You might be poisoning your customers, figuratively, or even literally.
In May of 2017 I was diagnosed with celiac disease. In case you aren’t aware, this is the condition that means I no longer get to have gluten; ruling out pie, cake, doughnuts, beer, pasta, probably jet skis, and basically anything else resembling fun.
Yes, it’s little bit of a bummer, and it has definitely changed my life in a number of ways.
Here’s why this matters to you: Celiac disease has changed my perspective as a consumer.
And it’s much easier for me to share some gastrointestinal-driven business lessons with you than for you to wait until you have your own shiny new autoimmune disease show up and teach you all about life.
Having celiac disease means that my lens, specifically in regard to food, has changed.
The biggest change has been, predictably, that I have to ask a lot of questions. And unfortunately, what I’m discovering is that many times people with the best intentions still end up poisoning me.
Here’s the thing – celiac is more than just being gluten free. It’s not a choice so much as it is a prescription. Gluten affects my intestines, and specifically my body’s ability to process food and absorb nutrients.
It literally poisons me. And the only treatment for celiac disease is cutting out gluten completely. But the challenge that comes along with this is that not everyone knows what gluten is, or where it shows up (it’s a sneaky bugger, for sure), or how easy it is for gluten to cross-contaminate.
And to make this already fun condition even more of a party, the more you remove gluten, the worse your reaction gets when you’re accidentally exposed.
Why does this matter to you?
It matters because I’ve noticed that my trust is affected. It’s only been a few months, and already I’ve been poisoned several times.
I don’t think it’s malicious, but intent doesn’t matter one bit to the villi in my small intestine.
When I go out to eat, I have to ask questions in order to protect myself. I want to spend money with the restaurant I’m at, but more important than that, I don’t want to get sick.
Your customers are probably the same. They want to do business with you, but only if it’s also in their best interest.
That’s the goal right? I think they call that a win:win.
Most businesses have done some basic persona work to figure out who their ideal customer is. And that’s 100% important. When your ideal customer comes along, you need to be able to call them by name and let them know that you have what they need.
But I think it’s equally important to know who you don’t serve.
If I walk into a restaurant and they tell me they don’t have any gluten free options, and they even batter everything down to their napkins, that’s cool. I mean, it’s not great for me if I’m hungry, but at least I know that I can protect myself by not ordering anything.
And if I walk into a restaurant and they hand me a GF menu, with a dairy-free milkshake, a soy candle, and vegan set of crayons, well, I’m in business (they tend to lump all the restrictive diet folk in together).
But that’s exactly the confirmation I need– that they are prepared to serve me.
But the challenge that I’m running into is that it seems like most restaurants, or most servers, haven’t been trained to have a conversation about gluten’s presence on their menu. And servers, at the end of the day, are sales people.
They’re trained to sell. They want to make their customers happy. And often times, that means saying what the customer wants to hear.
The problem is that if they’re wrong, or they misunderstand the question, or are misinformed, then I’m not only paying for my dinner, but I’m paying to be poisoned.
Stop poisoning your customers.
Sometimes you’ll have to turn people away, and that’s okay. Sometimes the right thing to do is tell a customer you can’t help them.
I do know how hard it is to say no to revenue. And I know that it’s even harder when you’re a small business… during your slow season.
But I also know what it’s like to do business with someone and totally regret it. And your customers will thank you if you help them avoid making a bad decision. It’s not always public, or immediate, but they will thank you.
I help people use automation and technology to grow and scale their business. That’s what I do.
My gluten-free bread and butter is Infusionsoft education; it’s where I think I can best help people. That’s not the only thing I’m good at, but it is the niché I’ve decided to focus on (dominate, don’t dabble, right?).
Despite me trying to be super focused on education, from time to time I get requests from people for me to do other projects for them (WordPress, Copywriting, Implementation, Coaching, etc), and often times the projects are enticing, or they sound like fun, or I like the person and I genuinely want to help.
I almost always say “No”.
It’s not because I don’t want to, or don’t need the income; it’s because I know it’s not my focus.
I know enough about WordPress to probably handle some small projects, but I also know that there are people out there who are actually world class, and would do a much better job.
If you hire me to design a website for you, not only is it taking me away from what I want to be focused on, but more importantly we’re running the risk that I’ll poison you. That’s not good for me, and it’s way worse for you.
I’ve found that every business has projects like these. Projects that they continue to justify, even though they know there’s a risk.
My advice to all businesses (and lately, to restaurants) is to figure out exactly who you serve. And then figure out who you don’t.
Train your people to identify and handle both.
Have the discipline to say no to projects you aren’t equipped to handle. I respect the “Say yes, and figure out how” mentality, but it’s also that type of attitude that poisoned me at the Calgary Stampede this summer.
Gluten is my poison. But for your customers, it’s probably something else.
By casually saying yes to the wrong project, you could be figuratively, or literally, poisoning your customers.
Great analogy Greg!
P S. Titos vodka is gluten free????
Great post! This is relevant to me on so many levels. I’ve worked with people who were not a good fit because I wanted to “help them” but ultimately, did not. And it hurt both of us. I’ve also known for a very long time that I needed to decide on a niche and say “no” to the rest, but I can’t seem to bring myself to decide on just one thing… In that respect, I don’t feel that I’m poisoning the client, but rather myself because don’t deepen my knowledge on one thing since I’m spreading myself over several things.
And I can relate to the celiac diagnoses as well. My (now 21-year-old) son was diagnosed when he was 15, and it did turn our lives upside-down for a while. But it gets better. You’ll find your way.
That’s a really good point. And I didn’t mean that everyone who offers broad or diverse services is poisoning their customers, certainly not. Just that saying “yes” to the wrong project might end up hurting them. And as you point out, it goes both ways!
Anyway, thanks for reading and sharing. Yes, being Celiac has been an inconvenience, but that’s it. We’re learning, and it’s definitely continuing to get easier!
Fantastic post, Greg! Being in the start-up phase right now, it is really difficult to say “no.” However, doing so is necessary in order to keep the business focused and on track. I love the fact that you blend parts of your personal experience into much of your messaging. Keep up the great work!
Thanks man, sometimes I get that little voice in my head that says “Stop sharing about your personal life, no one cares, go eat a GF cupcake.” But the reality is that my small biz and my personal life are fairly intertwined, and I can’t help but see things through my entrepreneur lens. It’s just going to happen. And I don’t want to discount something valuable just because it’s not “business” enough. Anyway, keep hustlin! You’re the man.