Getting The Lay of the Land: Taking a Look At Your “Sandbox”

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On December 21, 2015

Getting-the-lay-of-the-land-taking-a-look-at-your-sandboxThis time of year it’s easy to start thinking about sandy beaches. And while relaxing in the sand may be a nice motivation, it’s not going to get your business where you want it to be.

So what’s with the sandbox image? In Scaling Up, Verne Harnish uses the image of a sandbox as a visual for defining your field of play—of identifying what your real market niche is. What he’s really talking about is getting the lay of the [business] landscape. Why is that so important?

Companies that don’t understand their true sphere of influence (the actual parameters of their sandbox) can really get themselves into trouble. There are three main areas that are important to understand.

  1. Geography is an important area. Are you going to be a local business? Will you expand regionally? Are your goals to become national or international? How you define your geographic reach is important because there are some very significant logistical differences between being local, regional, national, and international. If you’re not prepared, it can kill your company.
  2. Your Product or Service Categories are important, too. When tech first started being a big business a lot of companies planned to create and sell software and installation. Many didn’t plan on servicing that software. The cost to maintain the software they sold forced some out of the market. There is often pressure (from customers/the market) to expand your offerings. But if you start “playing outside your sandbox” you can find yourself engaged in activities you’re not prepared for.
  3. Distribution is also a key. How are you going to get your products and services to your customers? Will you do everything yourself? Will you use partners? Will you warehouse/ship products? Will you be a retail operation or a wholesale operation? Do you plan to have a brick and mortar presence or will you do everything online?

There are obviously other considerations, but those three are big definers of the parameters of your field of play. You’ll also want to think about defining the size of your market—and how you plan to calculate that (By the way, simply saying: “We’ll grab 10 percent of the market” won’t cut it! You’ve got to be much more specific and have good research to back up your goals.)

A sandbox may seem like a nice, simple, harmless euphemism for figuring out what your business world really looks like. But it’s not a game. And if you don’t do it right, you may just get a lot of sand kicked in your face!