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What not to do in business

What not to do in business

July 06, 2009 by Chris Barling

I’ve just finished an extensive tour of some of my company’s most successful online retailers. One common theme has been that they aim to provide excellent customer service. But I’ve droned on about that many times before, so I’ll not bore you again.

However, one of the other themes that came out is how clear they are on what they are doing. The benefit of this is illustrated by the classic saying, “those that aim at nothing are lucky - they always hit their target.”

If you’re aiming at something in particular, by definition you also know what you’re not aiming at. To put it another way, if you’re not sometimes politely telling customers that “we don’t do that”, you’re not really clear on just what you are doing.

Here are a couple of examples from my tour. Kettlewell Colours ( sell women’s T-shirts in a rainbow of colours. But it doesn’t do any search engine optimisation, or pay-per-click advertising, because it doesn’t compete on price. PPC and SEO won’t yield much of the demographic that buys from the site. Instead Kettlewell markets exclusively through image consultants who recommend its wares. This is easy for the simple reason that it really meets the needs of its clients, by providing clothes in a vast range of colours. It doesn’t do anything else, and being clear on what it does, means it doesn’t waste money on ineffective marketing.

In contrast, Cult Pens (, another customer, specialises in pens. It is much more niche than just stationery, so if you want a fax machine from them, you’re out of luck. However, it does consistently achieve first or second rank on Google UK for “Pens”. That’s out of nearly two and a half million entries. It’s a fantastic achievement and it’s heavily driven by the fact that the business has around 8,000 pen-related products. Not surprisingly, Google seems to conclude that it knows quite a bit about pens. That works to such an extent that it doesn’t need to spend out on pay-per-click advertising.

To be successful in business, you have to be focused. And when you are focused, it’s easy to know what to do and what not to do. The results will nearly always speak for themselves. It’s not just the marketing that works at these two companies, they are both growing like crazy. One of the reasons for their success? They know what they don’t do.


Chris Barling's picture

The point is slightly more subtle than the way I put it. Kettlewell Colours offers a product that is T shirt in name, but is at a price point typically something like ten times that of the generic T shirt competition. So advertising or optimising on the obvious words is unlikely to be successful.

However, there are sure to be people searching on specific relevant phrases, and I believe that Kettlewell is currently investigating this.

Scott Gould's picture

"To be successful in business, you have to be focused. And when you are focused, it’s easy to know what to do and what not to do."

Excellent, totally agree. That's food for thought when you begin considering how focussed your business really is!

Lucinda Mould's picture

Focus is really important but the conclusion that Kettlewell Colours doesn't compete on price and therefore shouldn't have an optimised site doesn't follow. People don't just use search engines to find 'cheap stuff', they use Google to simply 'find' specific things, niche things. If their site isn't optimised, people looking for their products won't find them. So I can't help but feel that they'll be missing out on a decent slice of the market.

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