Know What You Know

When you are growing your business, it’s imperative that you know what you know – and what you don’t know. I always recommend that entrepreneurs and service providers of all stripes specialize in some field. Not only does specialization set a person or business apart, which creates competitive advantage, it also helps avert the disasters that can bury businesses or entrepreneurs if they under-perform the expectations of the client or under-perform the potential competition.

Neither entrepreneurs nor businesses benefit when they are viewed as poor or mediocre performers.

Although the opportunity to overstep one’s expertise can be seductive, you must resist.

I was having cocktails recently with an attorney acquaintance of mine. The man is a litigator, which means that he sues other companies, and he tends to work on a contingency basis for plaintiffs in these cases. While we were enjoying the cocktails, he told me that he had been approached by a person who had been wronged by a large insurance carrier. This particular case, he added, represented a substantial opportunity for him because he could convert it into a class-action claim.

I asked him if he had ever been involved in a class-action suit before. He stated that he hadn’t.

Then he proceeded to say five particularly deadly words: “How hard could it be?” To me, this attitude is a recipe for disaster. Taking on a case that is of critical importance to a client to “test the marketplace” is a risky proposition to say the least. It’s also an extremely unprofessional and potentially dangerous act for any professional person or business person. You don’t dip your toe in the water at someone else’s expense.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated example. It happens all the time. I can think of several occasions in which I have been exposed to the same logic by professional people and trades people.

You need to know what you know and stay away from things that you don’t. Now – the attorney could take the case and bring in someone who has expertise in class-action lawsuits to assist him. That might be a legitimate way to take this case.

Experience is important. I’ve found that in those areas in which one isn’t an expert, one is sandbagged not by missing important points, but by not anticipating what could go wrong. When this happens, there is usually no way to go back and solve the problem.

So, as you are working hard every day to build your company, or as you’re building your career, remember – in most cases, things are more complicated than they seem. Projects and tasks also tend to take longer to perform or complete than you initially thought. Therefore, you need to specialize. You need to be an expert, and as you are growing your business, you need to make sure that you know what you know so that the errors and embarrassments that all too often happen when one strays outside one’s expertise don’t happen on your watch.

Joel Block
Often dubbed a Growth Architect by his clients, Joel Block advises companies on explosive growth strategies by driving revenue and sales. Well known in the capital markets, Joel is a successful entrepreneur, speaker, advisor and faculty member of the iLearningGlobal community.