Every entrepreneur starts out with stars in the eyes, aiming for the sky and wanting the biggest slice of the pie. Positive thinking has its place – provided you have done your homework, figured out the lay of the land and most important of all, know which gap in the market to fill with your new business.
One in a million or one of a million?
Wanting to be everything to everyone is a very common mistake that a lot of businesses make, prompting them to blur into the background, in a market that is awash with millions of others who also tout themselves as generic accountants, lawyers, website designers, medical groups, software solution providers, consultants, retail shops etc.,
Let’s picture this scenario: “We are your one stop shop for marketing solutions. We will help you brand your business, create marketing collateral, design advertisements, generate press releases and provide search engine optimized web content. We have worked with Fortune 500 corporations and small businesses, manufacturers and service providers. No job is too small.”
Why creating a niche is not just important, but absolutely necessary
When I hear this, it brings to mind the room in my house which started out as a play room/library with book shelves and has now become a catch-all filled with all those things you accumulate that you never know what to do with, in addition to book shelves that we can barely access and toys crowded onto every surface.
The irony of being a ‘catch-all’ marketing firm, yet offering branding services to clients seems to be lost on this firm. The part that really makes me want to grab their shoulders and give them a good shake is that last sentence they tacked on – “no job is too small.”
If you were an executive with a major corporation, would you want to give your business to some one who creates marketing material for a one person firm yet has the gall to pitch a proposal to create a multi-million dollar marketing campaign?
Specialize, specialize, specialize!
A niche is an alcove or a ledge in a room where art is displayed to its advantage, rather than fading into the background by being a wallflower. ‘Niching’ is all about choosing that ‘sweet spot’ in the market, that gap that no one has filled, that offers a lot of potential, for which you know you have the capability.
Let’s look at some really famous examples of niche marketing. Meg Ryan is a top ranking Hollywood star. But when you think of her, you automatically associate the word ‘sweet’ with her. Sweet is her niche. Serious roles will be given to Jody Foster maybe (also a niche) but the soft, romantic ones which need a cute little pixie will go to Meg Ryan.
We associate FedEx with overnight couriers. Seven Up is the un-cola, the ‘cool’ drink in a market with two titans, Pepsi and Coke. The strong branding efforts of these companies focused on differentiating themselves from the rest of the pack and making a name within that niche. Does that mean that FedEx only ships overnight packages? In fact, as a result of creating such a strong niche that people don’t say the word courier any more, it’s always “let’s FedEx it”, the company gets plenty of business in ground shipping as well.
Don’t be afraid of limiting yourself with a niche
Creating a niche is the key to opening up a whole new world of business opportunities. Choose a niche, specialize in serving a specific industry – and watch as the reputation you create in that niche snowballs into opportunities in other areas.
Paul and Sarah Edwards, in their best selling book ‘Getting business to come to you’ talk about this Russian immigrant who spoke several languages. She started a translation service, offering multiple languages. Months later, she still had little business, despite signing up several other translators who spoke languages that she did not know and spending every free minute on marketing her umbrella of translation services.
The associates she had lined up were getting work from a competitor who specialized in Spanish. She shelved the idea of umbrella service and offered just Russian, her forte. Pretty soon, business was booming and she was referring clients to associates because she was too busy. The ironical post script to this story is that one of the first questions new clients ask her is whether she also does other languages, in addition to Russian. So she gets ‘spill-over’ opportunities in additional languages, while carving a niche as a Russian translator.
Stand apart from the crowd
Creating a niche helps you stand apart, differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack and be at the top of people’s minds in terms of recall. Phone books are filled with CPAs offering pretty much the same service. But the savvy accountant whose byline says ‘serving medical practitioners’ is sure to stand apart and be easy to remember when tax time rolls around, because that is her niche.
With the boom in web content, the online marketplace is as crowded as the brick and mortar world. Every business, be it a consulting firm, a chocolate shop or realty service wants optimized web content that presents their best face on the world stage. A web designer who promises the world while being a generalist will hardly be able to deliver on that promise, as opposed to some one who specializes in a niche, such as creating web sites for online retailers or new businesses.
Specializing goes hand in hand with Expertise
When you specialize in a specific market, you gain familiarity with that market. Inside knowledge leads to expertise in that area over time. This is why potential clients will come knocking – because of your implied expertise in that field.
So a rancher looking for an accountant to make sense out of his tangled paperwork would rather go to the CPA who specializes in accounting services for local ranchers as opposed to the newly minted CPA who pitches his service across the board to local retailers, law firms, restaurants and ranchers.
A web site designer who regularly works with start ups will be familiar with many issues confronting new entrepreneurs and bring familiarity with the kind of web templates that would work for specific businesses, as opposed to a design shop which may be good at graphics and design but know very little that is specific to the challenges facing small businesses.
Creating a niche for your business and tailoring your product or service for a specific market or industry will eventually bring you constant business as well as a strong reputation or brand image. To supplement revenue, rather than branching out and spreading yourself thin, offer complimentary services that add to the main niche product or service you offer.
As a writer, I specialize in writing business articles for clients and the media. But this alone will not provide a steady year round income. Rather than throw myself out there, offering to write children’s books and ad copy, I write business profiles, provide web content, draft press releases, and create sales literature for firms in specific industries. Since all of this is linked to my knowledge of their business and their target market, it is a logical extension of my business writing, rather than offering ‘any and every kind of writing’!!!
So perform a thorough survey of the market, choose your sweet spot, ensure that it is something you like, tailor your product or service and begin carving your very own niche.
Padma Nagappan is a business communications writer. Visit her web profile at http://www.ifreelance.com/pro/31377