This post applies to business and life I think – so use it as you will.

I’ve owned my own business for a very long time and like most businesses I’ve had my share of ups and downs. More often than not though I’ve had sometimes long stretches where I mostly just felt a bit stuck – not going anywhere exciting and not knowing what my next move should be – only that I should move. (Probably a bit of undiagnosed ADD creeping in here.)

Lately, I’ve been writing and thinking a lot about growth and the need to focus in order to do so, and I think I’ve unlocked or at least begun to understand that the secret to getting unstuck does involve focus but more than that it involves what I’m going call optimization.

It’s not enough to just choose a narrow focus you’ve also got to choose an objective for that focus – you have to create what and why.

Optimization over focus

Now I know there’s been plenty written of late on purpose in business and choosing the “why” you do what you do. Heck, I’ve contributed to that chatter myself, but there’s always been something sort unpractical about that entire conversation. Sure, I do want to save the world and the whales, but sometimes I have trouble aligning that with what I do day to day.

So, here’s what I want to put out to the world of business that I don’t think is talked about enough.

To feel fully focused and alive in your business, I believe you have to decide just what you are optimizing your business for and then go about staying on that path in everything you do.

Here’s what I mean.

The 5 points of optimization

I believe there are essentially five things you can optimize your business for, and each of these things suggests that you must adopt a certain point of view about your role in the business.

So here goes. (Feel free to add to this list as I’m certain there are more, but in the spirit of focus I’ve opted for less.)

Profit – A business or life optimized for profit means you must make decisions that are more about helping others get what they want rather than building a large following or name for yourself. Have you ever noticed that some of the most profitable businesses are ones you’ve never heard of. That’s because they are busy making products that help other get famous or, at least, live their dream. These businesses are led by people who like to make others shine. That’s why I think the conversation around profit being something bad is so misguided. Sure, there are people who profit at the expense of others, but that’s not the profit optimization I’m talking about. Here’s the tough thing about this one for many business owners – you usually have to get good at giving others credit.

Lifestyle – Today there are countless individuals starting “lifestyle” businesses. That’ the dream, right? Four-hour workweek anyone? There’s no question that there are people living the dream, traveling the world, leading and running causes under the banner of a lifestyle business, but they’ve made choices. They’ve optimized their life, their living situation, and their expectations for what work looks like to fit this choice.

Legacy – Building something that lives on after you let go is certainly a driving force for many. I’m not sure too many businesses get started this way but plenty evolve to this place. Again, this objective involves choice making. Legacy businesses have to invest in building assets and creating endowable innovations and earnings. This might mean making hard choices about both investments and short-term gains.

Growth – Pure growth firms are today quite often associated with the tech startup scene, but it’s just a mindset. A firm that chooses growth and scale must constantly experiment, measure, analyze, and gamble to some degree on rapid change. This can be exciting, gut-wrenching, lifestyle altering and very, very profitable if you win, but it’s not for everyone.

Authority – We’ve seen a surge in authority building over the last five years as many early social media adopters became authorities in a space that rewarded people for engagement, but perhaps not so much for ROI. To some degree, the authority business is a choice that involves a fair amount of ego to sustain. It’s a beast that isn’t ever satiated, so it requires constant innovation, platform and point of view.

Optimize for one or none at all

Now, I’m not suggesting that any of the paths above is right or wrong or that one is more suited for someone who does or does not want to get rich. There are countless examples of highly profitable businesses whose owners enjoy an incredible lifestyle many industry authorities who have become incredibly wealthy due in part to their status.

But there are many more examples of people who think they have made one of these choices only to find themselves rather stuck or even failing at some level. (This, of course, may be a measure made up and articulated by a panel of their peers)

Okay – after about 900 words I’m going to give you the real point of the post – in order to thrive in business I believe you must choose to focus on one and only one way to optimize your business and make every decision for how you spend your time, how you market your business, how you build what you build, based on that one thing.

So, a business that chooses profit must be able to build a culture where credit is given to others, where service is about helping others get what they want, where staff, partners and customers are the focus of business decisions.

Far too many business owners say they want to build a highly profitable business and then spend a great deal of their time worrying about their Klout score of some other measure mostly useless in the pursuit of profit.

Others claim that a lifestyle business is their dream, but then they never really get around to creating product v.001 so they find out what’s it like to check your PayPal account from a cabin in the woods.

Look, I get, this stuff is hard, so my intent here is to simply acknowledge that most of the stuckness you might be feeling is self-inflicted and until you realize that you can’t optimize your business for everything the sooner you’ll find focus, make decisions that are true for you, and perhaps for the first time in a long time, start to understand why you do what you do.

Try it out for yourself. Consider the options I’ve listed above and ask yourself, which one of those am I (are we?)

Now, ask this question over and over again – What would a [profit or growth or authority] business do?

The thing is once you commit to this you can start to determine that only thing that matters our business is X – and then you can start to let go of so many of the things you or someone else has convinced you are important.

I know that this is a much bigger topic than that space of one blog post can fully unpack, but just for today – consider what you need to optimize for and start doing it.

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • Bonnie David

    Love it John.

    Key takeaway: Consider what you need to optimize for and start doing it.


    • Thanks for reading, Bonnie. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • JR Craft

    Ha! You just described adults doing the same thing they lead their kids into. My take is that the problem has been a cultural shift where we have been told we can have and do it all to a point of being overwhelmed with a feeling of failure. Let’s not forget that most of us are truly gifted in 1-2 areas and that multitasking is the enemy. I heard it once at Leadercast that those that embrace and exercise multitasking are never able to give 100% to any of their tasks. So, why give 90% to your list of five when you can give 100% to one and let the others fall into place where they can support your one. It frees the mind and empowers your ability for focus too. No more energy drinks to keep up!

  • Excellent post, John! I have two additions for the conversation. One, I would add a sixth point for optimization, and let’s call it Creativity. I would define this as a focus on creative process and result. It would resonate with makers, artists, craftspersons, as much as with anyone who craves a tangible result from his/her work (writers, programmers, designers, etc). It creates quandary at times when this focus intersects with scalability necessary for some of the other areas of optimization; a point which supports your belief that one can only effectively hold only one area of focus at a time. Which leads me to my second thought: I have found it’s necessary to hold more than one, for the least that profit is essential for sustaining any of the other areas of focus. (Degree of profit and intended accumulated wealth is widely variable but a baseline is essential, because simply put, money is the tool of our culture required for anything we don’t forage – which for most Americans is everything.) All that said, I share your struggle with the paradox of choice, especially at a point in our careers where we have the experience and knowledge to choose ANY focus. Though I am clear my intentions for my next chapter are for legacy and lifestyle, with profit to sustain both, if I don’t allow creativity too, aka enjoying the ride, I would surely spin off axis. Look forward to your continued thoughts wise one. It is a frequent topic among my tribe of solopreneurs.

    • Hey Dodie – great feedback. It’s definitely important to “enjoy the ride.” Thanks for contributing.

    • Dodie, I like your addition of Creativity. As a creativity coach I work with so many ‘Makers’ to help identify how they can draw upon more of it in their business and daily life, no matter what the arena.

      • Great impact from your work, Dawn! I see often my clients compartmentalize their Creativity as separate from their Business Owner Within, and once they tear down the wall, the owner role in their work starts to be more accessible.

        • That’s so true, Dodie. Life works better for our business owner within when we make room for creativity at the table. Love your phrase, the Business Owner Within. Nice!

  • My experience?
    Focus is what happens when you make choices that support being able to focus.
    For the curiosity hound in me, that can be painful at times.
    John, your post delivers the goods, straight and true yet surrounded with enough guidance to do a gut check and CHOOSE by envisioning where we want to land.
    I can see how a few detours called for curiosity are OK with focus as the steering wheel.
    This post has given me a renewed sight line. Where am I now, where do I want to get to and how do I want to feel when I arrive?
    Yep, I can see the Profit and Lifestyle markers guiding me along.
    Thanks for this.

  • Steve McCready

    This post has me thinking, so thanks for that. 🙂 Might ones focus / optimization choices shift over time, depending on their own personal needs/focus and the stage of the business?

    • Yes Steve definitely – you might find that by building an authority business you have set yourself up to build a legacy business over time.

  • JCM0165

    How about “mission” as another category? To me, a sense of higher purpose can drive the need to create a business to fulfill that purpose. I see that as perhaps related to Dodie’s reply about “creativity” being an additional category but perhaps the term “mission” is more inclusive as some with a powerful mission may not see their mission as being creative. Or mission could be parsed as different from creativity.

  • Great article John. I’ve discovered over the years that what I THOUGHT was the right way to grow my business and my clients businesses, gradually changed focus. At first I thought that achieving the target revenue was the key thing, but not when it wasn’t profitable enough, and then moving from how many clients do I need to get to that profit I discovered that you could achieve a decent profit, but only by working way too many hours. Then when I discovered that you could actually get the kind of money you wanted while working only a few hours, and still have time to enjoy what you have with those you want to enjoy it with, that changed everything. So yes, focus on the right thing becomes important.

  • Rob Lindsay

    Terrific article, John. It accomplishes the standard “guru” technique of sounding important without actually saying anything, of giving “advice” without actually telling you anything that could help you.

    Okay, so I’ve selected one point of “optimization” from your list. It’s “profit.” Although in my case, “profit” would be defined as “making a decent living doing the only thing I’ve ever been good at” (i.e. copywriting).

    I selected this “point of optimization” a long time ago. But it hasn’t helped me to “get unstuck.” In fact, I’ve been stuck for almost a year now. The reason is simple. Despite constant daily prospecting in the high-tech and other sectors, I find very few clients who need my services. When I contact them every few months to check in, the answer is always “No.” As in, “No we don’t have a need for your services right now.”

    Can you tell me how to get unstuck from that?

    • Well yes Rob – although first I stick with my definition of profit.

      I’m sorry you are frustrated about your current situation, but the solution is pretty evident – find a market that does have a need for your services. I’m not saying that to be clever, it’s evident that either you don’t possess the skills and background to provide value in your chosen field or you are focused on the wrong market – you’ll get unstuck when you come to grips with which one it is.

      • Rob Lindsay


        1. I’m a freelance copywriter with experience writing for Dell, IBM, Cisco, and others. I have experience writing case studies, white papers, blog articles, and other marketing pieces in a variety of *extreme* high-tech genres (Big Data, High Performance Computing, Internet of Things, Software-Defined Networking, Data Centers), which require a high degree of skill to write about.

        2. The clients I have worked for all say I do excellent work for them. They say my “value” is that I provide them with dynamic, high-quality marketing pieces that help them to bring in new customers and increase sales and revenue.

        3. I am targeting the high-tech market, which according to other people who serve this sector, should be a very profitable market for copywriters. Other writers I talk to (i.e. Steve Slaunwhite, Ed Gandia) continue to insist that this is a market that has a high demand for copywriting and regularly hires outside writers.

        4. The thing I hear from most of my potential clients is, “We don’t have a need for your services now, but we’ll keep you in mind if we do.”

        Any other suggestions?

  • Great post, I’ve coming through the fog on optimization for my own business. I’m starting to see many new elements by focusing on helping others achieve results, while paying minor attention to my own goals. Its a balancing act for sure, but as time grows change will get easier.