In My Own Words: Bill Onion Featured

7:00pm EDT January 3, 2008

Five years ago, I was describing to an employee a cool, new project we’d just completed. But as I got more animated, I noticed that she was just staring at me, and I was bothered that she wasn’t as excited as I was.

“It’s not that it’s not cool, Bill,” she said. “But I didn’t even know we did that here.”

That was one of my more frightening moments as an entrepreneur. How could it be that our own employees didn’t know what we did as a company? How did that happen?

That conversation became the impetus for us at Briteskies LLC, a management and information technology consulting service provider, to restructure and rebrand ourselves. That was about the time that Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great” was published, and we embraced his hedgehog concept of finding what you’re best at in the world. 

We reviewed everything our company offered and streamlined it to the three to five services we were great at providing. While we had been an all-things-to-all-people IT and Web company, we shifted our focus to a very specific slice of the market: helping $50 million to $500 million companies that use IBM’s AS/400 computing platform integrate software from JD Edwards and Websphere into their operations.

The move was liberating. When we narrowed our scope, we didn’t lose business; instead, we exploded in growth. Now, everyone in the company can articulate to clients exactly what we do. When we’re asked to provide a service outside of our core area, we say that we’d love to help in our core services, but outside of that, we’ll refer you to a trusted partner.

The new focus provided clarity in everything we did — what type of clients and projects to seek, what type of employees to hire. Now, we no longer have 27 different types of people with varied skills in the office; that mix is much harder and more time-consuming to manage than what we have today.

This focus has turbocharged our growth to the point that Inc. magazine just named Briteskies to its Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in the U.S., something that wouldn’t have been possible with our previous, wider focus.

BILL ONION is managing member of Briteskies LLC (www.briteskies.com) and a member of the Cleveland chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (www.eonetwork.org), an international organization of business owners dedicated to helping each other learn and grow. Reach him at Bill.onion@briteskies.com.