David Dennis learned the dangers of wandering from his core competencies the hard way.
His advertising and marketing services company had been focused on retail marketing, but then began picking up accounts outside its expertise. And before long, SBC Advertising found itself going head-to-head against the largest agencies in the country.
“I’d find myself waking up every day and having to be a knowledgeable expert on something different every day,” says Dennis, co-owner and president of SBC, which posted 2007 revenue of $11.7 million. “It was an impossible way to live your life.”
Fed up with the frustration, Dennis led his company back to what it does best, and today, the 110-employee firm has a solid focus on providing solutions to retailers and national brands.
Smart Business spoke with Dennis about how he got his company back on track after it wandered off course.
Q. How did you realize you needed to regain your company’s focus?
It was hard for everybody in the company during that period, and we as the owners of the company could personally feel the stress of losing our focus. It was virtually impossible to train people to be good at all these different things.
At one point, the light went on, and we said, ‘This is overly complicated and overly difficult. There has got to be a better way to do it.’ We had to refocus on the business and refocus on the core competency. It wasn’t hard; it was actually refreshing and easy to strategize moving toward it.
That’s the way to be great at what you do and feel great about what you do every day. You want to be great at something, as opposed to being adequate at a number of things.
Q. How do you refocus your business when you’ve gotten off track?
You have to look at your list of your core competencies what you know and understand better than other companies do. Identify what’s really relevant to the marketplace and then ask, ‘How do we get to be No. 1 in that core competency? How do we build this business to make it better than anybody else with that core competency?’
For us, once we identified retail advertising and marketing as what we’re really all about, then we began to hire people that have skills in that area, understand what level of detail we want to go into in various services, offer specialized services and send people to training so they understand it better. Study the industry, and study the competition. You really build your business around that core competency.
You have to have focus and clear positioning that differentiates you from your competition. There are always a thousand things trying to pull you away from that target and that focus, and it’s really easy to drift off of it, but it’s the job of the people at the top of the company to keep true to that positioning and that focus that you’ve got with the business.
Q. What is the most important step in that process?
You have to focus on doing one thing better than anybody else does. Very often, companies are unclear in what exactly they are trying to be great at.
If it is not clear to your people, your customers and your targets what it is that makes you better than anyone else and a better choice for what you are trying to sell, then there’s not really a reason to exist. So focus on doing one thing better than anybody else.
It makes it easier to run the business because it lets you know what kind of people that you need to hire. You want to find people who are good at that one thing. It directs you on how you’re going to train your people, what you’re going to teach them and what you’re personally going to be good at. That is an overriding characteristic.
Q. What are the benefits and challenges of maintaining your focus?
Getting back to our core competency allowed us to be able to train people and get them to understand a particular business. Our growth began to take off and move forward when we did that.
It’s a cycle that keeps self-fulfilling: We get good people and give them good accounts to work on, they do a good job, we get better accounts, and we get more good people.
The hardest part is saying no to things that don’t fit in your core competency. We don’t turn accounts down but we have to say no to marketing ourselves as experts to things that aren’t in the core competency.
We might want to suddenly begin to tout that we have a lot of database expertise because we did a database project. We can do it, and we can handle the work, but we don’t want to go out and sell ourselves as database experts.
Saying no to those things when there are opportunities out there is a really hard thing to do. You have to do that, or you end up being scattered all over the place and not great at anything.
HOW TO REACH: SBC Advertising, (614) 255-2333 or www.sbcadvertising.com