Why Strategic Focus Is Important Even for a Hairdresser

To succeed in business, radical focus and discipline are needed. You need to be willing to lose some of your business, in order to grow it further.
Photo by Arthur Humeau on Unsplash

A few weeks ago I called my hairdresser, Yaniv, to make an appointment. His answer really surprised me:

“I no longer do haircuts for women. I run a men’s barbershop now.”

Imagine my shock. Yaniv was doing my hair since I moved to the neighborhood nine years ago. I asked him why, and he said something like “because I decided to”. Not very informative but (sadly for me) true.

I needed to find a new hairdresser, and it turned out to be not so easy because suddenly I noticed that many other places around me are men’s barbershops. Their logo includes a thick, masculine mustache, and their interior design involves cars and materials which I can only describe as “rough”. No doubt, they are aiming for men. No women allowed.

Focus Means NOT Doing Something

To succeed, you have to be very crisp regarding what you do. As I mentioned last week, spray-and-pray rarely works in the business world.

Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you need to. I mean, the guy was doing my hair for nine years. He definitely could continue. But he chose not to.

Now let’s move from hairstyling to the tech world.

With technology, you can do almost anything. The choices are infinite. That’s the beauty of it – and the risk. If you won’t confine yourself (after thorough analysis) to what is right for you, you will be lost.

Of course, knowing it is the easy part. Saying ‘no’ is the hard part. Even to yourself – deciding that you are not going to do this. It’s even harder if you have already been doing it. And it’s much harder – mentally, not resource-wise – than simply doing new things.

Narrowing Down Is Crucial for Your Success

Saying that focus is important for your success sounds almost trivial. You don’t need me for that. Here I would like to focus on (pun intended) a special kind of focus: the one that happens after you have already been working for a while. You already focused once, so this is re-focus. The kind that requires you to ditch some of your work.

Almost any CEO or product leader mentions this kind of decision – narrowing down their offering – as one of the hardest decisions they had to make.

It is a painful decision, because of the sunk cost and because you probably believed in it or you wouldn’t have done it to begin with. Narrowing down is also a scary decision because what you are giving up on is probably not a total failure (or you wouldn’t be thinking it at all). It is almost never a black and white decision to make, and only time will tell if it was the right thing to do. Scary.

So why do it at all?

To Grow Your Business, You Must Lose Some Business

To build a successful company focus is required in a number of dimensions. Of course, you can’t do everything – because your resources are limited – so you want to focus on the important things with the highest ROI.

But that’s not why focus is crucial, because this part can be resolved by adding more resources.

Focus is crucial because what worked for you at the beginning, stops working at some point. The customers who were drawn to you when you started are (1) innovators and early adaptors who are willing to try new things more easily and (2) probably closer to you network-wise. You might know them personally or know people who do.

The size of this audience is limited. So at some point, if you rely only on them, you will run out of business.

You don’t want to get there of course, so you invest in marketing. But marketing doesn’t work in a void. If you have a new marketing executive, they will probably ask you questions like:

  • Who are we solving for? so that they know the target audience
  • What is their pain? so that they know what to tell them
  • How pervasive is it? so that they can set realistic goals for the funnel

You need to have very crisp answers to all of these questions (and other similar ones) for marketing to be able to do their job and bring you new business. But in most cases, you don’t. The answers you have are much vaguer and at a higher level than the ones you really need.

It’s ok, that’s how it works (and happened to me as well with anything new I launched). It happens because up until this point, you were able to manage with the level of answers that you have (that’s how you got them, you needed them to get going), and getting sharper on these questions is not easy to do – so you stayed with what was working for you up until now.

But now it’s time to up your game, and what you already have is not enough.

Yaniv’s Example

Let’s go back to the hairdresser example. Yaniv’s shop was one of many in our area. I got to him since I was looking for someone with a decent price, and I don’t like the fancy hair salons. His place had a very generic look, I went inside to ask about prices, liked the answer and stayed.

I was actively looking for a new hairdresser since I was new in the neighborhood. How many others are like me? Probably not too many.

If Yaniv wanted to reach additional new customers, he needed to do something. But what? Marketing campaigns are not very common for this type of business (except for coupons, which he doesn’t do). His only marketing is his shop’s location and look.

The location is given, so he remained with the look. He could have gone with just a bigger sign, shiny colors, and loud music to attract people’s attention. That would be the equivalent of spray-and-pray. It will make more people aware of his services, but not necessarily the people that would become his customers eventually. In fact, it might even detract some potential customers.

To do something which is not generic, you need to be very specific in your answers to the questions I listed above.

I can only guess why Yaniv decided to focus on men: I tend to believe it has a much higher ROI (takes less time and effort to cut a man’s hair than a woman’s, at least if you care about the result), men might be easier customers to please, it is a good differentiator (there are much fewer men’s barbershops than women’s hair salons), and probably also a personal preference – I got the impression that Yaniv prefers being surrounded by men than by women all day long.

Focus Leads to Action

Once Yaniv decided to focus on men, the actions were clear. He no longer needed a generic look for his place, he made it a men’s kingdom.

As a result, some of the men passing by his shop immediately felt intrigued. Maybe they didn’t even think about going to a barber before – but this place looked very inviting to them so they started considering it, and eventually became customers.

Some men would only come to a place that is designed for men, to avoid being considered feminine by going to a generic hairdresser. Yaniv simply couldn’t have reached this segment before, despite the fact that the actual service he was offering – a haircut – didn’t change.

To make this change – which he needed in order to grow his business he needed to give up some of his business.

Growing Pains Are Easier If You Understand Them

Giving up on business is hard. But it can be made easier if it is part of a clear strategic path for growth. Clarity goes a long way here: only if you understand exactly how one thing leads to another – even as a hypothesis – you can have confidence in making the move.

As always, I urge you to analyze your situation and have a clear strategy for moving forward and growing your business.

I also know that it’s not easy, and your brain sometimes gives you what feels like a blue screen of death as a result of how much thinking you have invested in it. You might be concerned to bring your personal bias into the discussion, or just need someone to ping-pong with in order to organize your thoughts.

That’s why I am launching today a new service of strategy review – allowing you to get feedback and advice on your strategic direction and open questions. I’m offering it with a large discount for a limited time, so if you are interested don’t wait much longer and reach out. And most importantly – with or without my help, find the answers to these questions. Help yourself succeed.

My free e-book “Speed-Up the Journey to Product-Market Fit” — an executive’s guide to strategic product management is waiting for you

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