When Niching Down in Your Business Doesn’t Work
I know from personal experience that “Niching Down” in your business can be a touchy, tricky subject. It can either feel like the best thing ever, or you’re cursing the Gods at whoever came up with this limiting idea. Because when it works, it’s great; and when it doesn’t, you start doubting everything.
For those not familiar with the term, “Niching” is a marketing strategy by which a business defines its specific marketing target, who their specific ideal client is, and what problem they’re specifically solving.
The operative word here is “specific,” and therein lies the struggle early entrepreneurs sometimes have.
What holds many business owners back is their understandable concern that they’re leaving money on the table by becoming too focused on a specific segment on the market. If this is you, you’ve probably said something along the lines of, “By serving this one type of person, I’m essentially saying I can’t work with all these other people.”
Whilst this isn’t necessarily true in my experience, what you’re gaining is the opportunity to be known for something and to be top-of-mind and ultra-referrable because you’re the expert in your specialty.
The question is, when is niching good and when does it not work?
When Niching Works
The truth is, when you’re focusing on one slice of a market, it’s easier to gain traction. Examples include someone who is a Life Coach vs. someone who works with new entrepreneurs to define their businesses and branding to get more clients (me!). Or, someone who is a Chef that can “cook anything” vs. a Chef who specializes in upscale vegetarian Italian fare out of a food truck. You get the idea. You’ll be memorable and much more likely to get referrals as a result.
OTHER TIMES IT WORKS
If you have a product in a crowded marketplace. So, not just orange juice but organic orange juice that’s been sustainably harvested. Or, you don’t just design furniture, you design modern modular furniture that will last a lifetime.
When targeting clients who are located in a specific situational timeframe (think: early small businesses, high school seniors about to transition to college, first-time home buyers).
When targeting for a specific geographic location.
A sub-sect of a larger service or industry (instead of just food blogging, focusing on blogging for Moms whose children are picky eaters).
Overall, niching is vital to a growing, healthy organization and is the hallmark of a business with a clear identity.
But, are there times when niching simply doesn’t seem to work? From my experience, absolutely.
When Niching Goes Awry
Let’s get real: Niching sometimes feels like the worst idea ever. Things aren’t sticking, you’re not getting clients, and your biz doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Here are some situations I’ve come across with my clients as well as solutions to get out of the muck.
WHEN YOUR NICHE MARKET CAN’T AFFORD YOU
Many entrepreneurs are passionately connected to their niche, which makes it the very reason why they chose their line of work. And when someone has passion and a critical understanding of how to service a specific corner of a market, let me tell you: these people hustle. They work hard because they are 100% all in. But if this is a market that doesn’t generally have a lot of investment capital to spread around, it doesn’t matter how hard you work: the money simply won’t be there.
THE SOLUTION: Another way to approach your market is to think: where is the money? Look at the top level of organizations and communities and focus your efforts there (partnerships, relationship building, etc.). Also, who contributes to these organizations or industries? Who funnels into them and from where are they coming from? Additionally, consider what vendors already work within this niche, or is there a secondary market that runs alongside this niche and has much of the same audience, but has more capital available?
WHEN A NICHE MAKES SENSE, BUT ISN’T CLICKING
This was my story. I chose career coaching for my niche and focused on mid-level workers who felt disconnected from their careers. I took this on because it echoed elements of my own story and it felt rewarding on many levels (and I still sometimes work with clients in this space because of just that). Which begs the question, why did I change my niche? I stumbled upon something that just blew it out of the water for me, which is working with new entrepreneurs and sometimes folding in my art direction background into a blended approach. It’s that simple. As an aside, I did end up incorporating elements of my original niche into my program which launched this summer, so I’m ultimately thankful I went down this road.
THE SOLUTION: Ask yourself, what about my current niche do I love? What part do I not love? If there was an intersection between this and something else I was passionate about/an expert on, what would that look like?
WHEN YOU’RE TOO SPECIALIZED
A niche ideally strikes a balance between being specific, but not to the business’ detriment. The reason being, if your niche is so specialized that it doesn’t have the number of reachable customers your business requires, your growth ceiling will be too low. While it’s not the dream of every business owner to have a big, bustling office, we do ideally desire our business to provide financial freedom.
THE SOLUTION: This usually happens when an entrepreneur has massive amounts of experience in a very narrowly defined area, and thus An Overly-Specific Niche is Born (This one isn’t starring Lady Gaga, however). The truth is, you can still offer your experience as part of a slightly broader business without “losing cred.” Take a step back and define the larger community that you’re serving. What is your competition not doing well? Write down the problem that you’re solving in your current niche: what other groups also have this problem? What other similar verticals could you also be serving?
It’s All Part of the Plan
Finding a successful niche may take time and, when it doesn’t happen right away, can be frustrating and paralyzing. For those that are just starting, trying different niches or even refusing to niche initially, can be a critical way of focusing on the inner workings of your industry and doing the necessary market research.
Regardless, this experience will be an important contributor to you discovering the niche that places you directly at the intersection between your talents, past experiences, and what the market is desperately seeking.
AUTHOR: SCOTT ROBSON
Scott Robson is a branding and entrepreneurial coach who helps business leaders focus on what matters.