Is your offer landing with customers? You know because:

  • Your pipeline is full (and)

  • People are buying (i.e., you convert people from shopper to buyer at a reliable frequency)

If that’s not happening, take a moment to reflect on how you are coming to market:

  • Who (target customer) if you’re not clear on this – check out our list of unique ways to niche down outside of the obvious

  • Where (channels) where do you get in front of your target market

  • What (offer) does your offer solve a relevant problem for that customer, at a price they can afford?

  • Message are you articulating your brand and the offer in a way people understand and see the value and need.

One of my preferred tools to close the gap is the Lean Canvas. In 15 minutes, you’ll get pretty clear on what’s missing because it helps you lay out each of these components and find the gaps.

So how does it work?

The Tool: Lean Canvas vs. the Business Model Canvas

The Lean Canvas is a one-page tool Ash Maurya talks through in his book Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a plan that works. He uses it to flesh out new products quickly. His approach iterates on Eric Ries’ Lean Startup building a more practical guide to implementing the concepts Eric developed. His canvas builds on the Business Model Canvas developed by Alex Osterwalder. I use both the Business Model Canvas and the Lean Startup Canvas with customers depending on where the innovation needs to happen.

Both versions of the canvas have some common elements:

  • Customer segments

  • Channels

  • Revenue streams

  • Cost structure

  • Value proposition

But they differ in what they emphasize.

The Business Model Canvas

Spends more of the one-page real estate focused on the processes and resources you need to deliver on that business model. There tends to be a lot of repeat in the boxes, but by asking it different ways, my clients find 1-2 new things you “didn’t think about” in the other box. While that means there is a waste of real estate, the cost structure, supply chain, and hiring plan you put in place tend to be far more robust.

Use this when you are:

  • Standing up a brand-new division within an established company

  • Need to focus on improving or standing up a new delivery method that is resource or investment intensive

  • Are building a company from scratch against a known need, and your most significant risk is in the business case to deliver the solution (cost/benefit)

The Lean Canvas

Ash’s canvas is better for building and triaging a go-to-market approach. It uses more space on problem-solution fit, alternatives, and differentiators and only touches on delivery mechanisms on an ancillary basis. While it underserves operations, it does a better job assessing your market and offer relative to the market. I use the Lean Canvas when my clients need to:

  • Evaluate the launch of new products and services against the existing marketing approach and/or alternatives

  • Get clear on pricing perception relative to alternatives

  • Triage issues in your go-to-market approach

  • Build a company from scratch, and market/fit and the ability to penetrate the market is a significant risk

  • Expand their services to a new customer group

For triaging an offer, I will always recommend the Lean Canvas. 

Want an editable version of the Go-to-market Lean Canvas adapted from Ash’s version? Just sign-up with your email address, and you’ll get the link!

Assess or create your offer on a single page

Triage Your Offer

Now that you have the canvas, it’s time to dig in and develop it in numbered order.


That solution you are offering started with a problem. Problems typically (although not always) come in the form of something harder to do than it should be. 


Then you’ll jump from problem to customer. Can you identify the customers that have the greatest need for this problem to be solved? 

If you have more than one potential (or current) group of customers and think their needs might be different, build one for each audience and size them up next to each other to decide where to focus your energy first. 

The best starting point will become more apparent when you fill in all the boxes.

Here’s an example: When I first had the idea of ACThoughtful, all I knew is it would be a firm serving small businesses with coaching and consulting. When I dug in, I realized micro-business owners under <$1M were the least served by consulting and business coaching firms. The solutions for this group were typically overpriced and too complicated for this audience. If I could figure out how to deliver affordably, I would help many people who didn’t have access at a price that made sense for their P&L.

Existing Alternatives & Solutions

Once you have the problems, pencil in their existing alternatives and your solutions. Go beyond the easy options (your competition). Think creatively about how people would solve this today.

Your messaging sits in the space between the problem you solve, the solution you provide, and how you do it differently than others.

The alternatives will lead you to your unique value.

Unique Value & Bottom Line

Start by listing your differentiators (what sets you apart). Then bottom line it into one statement. In Story Brand, Donald Miller calls it your “One-Liner”. I’ve also heard it called an Elevator Pitch or Value Proposition Statement. Whatever you call it, it needs to summarize the problem you solve and how you do it in a single sentence. If you have one, put it in there. Does it add up to what you’ve put together already?

If not, then create one!

Here’s mine for inspiration:

“I grow micro-businesses by getting them from where they are to where they want to be through advice, coaching, and fractional COO support — where no fraction is too small.”

Depending on the audience or real estate, I’ll drop parts. But did you notice the last statement, “where no fraction is too small”? That’s my main differentiator. 

Let’s take a pause here. Does everything line up in your offer so far? If so – that’s fantastic! If not, time to keep digging.


They key in the revenue is looking for simplicity.

  • Is your pricing model simple to understand?

  • Do people come in eyes wide open on your pricing?

  • Can customers predict what they need to budget for or what they’ll be spending?

  • Is the price in line with what your target market can afford?


Capture the large line items to produce the goods and services and the indirect costs required to market and sell your offer and run the company. If you’re triaging your offer, ask yourself:

  • Do you have too much packed into your costs that don’t solve the core problem?

  • Is there an opportunity to trim “gold plating” from your offering to increase profitability or bring the price in line with expectations?

Now you have an offer people can theoretically understand and would be willing to buy.

The last two steps are where I see a lot of steam run out for people.


Channels are where you find the customers you listed in box #2. Have you captured all the places to find them? Here are a few thoughts to inspire:

  • How does this audience research online for this problem?

  • Where would they be when this problem comes up?

  • Where do these customers congregate (online and offline)?

  • Who do these people ask for help on this topic?

  • Who do you know (partners) well connected to these groups

  • What other services does this group need that are complementary (not competitive) to your own?

Key Metrics

Once you know where to find them, it comes down to defining “good,” so you know when your offer is passing the test (or) needs revamping. I give you some starting points to set your key metrics. Think about:

  • Financial health (profitability)

  • Acquiring new customers/sales

  • Delighting customers (service and quality)

  • Engendering loyalty (retention, referrals, recommendations)

Bring your go-to-market approach together.

When you put it to paper, the gaps should “pop” off the page. Once you see them, you should be able to tweak and adjust your offer to improve your sales. 

If you see a problem you can’t solve through tweaking; it’s time to run a market test. But that’s a blog post for another day! 

If you haven’t already – get your Go-to-market Lean Canvas today and happy triaging!

Jenny Erickson grows micro-businesses by getting them from where they are to where they want to be through advice, coaching, and fractional-COO support. Which business are you?

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