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Drill First, Skim Next.

Anybody who has read Napoleon Hill’s book Think And Grow Rich will be familiar with the phrase:

“Drill an inch wide and a mile deep”

Yet how many new business owners stick with that principle?  When we set up in business we often have so much to do that in that process itself that our attention is pretty scattered.

Once up and running as a business owner, especially a SME or sole trader you are all things to everyone: customer service, accounts department, order picker, delivery person, sales person, managing director to name just a few.

So it is little wonder sometimes that in the midst of all that  we forget the quote above.

The reasoning behind it is we are (sorry ladies) only able to be competent at one thing at a time.

That does not take from the fact that over time we can learn to be competent at many tasks so that they become inbuilt habits, we become good at skimming through them.

The problem with skimming is our mind is always on the next task instead of the one we are currently doing, so we don’t give it our best attention.

To test this, go do a task you normally do well and notice how you’ve managed to cut some corners with it from when you first started doing it.

In business starting out we want to attract as many new clients as possible to ensure that our business grows, so we skim.

Skimming in itself is not a bad thing, it can give us exposure to niches we had not considered before, however for sustained growth drilling is a better approach.

Despite the warnings to stick with one type of client, or one type of expertise, we agree to take on clients that might not be the best fit for what we are selling, after all a client is a client and clients bring in business.

Then we have the unenviable task of fulfilling that expectation, often to the detriment of our business growth.  We begin to fear the loss of that client and that we won’t get the clients we actually want, so get caught in a self-perpetuating circle.

Over time our business is going in a direction we had not planned on.

When I first became a coach I wanted to help everyone instead of picking a niche and I couldn’t figure out why despite my offer being good, I had such a poor response to it.  People wanted help with specific problems and not all of them felt I could help them at the level they required because my offer was too general.

How does a business get back to drilling?

  • Start to market specifically to the niches that you only want to do business with instead of marketing generally.
  • Stop taking on business from clients that are not in your niche.
  • Network with other businesses in your niche.
  • Develop joint ventures with businesses that can expose you to your target market.

A client of mine who wanted to break into a particular niche within her area of expertise but didn’t know how to, with coaching, came up the the idea of forming a joint venture with another business owner who had access to those clients but in a different type of business, each now refers business to each other.

Since I’ve concentrated on particular niches I get a much better response to my offers.  Over time as they grow I will expand on the niches I cover.

As a new party planner in a previous business years ago, I had knew one way only to market when I started out: get hostesses to hold house parties and I concentrated on that.

I became really good at it and from that branched out to hosting pub parties, to having catalogue parties and to recruiting other women to become party planners.

Each was a new step in building my business, it was the drilling down on each niche that made my business grow.  When I struck oil from the first drill, I bore a new hole and drilled again.

Over time I covered a wider level of clients who had developed a deep loyalty to my service, who returned again and again, helping me grow my business, rather than a once-off client who bought once and didn’t return.

I have done the same in my coaching business and have become very good in certain niches, each new one requires the drilling down and each new hole skims a wider audience.

How has drilling or skimming helped you in your business?  What have you learned from either that has changed the way you do business?


Mairéad Kelly developed the Cute Honey System - Business training, coaching & mentoring for Mumpreneurs & Mum Biz Owners who want to buzz their business into a hive of productivity while raising young children & often can’t get out to training events, morning or evening network events due to family commitments and/or a lack of finances.

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  • Hi Mairead, this is great advice, I couldn’t agree more! So mayu00a0businesses are stuck in the trap of trying to be all things to everyone and this is even more common now because of these difficult economic times. Find youru00a0niche and be the best, your customers will thank you for it. Super post, well done.u00a0u00a0u00a0

  • Roisin Bell

    I agree with Niall, it’s very difficult in these challenging economic times to ignore an opportunity, even if it’s peripheral to my main business activity. I suppose the best strategy is to focus my business development efforts on my core business and if another project lands in my lap then I won’t ignore it, but I won’t (short sightedly) pursue that area. u00a0Thanks Mairead, I can always do with more focus!

  • Thanks Niall.u00a0 So many business owners fall into that trap, I’ve even done it myself.u00a0 We fear the potential loss, yet we don’t have any clients, so instead of narrowing down our specialities we widen them.u00a0 When we narrow right down we change how we approach our marketing and those clients we are aiming at realise we ARE talking to them and listen.

  • Absolutely Roisu00edn,u00a0 we can expand on an opportunity that presents itself without ignoring our niche.u00a0 That in itself might prove to be another profitable niche for future use.u00a0 The thing with becoming good at one niche is that when we are good other niches open up for us to expand into as well.

  • Anonymous

    A piece of advice we all fail to remember sometimes!! nBut its amazingly effective, it helps you focus, reach targets and give the best service to the clients that need it most!nnThanks for the reminder!n

  • Glad to have helped Breda.u00a0 We all do forget sometimes, sometimes a gently reminder helps us get back on track.

  • Ty Kiisel

    Knowing what a lender is looking for when they evaluate your loan application is a good idea. This is a good start, I’m looking forward to sharing more on this topic to help small business owners get the financing they need to grow healthy, thriving businesses.

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