wood-texture-with-hole-3-1179588When you are thinking about starting a business, one of the first questions you need to be able to answer is: “What is the headache that I’m solving for, and how bad is the headache?”.

You need to solve a problem for someone (your target customer) that they recognize (it is a headache) and that they care about (it is a BAD headache).

For a really incredible business you need to have a meaningful solution to their headache, not just something that dulls the pain.

You need to be able to articulate how you will make the pain go away for good… not just how you can make the pain bearable.

Consider the following scenario (based on one of my favourite quotes from Theodore Levitt):

People don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole. Theodore Levitt


Tom, a 28 year old first time homeowner took possession of his new (to him) house, a 35 year old bungalow in a desirable area of town (that he could afford because it was dated and needed some TLC to bring it back to it’s former glory). Tom wasn’t particularly handy, but he figured that he could “figure it out” once he got moved in and could do a fair bit of the work himself and save himself some money as he fixed up his new home.

One of the first challenges Tom faced was that the mirror in the main bathroom was broken and hanging from the wall. It was unsafe and unusable and it was in the main bathroom that his guests would be seeing so it needed to be replaced as soon as possible.

Tom managed to get the old mirror off the wall without any major damage, and then surveyed the situation to figure out what he needed to do next.

He went to the hardware store and found a new mirror with a recessed medicine cabinet which he thought would be a great upgrade from the old mirror which didn’t have any storage behind it and it was on a clearance sale so it ticked both boxes of improving his existing house and doing it on a budget. Tom bought the mirror and brought it home.

dseq107_2a_ledger-jpg-rend-hgtvcom-1280-960Going through the instructions Tom realized he was going to need to cut a hole in the wall to set the mirror into. He measured out the opening and found the drill he had bought himself as a housewarming gift that he could use as he fixed up his house. He drilled several holes into the wall to mark the opening he needed and started to open up the hole using a saw and a hammer. He quickly realized that he had a problem when he saw that there was a stud behind the drywall that he was cutting into which would prevent him from setting the mirror into the wall.

Tom quickly realized that he was in over his head and returned to the hardware store for some advice. When he asked the man who had helped him with the mirror he suggested that he go over to the tools section to get the right tools to take care of his job. In the tools section he was shown several different options to handle the “hole cutting” dilemmna – a jig saw, a reciprocating saw, and a manual coping saw which could cut through the stud. The tool employee though warned Tom that he may want to be careful about removing the stud because he may weaken the wall and he should be aware of the structure that he was cutting through. When Tom asked for help about that he was referred to the lumber area in hopes that someone would have the knowledge he needed.

4240290778_c063c71d72_bOn his way over to the lumber area Tom was stopped by Tina who had overheard his conversation in the tool area. Tina was a local handy-woman who did odd jobs for home owners who needed help with their DIY projects and had a fair bit of experience in basic home improvements. Tina told Tom that the best tool for him was actually going to be a reciprocating saw, but that he was indeed going to have to do some structural framing around the mirror to give the wall strength and support the new mirror and medicine cabinet. Tina recognized that Tom was likely going to need some help throughout his home improvements and so she offered to come by his house after leaving the store to help him out.

Back at the house, Tina quickly pulled the required tool from her truck along with some scrap wood that she had from a previous job and within 15 minutes had cut the hole and framed the opening so Tom could continue forward with his work installing his new mirror. Tina left her business card and NO bill and let Tom know that she would be happy to help out with his future projects – just give her a call and she would be happy to quote him on any new work he might need done.

Tom has a new mirror now, and he also has a great relationship with his new home improvement support Tina. Tina has done several thousand dollars work for Tom since that day and he recommends her to all of his friends whenever they are looking for support with their own home improvement projects.


Tina had designed her business around solving the headaches of DIY homeowners who couldn’t do all of the work themselves. She targeted people who were willing to tackle some of their home improvement work and parts of their projects, but who needed help on some of the more complicated parts of their projects to be successful. She offered free advice and support for those parts of projects that she felt the homeowners could complete themselves, and offered her own services to fill in the gaps.

She partnered with her customers to make their DIY house projects successful, treated her customers with respect and caring, and supported them through the process of home improvement. She charged a reasonable rate that supported her personal needs and business goals, and she didn’t take advantage of her customers’ trust.

Tina found a headache that her customers’ recognized (home improvements are hard) and that they cared about (home ownership is expensive… and mistakes in home improvement can be REALLY costly). She enabled her customers to feel empowered to tackle home improvement projects that they might not have otherwise because they had support available when they needed it. She made the pain of home improvement go away for good for her customers. And she built an amazing business with loyal customers because she focused on the right headache.

Find the headache. Solve it for good. Enjoy your business success.

About Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.

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