How to Escape from The Mile-Wide Trap

How to Escape from The Mile-Wide Trap

The Mile-Wide Trap ensnares you when you do an excellent job serving a small number of great customers and they ask you to handle more of their work. You keep delivering, and they keep broadening the list of products and services they want you to supply. Your company is wildly profitable serving the expanding needs of this small list of “great customers” so you keep falling deeper and deeper into the trap. Pretty soon, you’re an inch deep and a mile wide in offerings and the only person in your company with the depth of industry experience to deliver all of the services is you. But you’re trapped because your expenses have crept up as your revenue has exploded – leaving you dependent on the sales you get from a small group of demanding customers. With no more hours in the day, your company stalls and you run on a hamster wheel just trying to keep what you’ve got.

The Solution: Sell less stuff to more people.

Instead of selling more things to a few customers, concentrate on selling a few things to a lot of customers.

Nashville-based Ethos3 is a successful design firm that has avoided The Mile Wide Trap. Most design firms are founded by a designer who gets himself in trouble by offering a broad range of design services (brochures, websites, signage, advertising) to a handful of clients. But founder Scott Schwertly knew that in order to scale up beyond himself, he needed his employees to execute the work, and therefore he decided to focus on one very small corner of the design business: PowerPoint presentations.

Schwertly’s focus on PowerPoint has allowed him to train his employees to follow his system for designing presentations. Everything is standardized – from the proposal to project management to the final invoice – so employees can follow a system that doesn’t require the owner. Ethos3 has scaled up nicely and counts Microsoft, Google, and Cisco among its 300+ customers.

Another example: is a video production studio, but instead of making videos of all kinds, they’ve decided to focus exclusively on two-minute animated “explainer” videos that explain a company’s value proposition simply and effectively. Their focus on creating one specific type of product allows them to standardize their pricing and give employees a step-by-step guide to making great explainer videos. Flikli has scaled up to 22 employees and their work has been featured in everything from Wired Magazine to The Washington Post.

You can fall into The Mile-Wide Trap innocently enough: you do great work and a customer wants more of you. But it’s a trap that will eventually choke off your growth. The way out is to follow Flikli and Ethos3 and focus on selling less stuff to more people.