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Small Business Ideas: Are You Selling a One-Trick Pony?

Updated on November 24, 2014
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Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker specializing in sales and marketing topics for coaches, consultants and solopreneurs.

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How many products or services should a small business offer? The number will greatly depend on the capacity and resources available. But, unfortunately, some small businesses and entrepreneurs have a single product or product line. Essentially, they're one-trick ponies.

They might do that product or service "trick" well, sometimes very well or too well. They're so good at it, in fact, that they could burn up all the potential sales within a single selling cycle. Many of these may be one-hit wonder sales. Then what happens? These folks may go into an extended sales slump or even be unable to recover and have to go out of business.

But the solution isn't always to expand the number or type of offerings since that can unduly strain the organization and its resources.

Let's look at an example...

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Questions to Gain Greater Insight into Business Issues

Solving the One-Trick Product Puzzle

As many of my followers know, I have worked in the promotional products industry for several years. One of the perks of working in this arena is the opportunity to go to the trade shows and see all the new and exciting products. Every year, there are usually some new companies on the show floor, often showing just one new product in the booth.

At one show some time back, there was a very simple, innovative product that would be an excellent conversation starter at conferences and meetings. But that was the sum and total of what this company was offering. Sadly, I let them scan my badge and their incessant followup drove me crazy.

The problem with the product was that it was very conceptual. So it really would require a unique fit between the client and its intended purpose. It was also so innovative that to do the same product at future client events might garner an "oh, that again" response. So it had a very narrow band of opportunity making it a one-hit wonder sale for both the product manufacturer and me.

But this company is not unique. Many small businesses have the same problem due to limited capacity and resources.

So what can companies with only one or extremely limited product and service selections do?

  • Add Sales Channels. Seeking out individual customers can be a massive cost, labor and time investment! So consider connecting with retailers, wholesalers, representatives or other distributors who can add a one-off product like this to their portfolio of offerings. With a potentially larger customer base, as well as expanded marketing and distribution capability, this strategy could make sales efforts more efficient. In the example here, the product manufacturer could hook up with a multi-line wholesaler/supplier or manufacturer's representative that works with many promotional product sellers like me.
  • Find New Uses. For the example product, it appeared that it could have some retail potential in addition to promotional markets. Sometimes products or services are developed with one target market or application in mind. While that can be good in that it is tailored for the market, there better be enough sales and profit potential within that demographic to make it worthwhile. In evaluating a one-trick offering for other uses, additional costs for advertising, repackaging, etc. for a different market need to be considered. If the cost is too high to repurpose for some other use, it may not provide enough sales and profit potential, disqualifying new uses as a worthwhile endeavor. Click here to learn more about repurposing written content for new markets.
  • Set Realistic Expectations. If the business really, REALLY wants to offer a one-trick product or service, then they need to set realistic sales goals and expectations for themselves. Demand may not expand! A careful analysis of costs, an achievable sales forecast and a profitable pricing structure are critical to making a go/no go decision for this business or offering. Click here for more discussion on pricing structures in marketing.
  • Be Prepared for the End. The problem with offering only one product is that if the market demand collapses, so can the business, especially if new uses are not developed. All products go through life cycles and could become obsolete, cash cows (we hope!) or may have to change to stay relevant. The end is a good starting point when considering the future potential of a one-trick product or service. Click here to learn more about product life cycles.

Disclaimer: The author/publisher has used best efforts in preparation of this article. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and all parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice, strategies and recommendations presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional adviser where and when appropriate. The author/publisher shall not be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. So by reading and using this information, you accept this risk.

© 2014 Heidi Thorne

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Is that like the "one hit wonders" of rock n roll? :) Some of those old bands of the Sixties were so bad, all the promotion in the world couldn't save them.

      Great information as always. Have a great weekend my friend.

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Very much like the one-hit wonders of the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s... Some of these bands--and products--have a very short shelf life. So they need to get what they can while they can and then *poof* it's over. Unfortunately, I see so many little businesses building their dreams on one-hits. Thanks for taking part of your weekend to stop by! Have a delightful one (it's finally nice here in Chicago!).

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      You see this a lot with hair devices and cooking tools. In a way, thank goodness they are one hit wonders.

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Yes, FlourishAnyway, there are a lot of faddish gizmos out there. Sometimes, as you note, that's a good thing. But, unfortunately, many small businesses base their hopes on what will only last for the short term. Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely Mother's Day Weekend!

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 2 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Great tips. I suppose it is a risk putting all of their eggs in one basket, but I suppose it can also take off and provide tons of business if successful!

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Yes, epbooks/Elizabeth, that's THE question! But I feel better having a bit of diversification. There have been areas of my business which have completely collapsed due to market factors beyond my control. So I was glad to have multi-trick ponies and many ponies in my stables. Thanks for stopping by! Have a beautiful day!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      Great tips heidi, yes that's the trouble with these one ideas, it seems like a good idea to go for it, but as you say once its out there, what else? I think that's why I wouldn't be very good at it, I would be bound to go down this path unfortunately! lol!

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Oh, Nell Rose, it is so tempting to head down these narrow paths in business. At least you're aware that you might be prone to heading in that direction. Many business owners don't recognize that in themselves until it's too late. Thanks for stopping by and adding to the conversation! Have a beautiful weekend ahead!

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