The other day, I was picking my daughter up from a birthday party. The father of my daughter’s friend is an arborist. Essentially, he makes his living pruning and caring for trees.  He’s owned his own business for 12 years.

During our conversation he told me his business story. His first few years in business were really tough. He’d grind and grind and grind, but wasn’t earning a substantial amount of revenue.

And then, he found his solution. He changed his phone number.

You see, up until then he’d focused his marketing efforts on our local market. Unfortunately, most of the town’s residents are retired farmers, oilmen and industrial workers. These are true “do-it-yourselfers:” if their trees need pruning, cutting or care, they’re going to try to do it themselves.

But 20 minutes away, there is a very affluent suburb. Most of the residents are business people: managers, presidents, entrepreneurs. They don’t have time to care for their trees.: they need someone to do it for them, and they have the money to pay for it.

So, he switched his phone number to a number local to that suburb. He opened up a PO box there as well. And he started advertising in their yellow pages (this was 10 years ago), and their local paper.

The result? Almost 95% of his revenue comes from this suburb.

Looking at it in hindsight, it seems obvious: go where people need your service, and have the money to pay for it. But so many of us entrepreneurs are stuck trying to grind it out.  Having talked to a number of entrepreneurs, I think if you launch a full-time business and you’re “grinding” for more than two years, something is wrong.

Why your product isn’t making money

  1. Wrong product – this is the worst case scenario: your product simply doesn’t have a profitable market. No one “needs” it (or wants it), and thus, they’re not willing to pay for it (or pay enough for it).
  2. Good product, wrong market – this is a little harder to determine. How do you know if your product is good? Try it out in a different market. My arborist friend knew fairly quickly that there was something different about the affluent suburb. Take your product to a different market, and see if it works.

I know of a software company that did this very thing: after grinding it out in the B2C market, they focused on B2B. Revenue took off.

Still grinding it out? Before you throw in the towel: it might be worth tweaking your product, and offering it to a new market.

Cheers,
Justin Jackson
@mijustin

PS: I’m writing a new book called Marketing for Developers. You can download a 21 page sample here.

7 thoughts on “How changing your market can save your product

  1. Tim, something struck me about your post: “For the average rock/pop or avant-garde musician, it’s a little tougher because of such a broad target audience.” Are you limiting your audience by thinking of yourself as average? Secondly, if your target is too broad to get traction, narrow your target. That’s basically what the tree guy did. He did it geographically, but with music, you may have to segment your market in another way (though if you are in a small town, you may need a bigger town; and if you are in a big city, you may need a different performance venue). Check out Tribes, by Seth Godin, for some inspiration on this topic. Then check out Derek Sivers short video on How to Start a Movement: http://www.ted.com/talks/derek_sivers_how_to_start_a_movement.html

    Interview the fans that do buy your music or go to your concerts and find out WHERE they hang out, what they eat, what they read, what kind of online social networks they use, where they shop, what TV/film they watch, how they heard about you, etc. If nobody likes your music, you either have to changes your “product” or find more people who do. If it costs too much to find more people who do, revisit that last sentence. One of my favorite lessons from the great business Good to Great by Jim Collins is Be Brutally Honest with yourself. That’s something the DIY Music scene has yet to embrace.

    Good luck!
    Dmitri
    http://www.StoryAmp.com
    ::amplify your story::

  2. Hugh,

    You’re welcome. What I like about Sivers’ advice is he points out that you don’t win with persistence alone. He says: “If it’s not a hit, switch.” This arborist says: “If you’re grinding, grinding, grinding, try something else.” And the old idiom says: “Don’t beat a dead horse.”

  3. It might have been harder today. A “local” phone number might not mean the same today, as it did back then. The main idea is that he really made himself a part of that market; he identified it as his market.

  4. After reading this my wife said to me, “He’s speaking your business love language.” http://www.5lovelanguages.com/ ;).Yes, I love this post. If the market isn’t large enough to support your business, no amount of tinkering on your product, price or promotions will help. It’s interesting how a subtle change made such a huge difference to his business. A change in phone number didn’t change his day to day work but it made his company feel different to his customers. Suddenly, he was part of a different community and a sustainable market.

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