It’s often very difficult for small-business owners to define who they are. By nature, they want to be all things to all people. They make their living being people pleasers.

But it is critically important to define the type of business you are in to position it properly for your customers. If you can’t describe your business then you can’t possibly expect your customers to engage with it.

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Putting definition around your business is no easy feat, however. There’s a fine balance you have to strike to be both definitive and flexible at the same time.

Be definitive. You need to be specific about what you do, based on the skills you have built as an organization. The more specific you can be then the more your customers will start to understand what you can offer to them. This may force you to pick the one thing you are the best at, but it’s a story you should stick to.

Be flexible. You also need to define your business with some flexibility built in. The business world is constantly changing, with your customers’ needs driving most of those changes. How you define your business needs to be flexible enough to change right along with your customers, evolving to keep up to speed with them.

Understanding the difference. The balancing act, and the art of brand positioning, comes from walking the fine line between having a tight definition of your business along with one that can flexibly change as you see fit.

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For example, I would assume that Amtrak has defined its brand as being in the passenger-railroad business. I say that because as a customer I view the brand as being very narrowly defined. I assume that because we have not seen the brand extend into other forms of transportation, as it very well could have through the years. 

Perhaps if Amtrak defined its business as “transportation,” we’d see it enter into other forms such as buses, car services, airplanes, etc., or into the commercial railroad business, if it had built some flexibility into its definition. But instead it has chosen to stay squarely focused in the passenger-railroad business.

On the flip side, Walt Disney did not define his business as merely movies, and through the years his company did not confine itself to just cartoon characters. By more broadly capturing “entertainment” as its core business, the company has been able to open branded theme parks, exclusive merchandise stores and multiple television channels.

When looking at your business and your brand, you need to strike a proper balance between being definitive and being flexible, so that you can maximize the clarity of your brand and maximize the opportunities in your business.

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