There’s a grand debate out there. Do I niche down or not?
Sometimes I even sense the eye rolls when I ask people what their ideal customer is.
I get it. There are competing schools of thought. So, where do you stand?
Have you niched down?
Do you believe you need to niche down?
I’d like to change the question. It’s not about whether or not you should niche. It’s about HOW you niche in a way that keeps the right doors open and honors where you are going.
There are a lot of reasons, but I’ll highlight three that get to the chase.
If you speak to everyone, you’ll connect with no one.
I’m guessing you’re not Microsoft 🙂 Unless you have market dominance and people have little choice but to work with you, your message matters. Different research organizations show that over 50% of the buying decision happens before anyone ever talks to you. I’ve seen numbers as low as 57% from Forrester and as high as 70% from CMA. Regardless, if you aren’t talking to them in all your content, you’ve lost the chance to pick up the phone or walk through the door.
My close rate has reinforced this. Once I have a sales session with someone, my current close rate is 90%. The most common reason people cite is that they checked out my content and self-identified that I had built my business to serve them. And the ancillary reason is cost transparency. People know the cost before they get into a sales situation, so they’ve already decided they have the budget.
If you connect to everyone, you won’t connect to as many people you need to connect to
Speaking is all about your messages. A connection is all about a two-way dialogue between you and the people you can serve the best. To do that, you need to know who they are, their needs, and where to find them.
If your audience has no common ground, it’s hard to find them. And if the common ground is so vast (i.e., business owner), you’ll waste a lot of time on groups and networks that don’t land you in front of potential customers.
A strong referral partner network, knowing where to meet with people who could potentially be great partners and clients, is how you channel your energy effectively and have the highest quality connections that can help you move your business forward.
Mike Michalowicz talks about a simple litmus test in his books. If you boil down the most common traits of your customers, can you google that and find connection points like industry, support groups, or networking groups? Is it a group you will cross paths with in multiple arenas, so you develop the kind of trust needed to be top of mind when a need arises vs. that one person I met that one time… and then promptly forgot their name.
If you serve everyone, you’ll serve THEM HALFWAY.
I don’t even think this one needs an explanation. Have you ever been overwhelmed by all the directions pulling on you? What happened?
Chances are very few of them got done, and the results weren’t as impactful because you were juggling time between a lot of different things that all demanded different skills, approaches, and mindsets. We can’t serve everyone and do it well enough.
If we serve people amazingly well, they will talk about us. They will refer us. To others in our niche (because they are likely to know them). You can develop stronger referral relationships because they are people who serve the same niche in complementary ways.
When does niching have to get creative?
So why not niche? Usually, people are worried it will close doors to great opportunities (or) their mission seems non-nichable. But there are a lot of creative ways to niche that don’t restrict your paths to growth. So rather than focusing on why not to do it all, let’s talk about how to do it creatively so it doesn’t restrict your ability to show up like you want to.
Here are a few common areas where creative niching is vital.
You are a jack or jane of all trades or consider yourself a multi-potentialite.
That’s me. I sell my self as your phone-a-friend for all areas of your business. I coin myself as an expert generalist. But I still niche. I just have to niche in different areas. For me, that shows up in how I package, price, and deliver my services; company size; and the values of my customers.
Your target market is the everyday Jane or Joe.
I had this discussion with a client whose goal is to make their service accessible to everyone. Making a sport available to an everyday person is a niche! If you structure the language right, you’ll naturally draw in people who secretly want to learn and experience it, but feel as though they aren’t qualified, and you’ll create a great experience for them. They will be the first to sign up! The expert that wants peak performance is going to look elsewhere when they see your branding, and that’s ok. They won’t get the same level of service in a classroom full of people doing this primarily for the enjoyment factor.
And if you want to do both, that’s ok. Just don’t be afraid to brand and market separately and know that you’re going to have extra work to deliver well in both spaces.
Your expertise can scale beyond a specific customer-segment.
Sometimes what we do can benefit so many people. In this case, you can niche, but you need to do it on the business model and values; not the industry or customer. More on that later!
What are creative ways you can niche?
This is the obvious one. But it can have some pitfalls. It introduces you to risk if there’s a dive in that industry. So you have to add diversity into your offerings that mitigate some of those risks.
In this instance, you worry less about the industry and focus more on the life situation or major transitions that would allow you to connect with people and serve them where they are. This model is great for building strong teams of referral partners that also support people through transitions and will enable you to use language that speaks to the enormity of change they are going through — including the excitement and fears.
Finding parallel interests can help you grow a business. I was connecting with someone who described their ideal client as someone who drops a lot of money for gear at an upscale outdoor shop AND are going through the life situation they support. While their service had nothing to do with outdoor activities, they could infuse it with that sense of rugged refinement. It allowed them to connect with those customers who were insanely practical, outdoorsy, low-maintenance, and well-to-do. They also knew where to find those people now and it’s an easy jump to then target them both online and offline for marketing. Powerful right? Who could you reach with that level of clarity?
Create a compelling why. Connect it to people’s values. You’re selling the values connection and experience with the category of items becoming less critical. The risk is that it can be harder to locate these people (finding your channels) and harder to serve them (because the needs are so different). Apple is an example of a company that connects on values first. There are a lot of people who are Apple people— regardless of what they put into the market.
If you have a generic market like “business owners,” Narrowing in on demographics or cultures can help you use language, build, and price solutions that meet their unique needs. It doesn’t mean you won’t sell to anyone, but it means you cater to those that share some of those cultural norms. You can draw other people to your message and solution – just don’t change your solution so much to meet their needs that you dilute it for the people you set out to serve. Helping an underserved demographic group is a great way to break out and form a loyal following early on. You can build on that over time as you add more related people to the mix. But never lose sight of how you got to where you are. GoPro built its reputation in the extreme sports community by creating solutions that catered to them. Over time and with a lot of growth they lost that connection and diluted their offering for their most loyal followers, after some tough years, they are now finding their way back again.
If your service or product is so specific, you are likely to be extremely good at it. You don’t need to niche as much on who you serve. If people need what you do, they will hunt you down, because they are looking for exactly what you do, and it’s what you do best. The risk here is diversity in revenue sources. If you’re dependent on one service or product and the market changes, the rug could get pulled from you in a heartbeat. Don’t get stuck in a rut – keep yourself open to new ways of creating value within your expertise area.
Your business model or secret sauce
Sometimes you offer a variety of offerings, but they all leverage the same business model or prioritize the same focus – so you can get freaking good at it. Getting good at anything allows you to sell on the merit of what you deliver. Your differentiator becomes your niche.
Imagine if you’re good at creating applications and service models to source work in a gig economy. That same service model could be lifted and applied to a variety of services and industries.
I’ve niched on a combination of these factors.
You’re my customer if you are…
A micro-business owner <$1M or <10 employees
Launching a business (usually <$250K, 1-3 years old)
Running to catch up with your company that’s grown beyond your reach (usually $250K-$750K, 3-10 years old)
Breaking through plateaus (typically $500-$1M or up, 5-20 years old)
Passionate about your business and what it does in the world
Want to grow but want to do it profitability
Ready to work, but want to work on the right things
Not afraid to ask for help
Looking for the right advice, when it’s needed, mapped to your why
How do you know you’ve niched enough?
People actively self-identify as your potential customer regularly.
You get feedback like: “You get me. It’s like your psychic, and know what I need.”
You know where to find your potential customers and partners. When you go to an event, you frequently run into great people you could see yourself working with and vice versa.
You aren’t building one-off solutions all the time. The frame you use to deliver your services fits most of the scenarios you encounter, and you add services and products when it will help most of your customers vs. just a few.
Your content has a high open and click-through rate. People are connecting with what you’re saying and interacting with your asks.
You get high volumes of referrals and recommendations and the tone of them is specific and matches to the factors you decided to niche on. Anyone reading that aligns themselves with your niche will know that you have served people like them well and will serve them equally well.
Your close rate is high. Because they are self-selecting as your customer before you even talk, closing becomes more about working through specifics of their situation vs. selling them on the value you deliver.
Niching down will let you scale up. But you can niche creatively. It doesn’t have to mean relegating yourself to a corner.
How have you niched down lately? And how can you creatively focus your niche in the coming months?
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?