Does the Ocean Hold the Key to Helping You Better Define Your Business?

Wind, Water, and Fire; Its All You Need

I just spent a handful of days on the Gulf Coast down in Texas (post about the place we stayed coming up). In case you’re like me and didn’t know this, Texas has over 600 miles of coastline, complete with every possible livelihood that comes from that. If you’ve never thought of it, a stretch of ocean provides you with:

  • Transport (lots of our goods come across water channels on huge cargo ships).
  • Oil (you can see rigs off the coast).
  • Commercial fishing (both for food and also ingredients for other needs).
  • Sport fishing.
  • Recreational boating.
  • Swimming.
  • Water sports.
  • And much more, obviously.

For every single potential usage of the water above, there are whole industries that exist to serve it. There are resorts and beach front hotels for swimmers and leisure fishing people to stay in. There are people to teach Kiteboarding lessons, and people to rent kayaks. There are divers and haulers and a bazillion jobs around the oil rigs. It’s endless.

In thinking about that, I found myself realizing that a lot of businesses (most especially small and solo businesses) try very hard to supply all and every part of the ocean they serve. I hear web designers tell me all the time that they build sites for all and everybody. And yet, that makes it very difficult to sell into, doesn’t it? If you serve the same people who build oil rigs as well as the people who want to make a sand castle or two and sneak a shell home for their mantlepiece, this might be a bit tricky. Don’t you think? It requires bravery.

Which Part of the “Ocean” do You Serve?

Knowing your customer is a different kind of a challenge than it used to be when we all belonged to this or that company’s workforce, and I suspect that even then, it’s not always easy.

If you’re LEGO, do you serve the little kid who wants to create the world she plays in, or are you supporting the 30-something LEGO fanatic?

But one point is certain: you can capture some of the potential revenue from the ocean, but only if you commit to which part you’re serving. There aren’t very many successful commercial fisherman/paddleboard instructors. There aren’t many shops renting kayaks as well as offering deep sea net repairs.

Our Fear Keeps Our Net Cast Wide, Which Loses Us the Catch

I speak from experience in this case. As of the time I’m writing this post, my client base has been split between rather large companies and also solo- and small-sized entrepreneurs running non-traditional business practices. You can see that it’s a bit complex to talk the language of a big corporate giant as well as keep the attention of the rising star. But it’s fear that causes me to keep my net wide, and it’s fear that loses me some of my business opportunities.

Once you dare to declare your part of the ocean, and dare to seek specifically the market you intend to serve, everything gets easier. Everything gets better. You know how to start your day. You know where to spend your time. You know who to communicate with and who to serve better. It’s a gorgeous feeling.

Side note: even during the writing of this post, I received a quick email from someone saying they wanted to know how to engage my services for the coming year, only they represent a different part of the ocean. My reflex? To create something that would serve them. But then, I’d be doing the opposite of what I propose will win me success in this very post. So that big fish swims by.

What is Your Part of the Ocean?

If you’re currently selling to “everyone,” what’s the real answer to who you serve? I’m not asking you to narrowly define your niche. If you deliver lobsters for the commercial fishing industry, your customer is “every restaurant you can convince to sell lobsters.” That’s not very narrow, but it’s defined. What’s your answer? runs on the Genesis Framework

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  • Mustafa Khundmiri

    Great insight Chris!

    My answer: I serve specifically to those who require my services/products, regardless of the end result they have in mind. What matters to me is fulfilling their need and provide complete satisfaction – not worry about what comes after that.

    But yes, I do agree that knowing your target audience solves half of the problem. Since there is so much that goes into running a business that sometimes things go haywire, confusing and ballistic.
    However, when you define your niche, you automatically think in one specific direction. Your energy is purely focused on the right stuff. And above all, you’ll feel more passionate towards achieving your business goals.

    • Chris Brogan

      But are you saying that your niche is “anyone who wants my products?” Just checking.

      • Mustafa Khundmiri

        No not at all. That’s a recipe for disaster. What I’m saying is this:

        My purpose is to sell to an audience which has a genuine need for my product/service. As long as I am doing that effectively, I don’t have to worry about the rest.

        And to fulfill this need in the best possible way, I’ll have to define who my audience is and specifically identify them.

        So in the end, it all boils down to knowing your audience without going too narrow. Giving them the service they deserve. And moving ahead consistently in one single direction.

  • Vince Robisch

    Timely post for me Chris. I find myself still waiting on some sort of clarity in order to make this decision. It seems to be even more difficult when you have a wide range of interests.

    Do you find you enjoy one piece of your business more than the other(s)?

  • Island Sunrise Tim F

    Today’s post is particularly relevant as i continue to progress my Island Sunrises effort and assist my clients continued growth. Thanks for the excellent concept construct!

    • Island Sunrise Tim F

      I share in my consulting practice: “find the most likely and easiest to connect with potential customers”. My clients produce goods that are generally purchased in foodservice and retail environments. We are looking at geographical proximity, likely positive connections between the leadership and customers, along with who has the problems we solve with our products. When building online efforts, my clients know i push a similar desire to first understand, know, and connect with a loop of learning and correction.

  • Lindsay Hunt

    Once you know your focus, you can toss the fish that aren’t your ideal clients to other people. Instead of just turning potential clients away, I try to have a list of other people I know that would like that client. I help the client find a solution and I serve the other consultant by sending a referral.

    The great part about specializing is that before, the other consultants were my competitors. But with a specialization, they’re my partners.

  • Mohammed mokhlisse

    i wihs to visit it im in morocco put its so far for me

    • Linda Brown

      I like morocco!

  • frank barry

    Really creative analogy to help us think about business Chris.

    This idea of understanding your customer is so important. I know its not a new concept, but there are new businesses popping up all the time and new ways to find customers so the topic never gets old.

    Recently I’ve been head down in adwords and paid search work (i know, blasphemy to our social and organic world) and this exact topic is one I’m constantly thinking of and focusing on.

    Very helpful.

  • Christine Steffensen

    Really a great idea for someone who can rely on this things. For me, to serve is the best things who can make a great help for a lot of businesses.

  • OBVAVirtualAssistant

    Chris I seriously didn’t know Texas has over 600 miles of coastline, complete with every possible livelihood that comes from that. Very innovative post. When we know our golas your energy gets purely focused on the right stuff!

  • Raul Colon

    My takeaway from this post is defining what we want to offer and creating opportunities around it. I also need to define that a bit more but over time I am able to stay away from some opportunities because they don’t fit into what I want to do moving forward and might be on the side of going against certain belief systems.

    As I moved very close to the beach I have also been observing all the possible opportunities that being next to the water can offer you. The best thing is your customers for the most part are ready to have fun and are on vacation in the Caribbean!

  • Mary Mavis


    For me, the wide net is more about wanting to follow great ideas and all the possible ways I can serve. I find that I am my own worst enemy–more ideas generated, too little time to even execute on them–let alone the loss of focus.

    I also take a short- and long-view of my business. Second firm in my career, this one twelve years…and, I’m 55. So, who are my clients now is one question. And, who will my targeted clients be when I’m 65. Same or different.

    Technology also creates a pull, promising the ease to serve multiple masters.

    Anyway, great to hear your voice on the matter. The power of focus!

  • Judy Martin

    2 poignant moments from this post. Clearly audience/customer – key to focus on message and business generation. And when you envision the marketplace in terms of an ocean – yup lots o fish out there.

    But here’s what struck me deeper. Your picture, your tone, and the fact that you took a vacation. Seems a little sun and peace and quiet resulted in a thoughtful and intuitive post. (and to be fair I do enjoy your writing and insight, but this was particularly thoughtful) What does this say for the way we do business? Often we rush – always thinking we will miss the perennial “boat.” We had spoken about a few years back about the quest for work-life balance. It’s a juggle in the competitive race in the stormy ocean of business.

    Sometimes a little “me” or “down” time in the work-life merge ain’t such a bad thing to percolate, recharge and allow something quite innovative – forward thinking – to emerge. Like this post. Have a great summer! @JudyMartin8

  • Jose Palomino

    “I found myself realizing that a lot of businesses (most especially small
    and solo businesses) try very hard to supply all and every part of the
    ocean they serve.” – Yes! And it’s such an easy trap to fall into.

    I find that specifically defining your value proposition — understanding the essential “IT” of what your company has to offer — is always the first step in focusing in on what EXACTLY you do (and therefor, whom exactly you should be aiming to serve).

    Recently at my company, we had to have this conversation — what is it that we do, and whom does it best serve? And then: are we aiming to serve that customer base? The answer was no, and so we are refocusing our efforts into marketing to our specified customer base. It’s not a set-back; it’s a reawakening. And now we are re-energized heading forward.

    It’s amazing how we can know it, breathe it, teach it, and sometimes fail to live it. This is such an important idea to come back to again and again.

  • Ayaz

    Well Chris!

    I am really amazed how you connect business techniques with the daily routine life and how easily and concisely you mentioned your point, which is really adorable.

    Thanks for sharing great concept and worthy information :-)

  • pdjmoo

    The only problem with using your ocean analogy, Chris, is that that is why are are in such trouble with our oceans and environment. Myopic thinking, thinking only in parts (industrial/farm fishing) and over-specialization to the exclusion to the whole ecosystem (the ocean) has devastated our oceans. 95% of the big fish are gone (the fishing industry is using more and more high tech sonar to find the remaining big schoolsof fish creating an impending eco collapse). This has created chaos among the other industries that depend upon the ocean too. There is a symbiotic relationship between all life and we have focused on the bigger, faster, more concept for too long. We have to get back to engaging the whole system in relationship to the parts or we are in deep trouble. Otherwise good article Chris.

    • Chris Brogan

      You definitely have a point. I appreciate your pointing it out to me, because you’re right that I didn’t really bring _that_ perspective to bear in my analogies, and that it’s exactly what wrecked (is wrecking?) the oceans of the world.

      • pdjmoo

        Your my man, Chris…so very important to keep this perspective in mind for all we, say and act upon :-))

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  • Roberto Livo

    Hm. Interesting, I did’t know that.

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