I was reminded this week of a good life and business lesson while reading to my eight year old from the Laura Ingalls Wilder book Farmer Boy. In the book one of the main characters named Almanzo is at the county fair with his dad walking through the carnival grounds. As they walked they came upon a particular carnival game that we are all familiar with; the shell game. Almanzo watched as others bet and the carney started the game. It should be simple. You see where the ball is and you just keep your eye on that shell as it moves. Almanzo watched as the shells were moved and was sure he had picked the correct one when the game stopped. As the carney lifted the shells Almanzo realized, along with those betting that he had chosen poorly. As Almanzo questioned his father about what happened his father wisely told him that you rarely win when you are playing another mans game.
There are a lot of business lessons in this but the one I want to focus on is this: many business people get one, two or a handful of large clients and then strain, contort and change how they work to fit into the structure of those clients. Instead of focusing on what they need to do to grow as a business they constantly focus on playing another companies' game. To serve clients well companies need to focus on what they do, continually improve on that and pass on the opportunities that seem like an easy win at first but eventually lead to a dead end.
The web is becoming more crowded every day with lots of noise to confuse prospects. Any business, and especially those that compete on the web, need to continually refine who they are, what their message is and make sure it resonates with customers.