Starting, running, and growing a business is not easy. For some, they appear to have a natural aptitude for coming up with great ideas and getting a business up-and-going successfully. For the rest of us though, we often feel like we're moving without direction, especially in the early stages. That's why I've focused my first three-part blog entry on the topic of structured ideation and problem solving. This structure allows for a consistent method of gaining a new insight into your own business.
In my first entry, I discussed "Top-Down" design where one starts with the end in mind and works their way backwards to formulate their plan. Then I discussed "Bottom-Up" design in which one takes a wide look at resources and potential possibilities and narrows down what their desired end goal might be, all while formulating a plan along the way. In theory and in practice, these are both easier said than done. However, both of these are the most common approaches to figuring things out whether you realize you're doing it or not. With that said, there is one more thought process that I'd like to discuss, I called out it "Middle-Out".
Middle-Out (MO) is the least thought of approach because of the level of complexity it involves. Middle-Out is a combination of Top-Down (TD) and Bottom-Up (BU) design processes because it is a dynamic process. Often times TD and BU are static, which means you work through your process before executing their results. This isn't always the case, but it is common. Compared to MO, which can be thought of as a moving target, is constantly changing.
Let's take a look at an example of what I mean. At one point I was consulting a client that was still in the growth phase of its business and was determined to figure out a long-term strategy for expanding its market and client base, without sacrificing its work in the existing market and client base, and develop new products to offer to clients. Middle-Out reflects the idea that you will be using Top-Down AND Bottom-Up processes at the same time. You are literally starting in the middle of an operation, instead of its beginning or end. This means you have to plan backwards from the end goal, in this case expansion into new markets and clients, while at the same time using what you have to develop growth. To be more specific, the end goal was to generate a market presence in geographical areas that the company had not yet operated in. Similarly, the company wanted to sell a new product so as to have more offerings available as they built a larger customer base.
Before I continue further, it is important to point out that I will not go into too much detail with this example as I do honor client confidentiality, but I'll explain enough to get my point across. Regarding the expansion side of the problem, it was mostly a straight forward marketing project. Understand the demographic, research the market conditions to ensure a demand for the products/services, target the appropriate demographic and create a presence. However, this gets complicated quickly because when selling a product that has limited quantities to your existing client base is hard enough as it is, so when your client base becomes aware of expansion into other markets it means more competition for them to have access to your products. This is where the new product aspect comes into play.
As for developing a new product, time was ticking. As with any company, there is a need to balance time, money and human resources when it comes to developing a new product AND run a business. For me, the solution was simple, review the companies product assets and liabilities and rethink how to use them. I asked "what products don't sell and why?" We took a hard look at what that answer was and, long story short, I was able to propose a reworking of the existing product along with the creation of a packaged deal consisting of these low-selling "liability" product with high-selling "asset" products that could be sold a two-for-one type deal that appealed to a specific demographic of customer within the current client base and the newly targeted client base.
Yes, there are a lot of moving parts. But this is the reality of what it takes to run a business. Middle-Out design is the lifeblood of operations. It takes the first two design methods, combines them, as refines itself every step of the way. In the end, my client was satisfied and achieved the results they wanted. Now, that company and its team have a new way of looking at their business more efficiently. My business is service-based, and I focus on providing the highest levels of customer service and value to my clients. Providing insight like this is one of the many things that can help you start and/or grow your business.