Here’s Why Entrepreneurs Should Only Do Things They’re Obscenely Good At

Okay. I know, pretty ridiculous. Fun to talk about, but we all know that if this were to play out in real life, it would be a disaster.

You’ll get a kick out of this.

About once a month, I receive a phone call from someone in the food services industry – usually the owner of a restaurant – who wants to know if I can come over and fix a malfunctioning piece of equipment.

It’s typically regarding a broken oven, but I’ve had calls for grills, frialators and walk-in refrigerators too.

 Why food services people?

Well, for reasons that remain a mystery, my company is erroneously listed on a number of yellow pages directories as being in the “Restaurant Equipment Repair Services” business.


Amusing business distractions

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining.

For one thing, I take it as a tribute to my marketing panache that on these websites, my fictitious restaurant repair business is somehow listed ahead of several apparently legitimate concerns.

Second, I have to admit that those restaurant-related calls are kind of an amusing distraction.


Photo: © lukafunduck, YFS Magazine
Photo: © lukafunduck, YFS Magazine

Sometimes, in fact, when I’m feeling a little bit impish, I’m tempted to play along and begin troubleshooting the problem over the phone. I envision asking an assortment of increasingly specific, but nonetheless meaningless questions; things like, “What percent of your pizzas are pepperoni?,” or “By any chance, is your chef left-handed?”

In the extreme scenarios, I confess that I’ve even wondered to myself if I should just grab my toolbelt, drive over to the establishment in question, and start poking around. Who knows, maybe with a few hours of web surfing before I leave and a little bit of luck, I might discover an easy fix.

Okay. I know, pretty ridiculous.

Fun to talk about, but we all know that if this were to play out in real life, it would be a disaster. The restaurant owner would be unhappy with the results. I’d be stressed about the lousy job I was doing and the time it was taking.

I might have a client, but I wouldn’t have a profession.


The difference between mediocre and great businesses

I hope you’ve guessed where I’m going with this story.
 Because while my made up scenario is extreme, in principle, it’s not that far off from what a lot of entrepreneurs do: they offer services they’re not that good at to prospects whose only qualification is “money in hand”.

Ouch! If you ask me, that situation feels about as sustainable and comfortable as sitting on a recently repaired commercial grill.

So, I have a better idea.

What if you were to: 

Spend some time figuring out what you’re really good at and not the packaging and price of what you sell (that happens later).


Photo: YFS Magazine
Photo: YFS Magazine

I’m talking about the skills, interests and natural gifts that really (truly) set you apart. Maybe you have a knack for simplifying data. Possibly you have an ability to see what other people can’t see in design. 
Maybe you’re unmatched when it comes to writing useful, witty, short format business communications (the kind that are so good, people hardly notice your odd creepiness).

The point is, step one is to take the time to put your finger on whatever it is that you have achieved mastery in (or very close to it). Step two is only doing step one.

Pretty scary, I know. After all, you need more work.

So right now, until you “get on track” you’re willing to do anything that comes your way – even if what comes your way is a guy with a broken pizza oven.


Only do things you’re ridiculously good at

The problem is, an approach of doing anything that comes your way is a self-perpetuating distraction. Doing hard, unfulfilling work for people who are only marginally satisfied (sometimes referred to as “a job”) is more than just drudgery … it keeps you from ever getting to where you want to be.

Instead, I’m suggesting that you stop doing work that you are simply capable of and focus on the opposite, equally self-perpetuating side of the equation—do work that involves projects you love. Commit to the kind of work that pays you good money for ease instead of effort.

This kind of work impresses clients to the point where they think you’re one of a kind and quite possibly magical.

Where do you find that work? It lives in a room filled with all of the things you want as a solo professional – happy clients, personal fulfillment, plenty of money, a feeling of having found your calling. And it is behind the door called “Only do things you’re obscenely good at.

Here’s the bottom line.

One of the many great things about working as a solopreneur is that you get to choose what you do … and what you don’t do. I don’t mean someday, I mean right now.

In my experience, the freedom to choose isn’t the reward for one day becoming “successful.” Becoming successful is the result of choosing freely every day.


This article has been edited and condensed.

Michael Katz is Founder and Chief Penguin of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in developing email newsletters for professional service firms. Sign up for his free newsletter, The Likeable Expert Gazette, here.

Since launching Blue Penguin in 2000, Michael Katz has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Business Week Online, Bloomberg TV, Forbes.com, The Boston Globe, and other national and local media. He is the author of three books, and has published over 350 issues of “The Likeable Expert Gazette,” a twice-monthly email newsletter with 6,500 passionate subscribers in over 40 countries around the world. Michael has an MBA from Boston University and a BA in Psychology from McGill University in Montreal. Connect with @MichaelJKatz on Twitter.


© YFS Magazine. All Rights Reserved. Copying prohibited. All material is protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this material is prohibited. Sharing of this material under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International terms, listed here, is permitted.


In this article