How To Make Your Business Last

Here’s a guest post on making your business last by Joel Fortner. He specializes in helping entrepreneurs be better marketers, and is the author of the blog, Get Serve Keep. You can guest post as well. Read how to here. Oh, and there’s something very special only for ChrisLoCurto.com readers at the end of this post!

Chris LoCurto, Leadership, Business, Strategic Planning

Once a business is up and running and revenue is steadily coming in, the last thing you want to do is put it on cruise control.

Besides finding ways to optimize and grow it, you need to figure out your plan to make the business last.

This weekend I was doing a marketing audit with small business entrepreneur Bret Wortman of Somerset Penworks and long-time reader of Chris’s blog, and he told me a story you must hear!

The Story

Years ago, Bret used to frequent a bar in the Washington D.C. area that served very high-quality beer. He was a beer judge back then so he knew quality when he tasted it.

During a visit to the bar with some friends and fellow beer judges, they ordered a round of draft beer that had a bad flavor. They all immediately knew what the problem was – the keg lines hadn’t been flushed well when they were last cleaned.

They alerted the bar tender to the issue, and instead of thanking them, he told them they’re wrong and the lines are fine! Quite taken aback, they told the bartender they’re all beer judges, and they know what they’re talking about.

But the bartender wouldn’t have any of it. This situation came on the heels of several other major missteps during their visit.

Fast forward a few years, Bret said he popped into the bar and it had changed. They were now offering happy hour specials and food, put in dart boards, and other stereotypical bar offerings.

The owner was chatting with him and another customer. The owner asked what they thought about putting in a pool table.

The one customer said he thought it was a great idea, but not Bret, who told the owner that putting in a pool table would be the end of the bar.

And here’s the priceless lesson for you.

The Lesson You Must Remember

Bret basically told the owner that the bar had lost its identity. Years ago, it was the THE place for top quality beer and it appealed to those who sought it out. That was what distinguished it from competitors.

Over a few years, they lost their way and did what so many panicking entrepreneurs do. They broadened themselves thinking they’d appeal to more people, and over time they diluted the brand. They no longer stood for anything.

What the owner should have done was gone back to the basics of what made them popular in the beginning and hyper-focused on being the best at that one thing.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, gave this a name – the Hedgehog Concept.

In the book, he tells a story about a determined fox and the simple hedgehog. The fox keeps coming up with new ideas to eat the hedgehog, but the hedgehog easily defeats him by doing his one trick: rolling into a prickly ball.

If you want your business to last, be a hedgehog.

Question: Are you practicing the hedgehog concept well?

Only for ChrisLoCurto.com readers, click here to sign up for a FREE recorded videocast of Chris LoCurto on how to make your business last! If this isn’t enough, the first 25 people to sign up get an incredible gift!

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50 thoughts on “How To Make Your Business Last”

  1. Love the story! Just headed home from PA where I taught CE classes to 300 real estate agent along with certification as military real estate specialists – one of the things I spoke on was the discipline of maintaining your “why” – your cause – your mission. Because it is easy to lose your focus in the daily grind of work. It requires HARD WORK and accountability. Sounds like the owner of the bar did not want to be held accountable for the quality of his service. Great post – thanks!

  2. Thanks for the information, I haven’t read Good to Great yet but I may have to get it now. We have numerous discussions on this subject here, and some people feel it is best to accept every opportunity if it will make money. But I have been trying to push back and explain that we need to focus on our expertise and become recognized experts in this field. I believe the first step in doing this is to define what your vision and mission of the company is, which should show you were to focus.

  3. Great story. This even applies in the nonprofit world. When I first started at this ministry, they were trying to help in so many ways that few were done well. Over the years, we’ve focused on narrowing down how we help families, and refer clients to other agencies for some things. As a consequence, we aren’t spread so thin and we do what we are known for really well. Thanks for a great post Joel!

  4. The hedgehog concept was my favorite takeaway from Good to Great. If we apply this focused intensity rather than pursue the next shiny object, we will have better chances of growing a lasting business. Entrepreneurs tend to have a superhero mentality and we think we can tackle everything because the client wants it. I’m working hard on this concept at my job and at my own business ideas. Great post, Joel!!

  5. I almost hesitate to add this, but the final chapter in the story was that the following week, this formerly outstanding establishment closed its doors forever. The owner caught up with me and gave me my mug from the “mug club” and a few other pieces of swag and thanked me for telling him what no one else had. I don’t know that this prompted him to close down, or if it had been in the works all along, or if the bank forced his hand, or what. I do know that, in the end, those words meant something to him, even though I can’t claim that I had any deeper wisdom about business or marketing at the time.

    Way to distill my overlong story into its core essence, Joel! Goodonya!

    1. I hate to hear this story Bret! We’ve all seen this before and it always stings when a great restaurant / bar loses it’s greatness and eventually closes.

      It’s even tougher when the owner is really trying, but just doesn’t see the light.

      It always makes me wonder if I could have done something differently to get their attention.

      Anyway, hopefully this bar owner will learn from this experience and re-open a better spot. Looking forward to a part 2. 😉

    2. hahah, “way to distill my…story” great pun Bret…
      I think thats a great end to the story. Drives the point home. It shows alot that the owner would thank you for sharing your opinion!

  6. Great post Joel!

    It’s funny how people on the outside of a business can often see things clearer than the ones running it.

    It’s one of the reasons I believe in ongoing surveys (in the beer case, comment cards would work). Either way, direct AND anonymous communication with customers is a great way to understand their needs & concerns.

    On a side note, I also believe in this for leadership / teams. Giving people a chance to voice their concerns without the threat of conflict is the only way to uncover the truth.

  7. Hi Joel… this is something I struggle with and your post was a good reminder for me to continue to be vigilant.

    Our hedgehog circles are focused around being good storytellers. I always do my best to remain true to that, but it’s hard to turn down other video-related projects as well.

    Entrepreneurism… nobody said it’s easy, but I think you’re right that we need to remain focusing on what we’re best at.

    –Tony Gnau

    1. Tony, I don’t know a single entrepreneur who doesn’t struggle with this especially early on. I wonder if it’s because we see opportunity and we want to pounce, create something and get paid doing it. I know for sure it’s exciting.

    1. That should be on one of those witty pictures everyone posts on facebookt these days, “When you don’t say no to some things, you’re really saying maybe to everything. Then nothing gets done” with a picture of a person looking completely frazzled and worn out! Disheveled shirt, messed up hair, crazed look in their eyes…
      you get the picture I think…

  8. Awesome post Joel. Although, I must say, and I feel like I can, because Bret and I are friends (I think), but, doesn’t “beer judge” sound like a marketer’s term for “drunk” or “bar fly”. hahaha. Totally joking Bret 🙂
    You’re right though, Entrepreneurs are notoriously ADD, so when something works and they get successful they see the next shiny object and immediately want to into that industry, or that product or that service as well.
    So important to know your purpose…not only the “yes” of purpose, or what you do, but also the “no” of purpose or what you do NOT do.
    Great Post my friend!

  9. My Uncle suggested I read Good to Great so I picked it up over Spring Break. I’m about 2/3 of the way through it. I read this post and started to think “man, that bar could really use some hedgehog in their business plan…” and then you made that exact point.

    I love when that happens. You read something then hear a true story that emphasizes the principles the book illustrates.

    Great stuff, Chris. Thanks for sharing this. The timing couldn’t have been better for me.

  10. I just watched a short video of Margaret Thatcher refusing to “do a little jump” at the request of an interviewer, who confessed it was a “little gimmick” she did.Apparently, standing up and jumping told the world of her “human side.”
    “Absolutely not” she said. “I make great leaps forward, not little jumps.” Lady Thatcher remained true to herself, true to what we’d call today her “brand.”
    I want to be like her, a hedgehog before hedgehogs were cool.

  11. I just got done reading this chapter this week! At this moment, I’ve been looking at what makes us best in the world(that I know of), how does that a line with our passion and where/how does the income fit?

    Well being a retreat center and non-for-profit, we can’t exactly just raise our prices to make sure our over head is covered. I’m seeing our hedgehog is getting people to get out and unplug for a short time and see where dark is dark and quite is quite! So the answer is the really the question, “we need to fill more beds instead of raising prices, but how?” But the tough part is, i’m not the decision maker…I’m in the roll of suggestions and passing the along input from our guest.

    But what I can do, is to make sure, each “camper” is served with “great” service so they want to come back and bring their friends to experience a place to “get out”, instead of having the “well If I can’t make the decision, blaa blaa blaa” attitude!

    And by the way folks, allow me to encourage you to “get out” once in while and just listen to your heart!

  12. Joel, I’m trying to keep my focus and I think it’s working. I’m seeing expanded influence and traffic to my site. When you focus on your core customers, you have customers for life.

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