Sean Johnson

Why it pays to leave money on the table

The strange paradox of positioning is that the more business you say no to, the better off you do.

Many companies think they understand the concept of positioning, but when it comes time to execute on their positioning strategy they find the results to be lacking. And I think that’s because they violate the number one rule of having an effective position.

You have to be willing to turn some people off. You have to be willing to step out on a ledge and say “I’m sorry, we don’t do that.”

Unfortunately, a lot of companies (and freelancers) seem unwilling to do that, particularly in the tech and design communities. They’ll reach for any opportunity they can get, whether or not they have an ability to execute on it.

Even though the economy is in poor shape, chasing money in areas outside your expertise is often a recipe for bad things – you do a mediocre (or terrible) job on it, and it takes you away from what you’re best at.

It’s tempting to be known as a graphic designer or programmer or consultant or whatever.

But I think it’d be better to focus and leave a lot of money on the table. Become the best display advertising designer in the world. Or logo designer. Or environmental designer. Or “peat moss packaging” designer.

Become known for that – charge a premium for being the best. Pursue only the projects that you’ll knock out of the park consistently. And send any other requests for work to your network of people who are the best at what they do, taking a small cut for sending them the work.

You’ll be walking away from lower margin, higher risk projects and taking a much smaller piece of the pie on work you refer out. But you’ll build goodwill with your partners (and your prospects), receive some revenue without losing your focus on what you do best, and will likely find the favor returned.

Be willing to say “I don’t do that.”

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