I've always been an entrepreneur. When I was 11, I started a lawn-mowing business. I pushed our trusty Craftsman mower from house to house in our sweltering New Jersey suburb and offered to do the job that everyone hates—for a fee, of course.

I picked up a few weekly paying customers, but I never got any more.

Turns out it was easy to sell to folks who...

  • Didn't have their own laborers (aka, pre-teens)
  • Had a lawn
  • Were nearby, so I could push our mower there without getting apoplexy
  • Knew me or my parents (Trust was a big issue. I might have cut the lawn too short. Or absconded with the grass clippings. Or something.)

I successfully sold to all of the people—all three of them—who fit those four criteria. After that, I had no other potential customers. (So much for buying that Schwinn Sting I'd been eyeing.)

That's a classic universe problem: You build a receptive, high-conversion audience, but then you can't increase its size.

Zucchini confronts a marketing-universe problem

Your universe contains everyone you can sell to; you must expand it, or your business will stagnate.

Let's consider this scenario: I decide that my company needs to branch out, and so I launch a zucchini farm. (Unlikely, because I hate the vegetable with a passion I normally reserve for hot weather and giant, boat-like cars. But play along.)

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image of Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder and CEO of Portent Inc., an Internet marketing agency founded in 1995 that provides digital marketing services, including search, social, and analytics. For the book Web Marketing All-In-One for Dummies (2nd ed.), he wrote sections on SEO, blogging, social media, and Web analytics.

Twitter: @portentint
LinkedIn: Ian Lurie