Don't Make Yourself Comfortable

"Yes, We Do That . . . and That . . . and That, Too . . ."

In some cases, shifting your company's focus is more about narrowing down your objectives than changing them, especially if you've taken on too many responsibilities. Thirty-year-old Christa Grim founded Washington, DC-based Watermark Communications in 1999 as a "communications strategy and marketing, public relations, event planning and production firm." "People said, 'What the hell is that?' " jokes Grim. "I had a hard time establishing myself because people didn't understand what I did. I wasn't even sure what I did."

Not only did Grim's broad line of work make for a disjointed marketing strategy, but it also kept her from specializing in anything. So last year, Grim decided to put all her energy into video production, which meant she had to turn away a lot of PR work that didn't fit with her new vision. "It's hard turning down business that isn't germane to my new focus," says Grim, who projects sales of $225,000 for 2001. "But you need to choose a skill set that separates you from the competition. Once I jettisoned all these extra things that I didn't like to do-PR, brochures, strategy marketing-it was so much easier to focus on video production. Period."

Grim's sales haven't notably shot up since implementing her new strategy, but for her it's more about focusing on what she does best-which, as it turns out, is in the best interest of not only her customers, but her company, which now has a more identifiable brand, according to Grim. "I enjoy video production because it's what I do best," she says. "The only way you can be happy is if you're doing what you love."

This is all well and good for a company whose principals and employees agree that change is a good thing. But what if you're met with resistance? When two of Snailgram.com's co-founders wanted to shift the focus of their Oakland, California, online greeting card company from B2C to B2B, the other two co-founders weren't exactly thrilled, even though other companies were already expressing interest in Snailgram's product. "The biggest obstacle was changing the minds of some of the original founders," says co-founder and COO Ben Pricer, 23. "It's hard to admit you're wrong when you've put so much time and money into something."

Launched in 1999, Snailgram found itself in the same position as most other dotcoms: They had a good idea and a flashy Web site, but few paying customers, says Himanshu Singh, Snailgram's 22-year-old CEO and co-founder. Late in the company's first year, Singh began exploring the viability of a B2B sales model. Finding it promising, he and Pricer redirected spending from Snailgram's Web site into marketing their new vision and hired a veteran marketing executive to lead a new sales team. "We wanted to bring on some experience and knowledge," says Pricer. "[The marketing director] had used a lot of direct-mail campaigns in the past and brought a lot of insight to our business."

Singh and Pricer led a group of nine employees who supported the change, and in February 2000, the company officially shifted to a B2B strategy. Still, it wasn't until Snailgram signed a few clients that everyone agreed B2B was a better way to go. Now no one can argue with the results: Since making the shift, Snailgram has experienced 25 percent quarterly growth and now projects sales of approximately $500,000 for 2001. Pricer and Singh have also spun themselves off into a separate B2B company, Snailgram Solutions Inc., and allowed a larger corporate player to acquire the online greeting card portion of the business.

"Sometimes you have to distance yourself from your original mission," says Singh. "Once you have a better idea, you have to detach yourself from your previous goals and see it as if you're starting a new company. Use the experience you gained, but go 100 percent into your new mission."

"It requires a long-term vision," concludes business professor Reeve. "The trick is to realize that your original vision might be a failed vision, or that a better version of it exists."

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This article was originally published in the July 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Don't Make Yourself Comfortable.

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