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Typically, success in offering a number of related, highly focused services does not translate into success into offering a comprehensive suite of services in this same general area.

Recognize that over time, there is a natural tendency toward drift. In Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends on It, Al Ries eloquently describes how easy it is to move from focus to company-killing branching out. “A successful company usually starts out highly focused on an individual product, service or market. . . . But success creates something else: theopportunity to branch out in many directions,” he says. As a result, “over time, the company becomes unfocused. It offers too many products and services for too many markets at too many price levels. It loses its sense of direction.” In The 80/20 Principle, Richard Koch expresses this same idea in a different way: “Where a business is dominant in its narrowly defined niche, it is likely to make several times the returns earned in niches [where it faces other strong competitors]. . . . Simple isbeautiful.”

Fight the natural tendency toward drift. In Who Says Elephants Can't Dance Lou Gerstner calls the “grass is greener” mentality “the most pernicious” reason companies lose their focus and ultimately fail. It’s easy to become enamored of a new idea but far harder to continue the heavy lifting needed when you encounter a problem in your core business. It’s the companies that stay the course and work through these problems that succeed. As Gerstner writes, “Stick to your knitting. . . . Historyshows that truly great and successful companies go through constant and sometimes difficult self-renewal of the base business. They don’t jump into new pools where they have no sense of the depth or temperature of the water.”

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GO IT ALONE! Copyright 2004 by Bruce Judson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.