If you just want to make money, open a laundromat.

Let’s zoom out to the big picture

I think there’s a fundamental mindset of service that needs to exist at the core of any business that is meant to be successful long-term.

And if you don’t have a mission and/or don’t have a cohort with which you are empathetic, then maybe you’re not ready to start a business just yet.

If you DO have a mission, however, it makes a lot of business stuff soooo much easier...

So pick just a mission, right?

Well, no.

You can’t fake a mission. You actually have to care.

Here’s a timely (mostly) non-software example from my life that might help illustrate what I mean:

About 2 years ago, my wife got bit hard by the knitting bug. Fast forward a year and people were asking her for help with their knitting, which she freely gave. A few months later, she was asked to start teaching classes, which she did. A few months later, the owner of the store where she teaches asked if she’d start handling their social media. Soon after, they asked her to set up and run an e-commerce site for the store.

My wife is tech savvy but not a web dev so she asked me for help with the e-comm strategy and tactics so we had a meeting this morning with the owner of the knitting store (who happens to be a retired pediatrician).

I asked the owner of the store:

“There are plenty of knitting stores around. Why did you open YOUR store?”

She thought about it for a second and responded:

“To create a sanctuary for people who were going through personal or family health problems and want to escape into knitting.”

I was like, WHOA! Great answer!

So sure, she makes money selling knitting supplies. but she has a mission that informs every business decision. Everything from what products to carry, to how to furnish the retail space, to the color palette of the website.

Maybe it’s a function of my advanced age, but I just can’t seem to find away around the “actually caring about something” requirement in my own work or that of my students.

Once the “What do I care about?” question gets answered, things like picking a target market, making new connections, and finding ideal clients tend to fall into place as if like magic.