Finding your business's sweet spot

I like picking berries in the summer. It's one of those memories that lasts into the fall and winter much like the frozen berries that are hidden in the freezer for a tasty bit of summer on a cold day. I am not sure if I was always a good berry picker but I do remember picking berries as a child and filling my belly as well as my bucket. As a teenager, I spent a few days picking berries for pay and outlasted my brothers who seemed to tire of picking once their stomachs were full.

Berry picking is a lot like business. You need to be mentally prepared to stick it out despite the environment. You must have the right tools if you are going to be successful, (typically just a bucket, but I have recently seen some fancy new fandangle berry picking devices). You have to work through the thorns, avoid the bears, and pick where others aren't. You need to be ready to work when you find the sweet spots.

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Often, I see businesses that are like my brothers were. They fill up on the fruit of their labors, and then proceed to lay in the sun and relax. If their belly is full, they are content enough to stop looking for more customers. They tend to be satisfied that they can pay their weekly or monthly bills, and rest for a while. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that model of business if it works for you. The problem can be, however, that if we stop working when we feel full, we don't put aside anything for the future. Businesses, like bears, need to fatten up when the feeding is good in preparation for those winter-like off seasons where we need to tighten our belts.

Finding the sweet spot for your business is not always easy. When berry picking, one of the best things I learned from my mother was to look where others don't. I like to call this the sweet spot because there are often so many berries that picking becomes easy and my bucket fills quickly. I look high where others can't reach, and I look low and lift the branches to find the hidden berries that others didn't see because they were so fixated on the berries right out front.

When we have a business, we need to look for customers and opportunities where our competition has missed because they were too fixated on the business right in front of them. While this area out front is an area of opportunity that represents easy picking, there are often many pickers trying to fill their buckets with this limited nourishment. When we can pull back the bushes and see the bounty hidden there, it's often so much easier to fill our business buckets.

Recently, I was working with a business that had been wholesaling their products because they thought that this was the best way to fill their buckets. They liked the fact that each customer in this area seemed to buy a significantly larger amount than their retail customers. They couldn't quite figure out why they were so busy but their buckets and bank accounts didn't fill up. As we got into it more, we discussed how those berries that seemed to be very accessible where actually very thin while others that might be harvestable quite easy by looking higher were very thick and full. That company has been getting fatter as a result.

Some more examples of sweet spots include a construction company who refused to say an outright no to difficult jobs. As a result, the company has become the leading authority for a large geographical area in many areas of construction that others refuse to work in. Other examples include a manufacturing company that started specializing in unique formulas and as a result became experts in compounding products that others couldn't.

An engineer I know specializes in layout of manufacturing facilities in a specific industry. Because there is little competition, he is well sought after and well paid.

As a retailer, when others were cutting back on customer service, we added staff and trained them well, looked for exclusive products and as a result were seen as the experts in our field which enable us to establish profit centres within the business.

When we look for sweet spots, we need to consider our abilities and build on our strengths; think about what we can do better than others and capitalize on those areas; look at our competition and see where there are gaps in the market where nobody is harvesting. When we establish ourselves as experts in certain areas, it allows us to charge premium prices and offer premium service. If we want to fill our buckets for the slow times, we need to ensure that we pick those nice fat berries and seek areas unnoticed by our competitors.

-- Dave Fuller, MBA is a berry picker and an award-winning business coach. Dave is the author of the book Profit Yourself Healthy and helps business owners earn more and worry less. Your bucket not quite full? Email

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