Your Business Has More to Offer Than its Products

Here is the fundamental idea of a great blog post I read a couple of years ago that has stuck with me:

Most businesses have more to offer than what they are actually selling to customers.

On first reading that might not sound profound or revolutionary but if you think about it for a few days, you’ll start to see an insight here that can completely change the way your businesses interacts with the world. For us, this revelation helped to land Jet City Device Repair in the NY Times blog then appear in their print edition.

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The first example that comes to mind is Amazon.com. Most people think of them as an online marketplace, but few people outside the IT world realize Amazon is one of the biggest cloud computing companies out there. Amazon realized they had a huge and highly reliable server infrastructure for selling products online. It dawned on them that other businesses were making good money offering cloud computing services. So what did Amazon do? They turned their own massive server infrastructure into a product and started renting it out to other businesses. That’s a great example of a company realizing untapped value in their business model and then productizing it.

Another example is Patrick McKenzie who runs a small, online business selling bingo cards to teachers. One thing Patrick does well is SEO. One of his techniques for getting people to link to his site (a big part of a high Google ranking), involves open source software.

What does open source software have to do with bingo cards for 1st graders? Nothing. However, Patrick is a software developer that wrote the code for his bingo card website. He recognized that some of the code he wrote was valuable on its own, so he turned part of it into an open source Ruby on Rails project, put the code up on his site along with instructions on using it, and then told the world about it. Then other software developers, with no interest in bingo cards, started linking to the portion of Patrick’s website that hosted this project. More links to his website meant a better ranking on Google which meant more sales of his bingo card creator. So while he didn’t directly sell his offering the way Amazon sold their’s, he did use it in a way that created more business for him.

This brings us to how I landed Jet City in the New York Times a couple of years ago. I used to be locked into the idea that all our blog posts, marketing and PR efforts had to be related to mobile devices. I got nowhere blogging about Apple products. There’s a million people out there blogging and writing about Apple. So anything I wrote had already been written 100 times and wasn’t that interesting.

Instead, I started responding to any PR requests about small business. Not only is running a small company something I’m passionate about, but I’ve learned a ton doing it over the years. I know there’s a lot of other small businesses out there struggling with the same issues we have, so why not offer that value up to people?

When a woman named Melinda Emerson put a request on HARO to ask how small businesses use social media, I responded with our strategy. She thought it was interesting and decided to use it for her story. It turned out, her editor also liked the story and they ended up sending a photographer out to one of our stores to take some pictures and it became an actual article in the NY Times business section.

This happened because I stopped focusing just on the product we were selling and started asking what other value we had to offer the world.