Hey, you! Yes, you.

You’re a whirling dervish of business acumen and entrepreneurship, right? Of course you are.

Right now, you’re probably in the middle of another crusade to profitability; but take a minute to kick back and ask yourself one question—are you remembering the most simple lesson of building a company?

Are you sure? It’s an easy one to forget. After all, running a business teaches you a lot of complicated lessons. The simple one is this: remember to focus your company on a single product.

Yes, you’ve heard it before. It’s the single most common theme among business books around the world. In fact, it’s the theme of this post. But if it’s already reiterated ad-nauseam why the heck are we repeating it?

Because it’s worth repeating.

Without applying this simple lesson, you risk turning a great idea into a quagmire.

Focusing your business on a single product is hard.

Need Proof?

Take a look at this.

That is a piece of crap. That is a printer, an Apple Imagewriter II.

I had one of these growing up. Like most tech products in the mid-90s, it was a beige box of circuit boards that only occasionally did what you asked it to but more often than not ruined your day. Its existence was pointless. In fact, it tarnished Apple’s brand.

So why was it sitting on my desk? The same reason that your candy company is thinking about building a line of teddy bears, or your website design company is dabbling in marketing— it was just too hard to resist.

Apple knew they could make a printer. But they never bothered to ask themselves if they should.

The Cost of Losing Focus

There’s a reason you can’t walk into an Apple store today and buy the latest Imagewriter. When Steve Jobs returned to the company in 1996, one of his first objectives was to stop production on all non-essential Apple products.

This meant anything that wasn’t a computer had to go. His reasoning? The companies name: Apple Computer, Inc. Not Apple Electronics, Apple Printers, Apple Depot.

From first-hand experience, Jobs was right. That low-quality printer very nearly frustrated my family to the point of switching to a PC.

And we weren’t the only ones. Spin-off products like the Imagewriter II, Macintosh TV, Apple Quicktake Camera, Bandai Pippin game console, and the Newton trashed Apple’s brand. Before Jobs arrived, they were famously sinking fast.

Historically, placing the company focus back on computers is what began Apple’s incredible turn-around. It brought about iMac and iPod (which was conceived to get people to buy more computers. Remember, the first several generations of iPod had to be tethered to a Mac.)

The Lesson

No matter how large your company is, the temptation to offer anything and everything is real. It’s a sort of “General Store” philosophy where offering anything and everything becomes your key to growth. But ask yourself, do you really want to run a “General Store?”

Most likely, you are passionate about what you do. Whether you are running a flower shop, a web design agency or a bus station you want to be known for your passionate.

Your passion is what you’re best at. And it’s what will separate you from the crowd. Tweet This

So the next time you get a brilliant idea for a spin-off product, write it down. Write it down and put it in a drawer with your other ideas. Think long and hard about whether or not that product still focuses on the passion of your business before you make another Apple Imagewriter II.

Proven Success

Last year, the Metal Potato team was inspired to move on this lesson. Our passion is website design, but our company was offering other services like logo design and a la carte SEO.

These were fine in the sense that we like doing them well enough, but they really weren’t the best use of our time. Further, people struggled to get a clear picture of what we do. “Are you a website design firm? Are you a graphic design agency? A marketing firm? We don’t get it.”

Obviously, it was a problem. Quite frankly, we weren’t sure what to call ourselves either. So we decided to trim the extra weight and focus completely on bespoke website design.

Man, did that pay off. Our company grew more than 300% in 2013. All because we finally took the lessons from all of those business books, and all of those crappy 90s spinoff products and put it to work.