Strengthen your weaknesses or strengthen your strengths? Which is the better course of action? Here’s a hint: the popular answer is wrong.
A common mistake made by most people and most companies competitively is to focus all of their improvement efforts on strengthening their weaknesses. That approach probably originates from the natural male instinct to solve problems.
Weaknesses are perceived as problems. When people advise to "work on improving yourself" they are implying "work on your weaknesses." Really smart individuals and companies realize that focusing on their strengths is a much wiser course of action.
Your business objective is to gain a competitive advantage. You don’t do that by being average in everything. You gain competitive advantage when you develop one or two areas of your business that you can leverage to legitimately blast away your competition.
Smart companies learn to press their competitive advantage. They stay tuned into their competitive advantage. They continually strive to strengthen it and leverage it. Healthy bottom lines come from a strong competitive advantage that is tuned to the local market.
Strengthening your strengths
The first question is do you know your competitive advantage? If you are thinking the quality of your work, think again. That is the answer every contractor defaults to.
Rarely is a contractor’s quality so superior to his competition that (a) it is apparent to the client, (b) there is a large enough number of clients who are willing to pay a premium price for that level of quality that your business can grow to the size you desire, and (c) almost all clients have quality expectations that are unreasonable to start with. So quality is out. Pick another one.
Once you have figured out your competitive advantage think about the drivers of that competitive advantage. Your business has a handful of strengths that have led to the creation of the competitive advantage. Get in touch with them. Analyze them. Understand them. Get to know them as well as you know yourself.
You have two objectives at this point: (1) Systematize them. Document them. Make them part of your company’s DNA. (2) Strengthen them. Figure out how you can make those strengths even stronger.
Once you have gotten to know your business’ strengths well and systematized them to some extent start pressing them in the marketplace. Update your marketing materials. The marketing message must revolve around your competitive advantage. This is imperative. You are hunting for clients who value your competitive advantage. Your marketing materials need to appeal directly to THOSE customers. Don’t fear turning away customers who aren’t a good fit. Marketing to everyone is poor marketing.
It is a complete waste of money. Don’t do it. Your marketing must be focused. It must resonate with the right customer. The one who internally responds with "They get me. They understand what I am looking for."
Finally, one of my favorite pieces of advice to share — which came from the book Good to Great — is "Be a hedgehog." Focus on what you’re good at and do get distracted by disconnected opportunities.
Needless to say, you can’t allow a glaring, gaping weakness to languish in your business. Should your personal or business weaknesses be truly threatening to your future then you should most definitely plug those cracks in the foundation. Serious weaknesses have to be addressed, but they don’t need to be turned into strengths. Serious weaknesses only need to be neutralized to the point they no longer threaten your ongoing existence. For example, you don’t have to be the world’s greatest estimating team but you sure as heck can’t afford to be the worst.
The fastest way to strengthen your weaknesses is to strengthen your team.
First, get everybody in the right job. Assign them tasks that match their person abilities, skills and DNA. Next, figure out where your team is lacking in knowledge or experience.
Decide whether that gap can be filled through training or whether it needs to be filled through a new hire. Heads up — a new hire is almost always needed. Yes, I can hear you saying, "But I can’t afford to expand overhead."
Yes, my observation implies that you are likely to need to make a staffing change. My heart is as big as anyone’s; however, you need to remember the health of your business affects all of your employees and the people who count on them to bring home a livable income.
The final solution to plug a threatening weakness is to adopt a best practice. That will take a bit of time and an unyielding commitment to putting in place the right process. If you aren’t using the right process now the right process probably isn’t something your team is comfortable with. You will need to push on through that resistance and remain strong in your belief that the gain will be worth the pain.