Have you ever had it happen, that you’re discussing something obvious with another person who refuses to admit the current circumstances, and insists that things SHOULD be different? Every now and then marketing consultants run into this delusion, usually held by the owner of a small business struggling to stay afloat.

It’s hard to see your business as potential customers do when you’re wrapped up in the day-to-day operation of that business. That’s why you bring in someone from outside – to give you the unbiased perspective you need.

I refer you to a hypothetical small Internet Service Provider in a small town. The town doesn’t matter. The business, as I said, is hypothetical; at least, for the purposes of this article.


It made perfect sense to the ISP owner to add web design services. He hired a designer, and a coder.

Then, he decided to branch into the creation of a web-based software product. He hired another coder, and some (by the hour) highly-educated professional people to write the individual software modules.

And finally, seeing another opportunity, he invested in hardware and software to provide off-site data backup.

Of course, with no dedicated sales staff, people were not lining up to hire his web design, or web-based software, or even his off-site data backup.

His additional payroll started eating away the profits of his original business.

Came the press release.

One day, according to the local newspaper, a large local business contracted an out-of-town company to design its e-commerce web site.

Our friend, the ISP owner, was outraged. “They didn’t even let me bid on the project!” he vented. “People in this town just don’t want to support local business.” At least, that’s probably what he would have said, if this had ever happened.

And had I been part of this conversation, I’d have likely pointed out that the large local business was going to invest a lot of money in their e-commerce site, and needed the assurance that they were getting help from a company that specialized in solving e-commerce problems. I’d have noted that when the stakes are high, only a specialist provides assurance that you’ll get exactly what you need.

There’s a basic problem in marketing your business.

There’s a problem in marketing any business. You can compete as a commodity producer and try to be the lowest-cost provider, or you can be clearly and compellingly unique.

Here’s a hint: only that which is different gets noted, or talked about. Want strong word-of-mouth? Do not be interchangeable with any other company.

Second hint: for incredible word-of-mouth, become known as the solver of one particular problem. Don’t try to be all things to all people.

Put yourself in the mindset of a customer. Say you own a company which deals in vast amounts of computer data, and were worried about the safety of that data. You’re concerned about fire, or earthquake, or even vandalism. You’ve heard of off-site data backup and storage, and you’re intrigued by the possibilities. Will you trust the future of your company to a provider that also does web design? Or will you find yourself inexorably drawn to someone who lives and breathes data safety, 124-bit encryption, and full redundancy?

It’s not the customer’s fault that he isn’t comfortable trusting the ISP to deliver a completely different service. He needs to stop blaming those potential customers who do not feel doing business with him.

The good news is it’s not too late to turn things around.

He needs to dump the web design business, sell off the web-based software product (if he can find a buyer), and set up the off-site backup as a separate company with a qualified salesperson as the separate company’s new manager. He needs to go back to being known for providing Internet service.

At least, that’s what I’d have told the ISP owner, if this conversation had ever actually taken place.