As an individual
If I could give one piece of advice to someone starting a business career, it would be to “know your lane.” I would tell them to do an honest soul searching session and ask themselves a few questions:
- What are you good at? But perhaps more importantly, what are you not good at?
- What kind of work do you enjoy doing? (granted “enjoy” is a relative term in business)
- Do you want to be challenged or do you prefer something a bit more rote and routine?
- How do you prefer to interact with people? Or more specifically:
- Are you introverted or extroverted? Do you prefer to be around lots of people most of the time? Or the opposite?
- What kinds of people do you like to be around?
- Can you play politics?
The answer to this set of questions will tell you where you’re likely to succeed and where you’re likely to fail – and this is what I mean by “your lane.” In my opinion, knowing your lane and sticking to it is the best way of ensuring career success. If you chase a career that isn’t the right fit for you, you’ll either be unsuccessful, unhappy or both.
It took me a long time to figure out what my lane was. I spent the first part of my career in finance. I was good at it, but I didn’t like it. Then I spent well over a decade working in large entertainment-industry corporations. Again, I was good at it. And I really loved the people (most of them), but I didn’t find the work challenging enough, and I was absolutely terrible at playing politics. Consequently, I spent the first 20 years of my career in the wrong lane.
Fortunately, I have now found a career path that fits my lane perfectly – and I’m much happier because of it.
As a company
The other day, my business partner and I were discussing marketing strategy for our software outsourcing business and it hit me – a company needs to know their lane as well. We should know what we’re good at, what we like doing, what kind of people we like to work with, and how much we want to be challenged. And these factors should be considered when we’re hiring new team members, developing a product, and most importantly when figuring out who our potential customers are.
Since I joined CodeStringers at the beginning of 2020, I’ve spent a lot of time marketing our outsourcing business. I’ve been cold calling my LinkedIn list and emailing a broad list of business contacts. From these marketing efforts, we have gotten many qualified leads. We then spent a lot of time and effort putting together pitches and proposals to try to win the business. Some of these pitches ended up working out and some of them ended up requiring a lot of invested time and effort only to result in a lost bid.
Upon reflection, there are some clear similarities between the bids that bear fruit and those that are unsuccessful. Or more specifically, the ones that end up hiring us are the ones that are in our “lane”. So what is our lane exactly?
- What are we good at? We are excellent at helping companies transform a good digital business idea into a high-quality, commercially viable product. Both our partners have extensive experience in business, entrepreneurship, and product management. We can quickly understand our clients’ business needs, and work with them to clearly define a product that is likely to succeed in the marketplace. Additionally, we have invested in experienced QA and BA teams so that our features are clearly defined and behave as defined. Furthermore, we have a proprietary UX test-and-learn process that develops innovative user experiences and validates them with actual users.
- What are we bad at? We haven’t been as successful when a client wants to rent out one of our developers to augment their team. It’s not that we can’t do it and it’s not that we won’t do it, however, this is not our area of expertise.
- What kind of work do you enjoy doing? We like making products that make a difference in someone’s lives. If it makes someone’s work, school, or personal life a little bit easier, then it makes us happy. We also enjoy innovating – making something that has never been done before. And we also have a personal passion for education products.
- Do you want to be challenged? Hell yes. We’re motivated by challenges and aim to succeed where others have failed.
- How do you prefer to interact with people? We like to work with people who are passionate about the mission of their business and who want to see it succeed. We are not very good at playing politics. This doesn’t mean that we lack poise and social skills, it just means that we naturally want to focus on the business goals and objectives at the expense of managing egos. Furthermore, and this is a big differentiator between us and our competitors, we refuse to play games in the bidding process. Most outsourcers will give a potential client the price that they want to hear until they get the bid, and then end up raising the price via change orders. We think that is unfair.
A couple of months ago we pitched a company that was clearly out of our lane. The request was for a CRUD(1) product that was to be used internally by customer service staff. The RFP included a very short set of specifications and a product prototype. The client told us that they were bidding out the work between us and two other outsourcers. We took a look at the prototype and requirements document and noticed that it would be almost impossible to build exactly what the client asked for, and if we did, the product would certainly fail. The prototype had several logic errors and the requirements document had a few omissions, vagaries, and contradictions.
We responded to the RFP by doing extensive research into the potential clients’ industry. Additionally, we asked several clarifying questions that were designed to lead the client towards realizing that their specs were incomplete and that they would be more likely to succeed if they made some changes to the requirements. Then we put together a proposal that was not only what the client asked for, but it also suggested ways to simplify and improve the product.
We lost the bid. The client ghosted us for a week or so and then sent us a message telling us they had chosen another outsourcer because they gave them a cheaper price. We knew the firm who won the bid, and we know that they have a reputation for underbidding a vague set of requirements and then hitting the customer with expensive change orders later. We were initially upset about losing the bid, however, we soon realized that this client was far out of our lane. If they were more concerned with “playing the game” than in developing a good product, then they’re not the client for us.
So in the future, we’re going to focus on the clients that fit into our lane. In the long term, it is certain to result in happier clients and more successful products.
(1) Referring to a software system that interacts with a database. It does 4 things– Create new records, Read existing records, Update records, and Delete records