A Blue Ocean Strategy for Small Businesses

As some freshwater creatures could not survive in the salty ocean, I believe many small business owners should seek a “blue mountain spring” strategy, instead of a “blue ocean.”

If you aren’t familiar with the book by Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, Blue Ocean Strategy offers a powerful antidote to obsolete, cutthroat, price-driven business wars. The “red ocean,” as they describe it, is where a lot of businesses operate.

Red ocean businesses turn their products and services into commodities, and create a vicious economic cycle. By playing the dog-eat-dog game, they irritate shareholders, executives, employees and customers. The only long-term winners are attorneys and politicians.

“Blue ocean” businesses, by contrast, operate in a crystal-clear ocean their competitors don’t know about. They have far fewer customers, limited as they are in their capacity … but those customers pay a lot more money for their services. Blue ocean businesses pay serious attention to a solid, honorable and reliable reputation, because they occupy a special position of trust.

The internet “leveled the playing field” for blue ocean entrepreneurs. Even, in some cases, for people operating in “red ocean” industries such as household goods, groceries and furniture.

But the internet is as vast as the ocean. In today’s blog, we’re going to examine how small, startup business owners should seek a “blue mountain spring” which corresponds to their individual size and strength.


You’re free to use whatever terminology you like. I chose “mountain spring” because mountain springs usually involve difficult, uphill journeys on foot to reach. Remember, we tell the truth about internet marketing here. There are no shortcuts or “easy-peasy” routes to success.

Also, unlike lakes, rivers or streams, you are usually parched with thirst by the time you reach a mountain spring. They’re some of the most refreshing water sources in the world. (Now you know why bottled brands like Arrowhead are so popular).

The principle of the blue mountain spring is no different than the blue ocean. The strategy is different. Instead of swimming in a gigantic body of water that goes on and on forever, we’re going to take a journey to find a tiny niche of it.

We’re going to find the “Market” piece of my signature launch strategy, The M.I.L.K. It Method. 

Once you discover that niche, however, you own it. You’re the only hiker there, so you can put your hands under the spring, capture the water in your palms and splash it on the dusty, sweaty film covering your face. You can fill your canister up and dump it on your head, and let it run down your shirt.

Do you see the analogy? The 2020 startup entrepreneur needs to find a blue mountain spring. 

If you’ve noticed, these springs run gently and continuously. There’s no high or low tide, no swells that pull you way out to sea, no waves threatening to suck you under. It’s one, steady, calming, replenishing flow of filtered, potable, nutrient-rich water.

The spring represents that small market segment that is uniquely yours – a collection of like-minded people who appreciate you and the way you present your products or services.


Mountain springs can occur at fairly low elevations. You might discover them just a few hundred feet up from a trailhead. Low-level springs tend to be more accessible to more people. You will likely have a more diluted, “purple” mountain spring if plenty of hikers stop to use it.

On the other hand, if you hike up to the peak of Mauna Kea here in Hawaii, there are fewer and fewer hikers the higher you go. The streams at higher elevations are the best ones to find. The parallel here is obvious – the further you’re willing to stretch yourself, the better the quality of spring.

With that in mind, here are the two strategic rules you need to learn and understand:

  1. Where Your Target Market Hangs Out. For some target demographics, this is fairly simple to start. Homeschool moms, employees of large firms, industry trade shows – you can find “associations of associations” these days.

Other groups can prove more elusive, like Fortune 100 executives. But rest assured, they do gather, and together. In the digital marketing sphere, a lot of target clients already hang out at sites like Udemy, WarriorPlus and JVZoo. So there are a few places to consider concentrating energy.

  1. Your Unique Solution for the Market’s Common Problem. This is the “Idea” part of The M.I.L.K. It Method, the selling angle you bring that resonates with a large percentage of your target market.

When you deploy this, remember that “resonate” doesn’t translate to “on-the-spot purchases.” It’s usually three to five percent of a target market that will immediately buy, versus the 70 percent who are in the middle (and the other 25% who will never buy).

At Offline Sharks, we discovered our clients’ most typical problem was “getting their first client.” 

So we positioned ourselves as the guys who “help you get your foot in the door with clients.” Of course, we offer plenty more besides … but the appeal of initial momentum for struggling startups is what gets top billing on our storefronts.

Oh … and when you use The M.I.L.K. It Method, you’ll also figure out those last two – the “Launch” and “Ka-Ching!” parts of successfully marketing online. They’re the best parts, when you do things the right way and in the correct order. Just thought I’d mention it.

About the Author
Tom is the host of What's the Secret podcast and co-founder of Offlinesharks.com

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