Entrepreneurial Strategies: The Conductor


If you ever pick up one of those "1001 Home Based Business Ideas" or "25 Easy Ways To Start A Company" books, several of the ideas will always be along the lines of the strategy I call "the conductor."

The basic idea of the conductor strategy is not to do any direct work on the end product, but to focus on organizing and coordinating some aspect(s) of its production and distribution. A conductor doesn't play the instruments in an orchestra, but he does make sure that everyone else is playing the way they are supposed to. You can do that. You don't need to have the end skills for your business idea, you just have to be good at planning, organizing, and managing. (That makes it sound easy, but it isn't).

To find a conductor idea, look for people/companies that are working independently that have more value when their services are combined. The prototypical example is the event planner that coordinates the catering, decorating, musical performance, etc. at some function.

I used to know a guy that had a printing company, but he never really did any printing. He contracted with a commercial printer and guaranteed the printer a large chunk of business in exchange for a cheaper rate. The he contracted with a graphic designer, a salesperson, and a delivery person. The salesperson met with clients at their business (which at the time was rare for printing companies) showed them samples, and took their order (the guy acting as conductor did lots of selling too). Next it went to the graphic designer, and once approved went to the printer. Then the delivery person picked it up and made his rounds. A lone entrepreneur coordinated all of this activity.

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The conductor model works well when combined with the easy model. Make something easier by coordinating more of the steps for the customer. But be warned that you have to target your customer better. Don't waste your time on a company that has a marketing dept. with a graphic designer. Don't try to convince the small business owner that regularly makes his own marketing materials and drops them off at the printer that he needs to change his behavior and use your services. Find the company that doesn't do much printing because they think it is a hassle.

Be careful what you combine when you do this. Think about the key steps on the value chain. Stay away from areas that seem related but have different value chains. They don't work well together. The conductor strategy isn't about coordinating lots of product offerings, it is about coordinating a product offering and a service or two that normally go along with that product. Think deeper, not wider.

The biggest risk with the conductor strategy is that you are accountable if someone doesn't deliver. If you are only a small customer of one of your service providers, you may find yourself bumped to the back of the line if they get busier. Find partners with lots of room to grow.

Finally, don't just think about independent consultants and small businesses as the providers for the product/service you choose. Large companies can be a step on some value chains as well. Although it is more likely that someone has beat you to it because of the market size, there are opportunities if you keep your eyes open.