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Networking Tips: You Can't Serve Everyone

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker specializing in sales and marketing topics for coaches, consultants, and solopreneurs.


I was at a recent networking event and was struck by the number of attendees who said that they can serve or help “everyone.” If you are doing this, please stop. Here's why.

Why You Can't Serve Everyone

If you say you can help everyone, you must believe that “everyone” in the world has the same qualifications, characteristics, needs, and wants. I don’t even have to explain that that’s impossible. You know it’s impossible. What you’re trying to do is homogenize the world in the hope of making sales.

Let’s look at an example of a common business represented at small business networking events: skin care. “I can help anyone with skin.” Oh my! That’s over 7 billion people worldwide and could include most animals. Sure, your product might help a large swath of the population, but it is unlikely to help everyone. Skincare options can vary widely by ethnicity, climate, health condition, allergies, age, gender, diet, budget, activity level... the list is almost endless.

Chances are, too, that you personally don’t really want to help everyone, and may not be capable of doing so due to lack of experience or ability. You’re not a bad person if you aren’t able or don’t want to work with everyone. There are just some groups of people with whom you have a level of simpatico or understanding, and others you don’t.

While the entire population may have some universal trait, the types of customers you and your product or service can help will be limited. This goes for whatever product or service you offer.

Why Do People Say Their Business Can Serve Everyone?

After observing the “everyone” sellers over many years of networking, I’ve identified some of the primary reasons why they slip into this ineffective behavior.

They're Newbies

Some small business newbies are so anxious to be working for themselves, that they try to reassure themselves that sales will come because “everyone” is a prospect for whatever they sell.

They'd Try to "Sell Ice to Eskimos"

The proverbial sales stereotype of someone who can sell ice to Eskimos bet that their stellar sales skills will help them sell to everyone and anyone, regardless of whether it’s a good fit for the customer. These pushy, manipulative sellers have no understanding of their customers or markets.

They're Desperate

Small business owners and entrepreneurs who are failing to attract enough sales will often stray away from their ideal customer profile just to stay in business. They either haven’t figured out how to sell to their target demographic, or have failed to recognize and respond to changes in their markets.

They're Not Self-Aware

Some small businesses, possibly due to any of the above situations, don’t realize that they don’t have the ability to serve everyone. They may overestimate their ability and capability to be flexible to serve so many. Even the largest of corporations can’t and don’t serve everyone. And the ones who do serve large segments of the population are also massive organizations with deep resources and staffing.

At the root of this problem is that many small businesses and entrepreneurs are not self-aware. They don’t really know who they are and who they can serve, and may reinvent themselves with every sale that comes their way. Then they get burned out and go out of business.

Your Network Can’t Identify Who You Help

When you don’t know how to identify who you really help, you don’t help your network identify sales opportunities for you either. When you say “everyone,” you are telling your network to always be on the lookout for opportunities for you. That’s exhausting, and chances are they’ve got more on their minds than helping you and your business.

But I did hear someone make a great introduction for her “everyone” type travel business. This representative introduced herself as a specialist in travel for families who were facing a very specific health challenge for their children or other family members. Sure, she could help everyone. But with that more narrow definition, I can now more easily be on the lookout for people I can refer to her.

Questions to Determine Who You Really Can Serve

Following are some questions that you must be brutally honest in answering if you want to focus your networking and sales efforts.

  • Who do you want to help? Why do these people appeal to you? And would you appeal to them? Why or why not?
  • Who are you most capable of serving with what you offer? What experience or abilities qualify you to do so? Would those people agree?

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2019 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 21, 2019:

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Yes, Miebakagh, it's something to be mindful of. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on May 20, 2019:

Well noted, please.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 20, 2019:

Flourish, I think the aspect of serving non-ideal customers poorly is one that many entrepreneurs and small business folks ignore. And, yes, I regularly send non-ideal customers elsewhere. In fact, I think I refer out more people than I actually accept. :)

Thanks for highlighting that important aspect of this situation! Have a beautiful week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 20, 2019:

Hi Linda! And if we could only remember that we can't serve everyone. :) It's such a tempting mindset. Thanks so much for stopping by and have a terrific week ahead!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 20, 2019:

Thank you, Charles! Glad you enjoyed it. Have a great week!

Athena Chan from Penang, Malaysia on May 17, 2019:

Very nice… i really like your article

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on May 17, 2019:

"You can't serve everyone" is important to remember in many aspects of life. Thanks for another useful article, Heidi. I hope you have an enjoyable weekend.

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 17, 2019:

This is similar to the experience of writers who have a defined niche, knowing who they are targeting and the types of topics that are in scope and out. Readers often make requests and suggestions that are in scope but when they don’t, it’s best to link them elsewhere. It’s more efficient than serving them poorly.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 17, 2019:

You're welcome, Miebakagh! Appreciate you stopping by and have a great weekend!

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on May 17, 2019:

Hi, Heidi, what a read? This really helps. Thanks for sharing.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 17, 2019:

Amen, Pastor Bill! :) I was just listening to a podcast where a young lady was bound and determined to turn the world to her way of thinking. Could I understand her arguments? Sure. But it's that whole changing the world problem that we often talk about. It starts with your committed, well defined tribe and works outward.

Thanks for chiming in, as always! Have a wonderful weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 17, 2019:

Mary, you hit on an important point that it takes a while for us to know our entrepreneurial selves. I've had to reinvent and refine myself a lot over the years. But each time I've come up with more clarity which has ultimately saved me a lot of time and aggravation. I think the key is to keep doing a self-check as we go.

Thanks so much for adding that angle to the conversation! Have a great weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 17, 2019:

Thanks for the kind comments, Liz! I've been around networking too long to not see these things through a real lens. Have a great weekend!

Liz Westwood from UK on May 17, 2019:

I really appreciate your commonsense approach to business issues. This article bursts the bubble of unrealistic networking promises in a thorough and detailed way.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on May 17, 2019:

You are right that often we lack self awareness as well as awareness of others around us. Awareness is key to identifying your target audience. Sometimes, it takes time to become aware of what we really want to do as entrepreneurs. No wonder our network does not respond.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 17, 2019:

Besides selling eggs at the farmers markets, we also sell the goat cheese our son makes....goat cheese is not for everyone...trying to sell it to everyone is a fool's quest....concentrate on those you have a chance of selling something to is the point of my mini-sermon.

Have a great weekend, Heidi!

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