We all have strengths and weaknesses and ideally we should consistently work to improve both. We should make areas of strength stronger and help eliminate areas of weakness. Is it more important to focus on one over the other, though?
A few weeks ago I read a short post on Lifehack, Why Focusing on Your Strengths is the Best Philosophy. I started thinking about whether or not that was really true, particularly where your business is concerned.
Your strengths lead to your unique selling point. They can help you define your market. For example if you have a talent for illustration you could and probably would design sites that make greater use of illustration. Not everyone will want a site with illustrated elements, but you’ll certainly appeal more to those who do.
Your strength would help you stand out in a niche within the overall web design market and help you build a business quicker by appealing more to a subset of people. The more you improve your strength, the more you’ll stand out in your niche and the more likely you’ll remain a market leader.
Your strengths tend to define who you are as an individual and who you are as a business. People will identify you more with those things you do well than those things you don’t do well. Oh she’s the designer who does those wonderful illustrations. He’s a developer who knows WordPress.
You’re also more likely to take your strengths further than your weaknesses. That’s usually why they’re strengths in the first place. You have a talent for them and likely an interest in them. Because of this you might be more willing to put in the effort to improve your strengths as you enjoy them and get results from them.
Focusing on strengths is akin to being a specialist. Your go deeper and deeper into a narrower field. You can potentially become the very best at something particular.
You’re only as strong as your weakest link. You can be the greatest illustrator in the world, but if you don’t know the first thing about html, you’re going to have a hard time going it alone as a web designer. Your weakest link needs to meet some minimum standard or you’ll be in trouble.
No matter what you do people will hold expectations of you associated with your job. You do need to meet and even exceed these expectations to do well and have a successful career or business.
Where improving your strengths makes you stand out more within the niche around your strength, improving your weaknesses opens you up to more niches and a wider market. You can increase your potential selling points by being strong as an illustrator and strong as a usability expert. A wider number of strengths can be an additional strength in itself as it’s not easy for others to replicate.
Improving areas of weakness also helps you overcome potential objections to a sale. Clients and customers will need to get past objections before hiring you or buying from you. If they’re concerned the site you build won’t do well in search engine results, your lack of understanding of seo is going to send them elsewhere. Improving this weakness will allow you to offer reasons to alleviate this objection.
One common way people improve their weaknesses is by working with others. A well chosen team limits weak links and brings more of your business up to and exceeding more minimum standards. Your weakest links might be strengths in your coworkers. The combined team has stronger weak links than each member has alone. A well chosen team can increase the number of strengths in your overall business, but won’t make any one strength stronger.
A focus on weaknesses is akin to being a generalist. You continue to improve across a wider field of disciplines. Your individual links may not be as strong as the links of others, but your chain might be the strongest chain out there.
Achieving a Balance
I don’t think the question is whether to focus on one or the other, but rather to achieve a balance in improving both. Improving either a strength or a weakness can improve your business, albeit in different ways.
When I first entered the field of web design it was with a partner. Her strength was in designing the visuals and mine was in developing the site. When she decided to move on to other things and I decided to continue as a web designer I had to take stock of my strengths and weaknesses.
Among other things I felt I was stronger with
- html and css
- organization and information architecture
- content creation
- search engine marketing
And I felt I was weaker with
- design principles
- graphics and illustration
- more traditional marketing
- business operation
I didn’t necessarily do any kind of formal SWOT analysis, but I looked over my strengths and weaknesses and decided which would benefit me the most to improve. I thought a failing of our previous business was a lack of solid marketing so improving my marketing skills (a weakness at the time) was first on my list.
Realizing it was going to take a considerable amount of time and practice to create more visually appealing websites I looked to improve strengths in seo and html and css in order to help promote myself to a segment of the market quicker.
Once I improved both enough to get a business going I looked toward improving more. I dove into giving myself a solid education on the elements of design and worked to make myself a better writer. With each thing I improved new strengths and weaknesses emerged with new skills to practice and learn.
My business tends to follow my passions, which often means following my strengths. I’ve removed services over the years which I felt were weaknesses. At the same time I’ve been passionate about things I wasn’t very good at and instead of dropping them I chose to put in time to improving those weaknesses until they became strengths.
The best approach for what to focus on next isn’t about choosing only strengths or weaknesses. It’s about taking stock of both. It’s about thinking how your strengths and weaknesses help you now and thinking about where you want your business to be in a few years time.
Once you understand your current situation and have chosen a direction for yourself and business you can look to specific strengths and weaknesses and decide which is best to improve now and which is best to start improving for tomorrow.
We all have strengths and weaknesses and ideally we’ll be working to improve both. It’s hard to do everything at once as I’m sure you’ve already discovered.
You should always be improving something and you should put in time to both improve strengths and eliminate weaknesses. The question isn’t really about focusing on one or the other, but what balance you should strike.
Your strengths will help you stand out and help you appeal to a segment of your overall market. Improving them will help make you the choice. Your weaknesses give potential customers and clients reasons not to choose you. Eliminating weaknesses will help you overcome their objections.
There isn’t an exact balance that works for everyone. You have to think about where you are and where you want to go and then determine what will help you the most in the present and what will help you sooner get to your destination.
When the choice is in front of you what do you do? Do you put more time into making your strengths stronger or do you put time into minimizing your most glaring weaknesses? Do you consider both and decide which is more important to focus on now and for the future?
If you liked this post, consider buying my book Design Fundamentals