To Grow your Business, Narrow your Scope

by John Almberg, Identry LLC, February 2007

The biggest obstacle to growing an online business is the strongly held belief that a company has to appeal to the entire market. In most cases, you can grow your online stamp business faster by doing the exact opposite – by narrowing your scope.

For example, Helena and I own a Mediterranean-style house with a tile roof. After 80 years of keeping the rain out, the roof finally needed some TLC. Helena Googled for "Roofers" and started calling the companies in our area.

The first two guys showed up in pickup trucks. Both trucks had the words 'General Contractor' stenciled on their sides. Both wore tee-shirts with 'Contractor' printed under the name. Both seemed knowledgeable about roofs. Both seemed honest. Both gave reasonable quotes.

When they were about to leave, I asked both: “Could you also give me an estimate on some indoor plastering?”

Both said: “Sure. We do everything.”

The third guy showed up in a truck with a roof built on top. That's right – framed, shingled, little windows in the eaves, everything. Printed on the side of the truck was “The Roofing Specialist.”

He wore a tee-shirt with the word “Roofer” printed on it. As we walked around outside of the house, he gave me a graduate lesson in the history of my roof. His quote was 20% higher than the others, because it included details the others had left off.

When I asked him about the plastering, he looked me in the eye and said, “I could, but that's not what we do. We do roofing.”

Guess which guy we hired?

In our highly competitive era, people don't buy, they choose. And when given a choice between a generalist and a specialist, most people choose the specialist, the expert.

The Search-driven Internet

The specialist stamp dealer has a huge advantage over the generalist on the Internet. The reason is simple. When most collectors go online to buy something, they aren't looking for “stamps”. They are looking for a specific type of stamp or even a specific stamp.

When a knowledgeable stamp collector, for instance, searches the Web for a 325 graded Superb 98, he doesn't type “stamps” into Google, he types “graded stamps”. When he searches for a FDC with the complete Pan American Issue on it, he searches for “first day covers” or maybe even “first day cover pan american issue”. When he wants to buy a pound of stamps for his boy scout troop, he searches for “kiloware”.

If you try all these searches in Google, you'll get the specialists, not the generalists -- the websites that specialize in one specific area, rather than trying to be all things to all collectors.

The generalists, on the other hand, are hard to find.

Specialization also pays off in repeat business. Collectors – particularly those with money to spend -- might work with more than one dealer, but when they want a cover, they'll go to their cover specialist. When they want a graded stamp, they'll go to their graded stamp expert. And when they want that bag of stamps, they'll go to their kiloware guy.

Bottom line: specialization pays.

7 Keys to Focusing Your Online Business

1. Your focus should be simple

Choosing to focus your website on First Day Covers, rather than Fancy Cancels doesn't take a lot of creativity. It just takes judgement. Which focus is a better fit for your expertise? What part of your business is growing?

2. Your focus should be memorable

Your focus works in the mind of your customers. If your customers can't remember your specialty, it won't do you much good.

3. Your focus should force a change

Focusing an online business is like pruning a bush. You start by cutting back. If your new focus doesn't require you to remove some inventory from your website, you've probably invented an excuse to stay unfocused.

4. Your focus should have an enemy

Coke's enemy is Pepsi. Avis's enemy is Hertz. Who's your enemy? If your business is focused, you should be able to name the leader in your chosen specialty. If you don't know who your enemy is, you can't compete with her.

5. Your focus should be the future

When you choose a focus, you are making a prediction about where the future of your business lies, and what you are going to do to make that future happen. So, focus on the growing part of your business.

6. Your focus should not appeal to everybody

No one specialty can appeal to everybody. Unless you are one of the biggest stamp dealers in the country, attempting to appeal to everyone is a mistake (and maybe even then!)

7. Your focus should be big enough

On the other hand, your focus shouldn't be so small that only 3 collectors in the world collect your stuff. You need a specialty that's big enough to grow your business in. Luckily, on the Internet, that's rarely a problem.

Wrapping Up

Next month, we'll look at finding the right keywords for your focus, so keep them coming to or visit us at And have a great month, Selling Stamps On The Web.