In an ideal world, you’re known for the “right” product or service. It’s the one that you set your business up to deliver. It’s what you love doing and do really well. When you deliver that product or service your clients are always delighted. You’re also delighted, as you really enjoyed working on it. Everyone knows that this is what your company does and so this is what you are asked to do.

However, it doesn’t always happen like that.

Many SMEs find that they are known for the “wrong” product or service. It’s often one that you can deliver, if you have to, but it either doesn’t play to your organisation’s strengths or it’s not what you really want to be doing. You do it once or twice, as a favour, for a bit of money, out of desperation, and then, BAM! Before you know it, you have a reputation in that area and people want you to give them more of it. But, as long as the money is coming in, does this actually matter?

It matters. A lot. 

Leading UK SME marketer, Bryony Thomas, in her book Watertight Marketing™, calls this, “The wrong kind of work”. She rates this as mattering so much that it’s one of the Four Foundation Leaks she describes in her book. She explains companies that don’t have a consistent, regular approach to marketing, develop a pattern of peaks and troughs. They then take work that’s not quite the right fit, which then takes their full focus for a while, which means they are less able to tell people about the work they really want to be doing. It leads to becoming known for stuff you don’t really want to do.

So, how does this happen?

You know the scenario – you’ve got no work or sales in the pipeline, so it’s all hands to the marketing deck to generate some. You get a sale, or perhaps several, then it’s all hands to the product / service deck to make sure that you deliver it. While you’re busy doing that, you stop marketing. What happens when you stop marketing? You look up from delivering the product / service and realise that your sales pipeline is empty.

When you are in this “trough” stage, you’re vulnerable. You need work and you need it quick. Someone comes along who says, “I know you don’t quite do this but can you…?” You don’t want to take it. You know it’s not where you want to be taking your business. You know it’s not playing to your strengths. Or you know that it’s going to be a lot of hassle but…it’s work. It pays. You take it.

Let’s look at the example of Sally.

Sally isn’t real but she is based on clients I have worked with, whose privacy I’m respecting.

Sally runs a small but successful manufacturing business. She and her team design and make bespoke, complex products. It’s high level stuff and they charge a premium price for it, because they are so good at it. The team won a large, flagship piece of work, which occupied all of their time. Sally stopped marketing the business while she oversaw and managed the work. When it was drawing to a highly successful end, Sally realised that her sales pipeline was empty; no prospects and no tenders. She knew she needed work, quickly, to sustain the business and her team.

Then, a previous client called. They had been let down by a supplier who makes generic, “copy-cat” products and needed someone to step in, urgently. This wasn’t the work Sally and her team wanted to do. They all could do it, but it was basic, low-level stuff that they had left behind years ago. The client wanted to pay them less than their normal rate because they would be delivering work at a lower level.  The team weren’t happy. However, Sally felt it was better to do the wrong type of work at a lower rate than not work at all and lay some of her team off.

Wrong Way Turn Back sign no-description-1444769-1600x1200

They did the work and, because it was something they were all over-qualified to do, they did it brilliantly. The client asked them to do more. The client also sang the praises of Sally and her team. Therefore, they were approached by several other companies to do the same type of work at a rate acceptable for that level.

Sally felt unable to turn this work away and, as they were so busy delivering it, she didn’t have time to find the work the business had been set up to do. As time went on, and this cycle continued, Sally’s team became demotivated – they were doing work they could do with ease. Some of Sally’s team left. Sally couldn’t recruit at the level she wanted to, because when they asked what work they would be doing, they all said it was a step backwards for their careers. When Sally did make the time to pitch for the work she wanted, she found that she was starting to lose it because she now had a reputation for “off-the shelf” rather than “bespoke”. 

Her company was known for the wrong kind of work. To keep her business going, she had headed down the wrong way and it was now hard to escape. 

Does this sound familiar?

If so, then your organisation could be known for the wrong kind of work.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place to take the wrong kind of work. As long as you don’t let it trap you, like “Sally” did in her business. Bryony Thomas, the Watertight Marketer, talks about “Profit or Proud”. Is this piece of work something that is going to make you really proud? Or a really huge profit? Then take it. But if it is for the profit, then use that profit to fund getting more of the work that makes you proud.

If, however, you are known for the wrong work and your organisation is starting to spiral, like Sally’s did, then it’s time to stop. To take control. To put your business back on track, so that you are doing what you meant to do, and so that your business can achieve everything you set it up to achieve. And the place to begin? By smoothing out those peaks and troughs that caused it all in the first place.


By Kara Stanford, Strategic Marketing Consultant.

Kara helps businesses gain calm, confident control of their marketing, so that they avoid the “peaks and troughs” scenario altogether. Contact her to find out how she can help your organisation.

Are you known for the wrong kind of work? Find out why this really matters.

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