Freedom of "No"

Saying no can improve your brand: Being everything to everyone can be as detrimental to growth as being too specialized

One of the most common mistakes in business is trying to be everything to everyone.

For any company, the lack of a clear organizational structure, an overly eclectic product mix and unfocused communication of the brand and its messages lead the firm's audience—current and potential customers—to perceive the company as an indistinct blur.

Rightly or wrongly, such companies often are considered to be unable to provide high-caliber service in the areas deemed important by the customer and, perhaps worst of all, indistinguishable from everyone else.

The truth is, nobody can do it all. And even if you think that you can, your customers won't.

They are looking to fill a particular need, and they are on a mission to find the best. They want experts and specialists.

Your customers want to imagine that you and your staff pore over every minuscule detail of the product or service for which they have engaged you, striving for nothing less than perfection.

Positioning your firm as a “one-stop shop” or adding products and services outside the perceived expertise of your firm doesn't communicate precision, dedication or commitment to excellence. It says that you are interested in growth for the sake of growth, which is the opposite of a client-first mentality.


Although you can shape and manage your brand, its essence actually lies in the minds of customers and prospects. When your audience thinks of you, what do they perceive?

What is at the heart or core of your company in their minds? What do you stand for?

When interviews with a company's clients reveal that they can't articulate any kind of essence for the brand, it is usually because the firm itself hasn't communicated (or doesn't know) what makes it special, distinct or better than anyone else.

The first step in establishing or strengthening any brand is determining where the company is performing best.

What are its inherent strengths? What made it great in the first place?

Long-term customers will have strong insights, so start by asking them how you can serve them better. This won't raise alarms; your questions demonstrate that you are being proactive in providing them with exceptional, personalized service.

Other valuable resources are loyal customers who recently left. If you have the courage to ask, these people often will provide you with the hard truths that can help you realign your firm internally and then project that redefined brand essence outwardly.

Once you have determined where your core strength lie, put 100% of your resources, focus and energy into developing and advancing it. That means starting to say no to everything else.

That won't be easy. Turning away potential revenue goes against a successful business person's nature.

Will you lose some business if playing to your core strength isn't what some of your clients want? Perhaps, but part of determining how to create distinction in your market means knowing what kind of business you need to turn down.

That is a natural function of homing in on a target market.

More important, the business you may lose wasn't right for your firm in the first place. In its place, you will gain new business in your sweet spot: business that is more enjoyable, more profitable and more appropriate to your long-term goals.

You will also build stronger, long-term customer relationships.

The consistency that comes from concentrating your efforts and being selective grants your organization the opportunity to explore, design and fine-tune its processes for most efficiently and effectively delivering on its core offering. When you can communicate expectations to clients more clearly, your firm has a much higher probability of being able to deliver on its claims of providing superior products and services.

By simply saying no, your company can enjoy more stability across the board, creating a healthier company culture and the external perception of a secure and thriving brand.