N 1906, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto created a mathematical formula to describe the unequal distribution of wealth in his country, observing that twenty percent of the people owned eighty percent of the wealth

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Q: Steve – I have heard of the “80-20” rule and get the basic idea, but I was wondering if you could explain how to really use it to my advantage. Thanks.
Armando, Texas
A: Happy to oblige. As many of you know, the 80-20 rule, generally speaking insofar as business goes, states that 80 percent of your profit comes from 20 percent of your customers, but the idea is actually a bit more complicated than that.
Here’s some background: The rule of 80-20 was first noticed in 1906 when an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto (which is why the 80-20 rule is also sometimes known as Pareto’s Principle or Pareto’s Law) observed that 20 percent of the Italian population owned eighty percent of the wealth.
Since then, various people have taken the 80-20 principle and applied it to many different scenarios:

  • 20 percent of your time creates 80 percent of your results

  • 20 percent of your inventory takes 80 percent of your space

  • 80 percent of your stock comes from 20 percent of your suppliers

  • And so on

The essential ideas is this: Only a few things are responsible for the vast amount of your productivity and results. Think about what an amazing insight this can be for your business. If you have five things to do today, the 80-20 rules states that only one of those will be vitally important, the other four will be of far lesser importance. Figuring out which one is the most important can not only go a long way to making you far more effective, it can also yield amazing results.

More broadly, the general conclusion one must draw from this phenomenon is that to be successful one key is to figure out, in all of your activities, what your vital 20 percent is and focus your energies on those things.
But to create truly spectacular results, consider applying Pareto’s Principle across the board, where appropriate:
If 20 percent of your employees produce 80 percent of your results, it follows that you first need to identify who those 20 percent are, and second, reward them appropriately. However, it does not follow that you should spend 80 percent of your time on those 20 percent; they are already accomplishing much. Know the rule, but apply it judiciously.
If 20 percent of your products produce 80 percent of your sales it would behoove you to know what those 20 percent are, and display and price them accordingly.
If 80 percent of your profit come from 20 percent of your customers, know who they are, and reward them.
If 80 percent of your visitors see only 20 percent of your web pages then similarly, it would be wise to know which 20 percent they visit, why, and how to monetize those pages.
You get the idea. The important thing is to begin to notice in your business which 20 percent activities / people / products are responsible for 80 percent of your success, and then prioritize those things on a daily basis. Spending more time on those things that have the best chance of making the biggest difference can go a long way to making you more successful, and with less effort.
Today’s tip: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday this week, the small business folks at Microsoft are conducting a (mostly) virtual “Small Business Summit.” On Thursday, I will be presenting an online webinar entitled “Technology Trends in Small Business.” But even if that topic doesn’t strike your fancy, there are scores of other very useful, free, webinars to attend and learn from. You can learn more here.

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