Jeff Prouty | Crain's Twin Cities

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jeff Prouty

Background:  

Jeff Prouty is the chairman and founder of The Prouty Project, a strategic-planning and organization-assessment and -development company that has worked with businesses across such industries as agriculture, financial services, construction, manufacturing, retail and technology. Clients have included Target, 3M, McDonald's, Motorola and IBM.

The Mistake:

Thirty years ago, when I was young and hustling, my initial brochure was terrible — too broad. It said, "Jeff can do lots of different stuff for lots of different people." My mistake was not being more laser-focused.

It took probably a couple of years [to attain that focus]; when you're starting a consulting business, you're trying to get some traction. After a few years, the clarity was beginning to get better for me. I think it was a combination of realizing it on my own and feedback from others, including friends.

One of the other things that was a big factor for me, the best strategic decision I made, [came after] reading a book in which the author said those who thrive were doing quarterly newsletters. So I started a quarterly newsletter, and that coupled with more focus gave me consistent messaging.

My company has been doing that like clockwork for close to 30 years. The initial mailing may have been 50 or 75 people, and it now goes to 17,000 people all over the world.

Someone told me early on that if you can say what you can do within 10 words, you can make great money; by focusing, you get really good at something.

The Lesson:

Someone told me early on that if you can say what you can do within 25 words, you can make good money. But if you can say what you can do within 10 words, you can make great money. By focusing, you get really good at something. And by getting good at something, the buzz happens in the community, and then the referrals happen.

So somewhere along the line, I said, "OK— strategic planning, team building and executive retreats. Those will be my words."

Those words have changed over time, but I was also able to become more focused [with my approach] over time.

And here's something a client shared with me years ago. One thing that a lot of people don't think about is, what is the endgame? People talk about vision, which is important, but how do you intend to get out of the business? What do you want to happen at the end of the journey? What does a successful harvest look like?

A lot of folks focus on more immediate things, such as paying the mortgage or putting food on the table, but you need to apply that laser-like focus to the long view, as well. Otherwise, you're just on a treadmill, running.

Follow The Prouty Project on Twitter at @ProutyProject.

Photo by Ben Brewer Photography