Posted on: Mar 08, 2016
The One-Sentence Rule is having a brief, inspirational business description that makes people want to buy your product, use your service, or join your company. If you follow the One-Sentence Rule, you have this magic sentence that hooks people to love your business.
Why is following the One-Sentence Rule so important? First, we live in a multi-channel world. People are bombarded with information and make decisions based on sound bites and bullet points. Unless you are talking to a friend and buying them beer, you won’t get time for a long-winded explanation about what your company does. Timing really is everything and having an effective description of your business may land you a client because you can quickly hook them on your value.
The second reason to have a one-sentence description is so you avoid sending the message to others that you are confused about what you do. Business goal confusion isn’t good, especially if you are chatting with investors. The Founders Institute, a launch program for talented entrepreneurs, puts it this way "If you can't describe your business in one-sentence, then you don't understand it well enough."
If it is so important to follow the One-Sentence Rule, why do so many skip it? I have some insight here because, despite the fact I agree that it is important, for years I was a rule breaker. I recently reformed and so for all you other rule breakers out there, I can help you understand why you haven’t written your sentence, and how to get past the barriers to finally do it.
Some businesses are easier to describe than others because the service they provide is straight-forward and concrete. For example, if my business was making innovative peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I could not only show you a great picture but I could write that tasty sentence. The business description for this fictional PB&J Company might be “PB&J Heaven creates multiple ingredient peanut butter and jelly sandwich recipes for people who do not like cooking but frequently seek out new taste experiences.”
But – what if you have a service business? Or your business doesn’t deliver a concrete product, or maybe it produces only part of a product? These are what I call “squishy businesses” – sort of vague and hard to picture. This was a barrier for me in developing an effective one-sentence description for Maze Runners. Organizational psychology is kind of squishy. I can "do" all kinds of things. I understand the theory, assessment, and intervention of task groups and can work with individuals, teams, and organizations to improve performance. Yawn! Not very engaging and I better be buying beer to get anyone to listen to that.
To break the squishy business barrier, I brought a team of people together who care as much about Maze Runners as I do. Our goal was to develop a complete and inspirational one-sentence description to reach clients. Over several calls we brainstormed these questions:
When you begin this process, get away from your keyboard. Recruit people whose opinions you trust to help you create the “one-sentence” that describes your business. Use white boards, paper, or some other medium that lets you build a picture. Think of this as “you can’t do anything thing wrong” art. We are big fans of mind maps for this kind of brainstorming. At this point, you are not writing the one-sentence but discovering the building blocks of that sentence. Have everyone take 10 minutes and sketch their own ideas, then together discuss, draw, and explore aspects of your business. With enough conversation, you will uncover the core of what you do. Once you see it, you can work on that mind-blowing, inspirational sentence.
When our team did this, we gained insights about common attributes in our services as well as values we consider to be our secret sauce. The process helped us go from a vague description to this one-sentence:
We deliver and teach practical, dynamic, business problem solving services to people who are passionate about their work.
Is this perfect? Probably not. It does capture the essence of Maze Runners Consulting’s approach to helping our clients. It meets the criteria of being brief and using plain language. I have it memorized and can share this sentence standing in line even before my first cup of coffee so that I won’t miss an opportunity to engage that next perspective client.
If you absolutely knew that having a one-sentence business description would 1) make your business more successful 2) help you hire the best people for your business, could you make the time? This barrier isn’t about time; it is about priorities and ROI of your time. If you doubt that following the One-Sentence Rule is important, look at a few of your successful competitor businesses and see if they have one. Maybe that will help convince you to schedule the meeting, brainstorm, and write your one-sentence.
If you already have a one-sentence description, why not revisit it? You may be surprised at the insights from this simple exercise. Whether you decide your sentence is perfect, or can use an update, you will feel great every time you rattle off that inspirational, pithy, kick-ass description of what you do.
i: The Founders Institute offer this handy Madlibs to develop a one-sentence pitch and even explain it further with a short, helpful video.