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This week I caught up with an old friend and colleague; we talked about the ways the internet has changed the way we do business since we first set up shop. It used to be we could place an ad in the newspaper and drum up business—there was scarcity in the market, and most local businesses weren’t comfortable hiring service providers located half-way around the world.
Things have changed. Whether we want to be location-independent or not, our customers are choosing to be. There’s better, faster, cheaper solutions, and they’re more and more comfortable taking advantage of global competition and technology.
Marketing our business online means we have exponentially more competition and getting our dream customers’ attention is a straight-up daily battle.
The solution is to narrow down our playing field.
The more niche we can be—in our target customer and our service offerings—the easier it is to get clients coming to us.
But defining a niche is easier said than done; niching down is a very difficult process for just about everyone I’ve ever talked to.
> It means we have to pick an area of expertise and go deep—what if we pick the wrong thing?
>>It means we have to get specific about who we want to work with—what if we miss opportunities?
The mental turmoil this business problem causes us can keep us going around and around in circles and it can keep us stuck.
Getting Outside Help To Get Unstuck Can Sometimes Make Us Even More Stuck
When I first moved to Croatia a few years ago, I found myself backed into a corner: I lost a lot of my longtime clients from back home in Alaska and contracts I was counting on, and I had no position in the market or way to get visible.
I didn’t even know WHO I wanted to get visible WITH, nevertheless what I should be focused on in my offerings.
I knew I needed a niche and I actively sought help figuring it all out—I looked outside of myself and to others to help me get answers. Because inside my head? It was craaaazy in there. I just wanted somebody to point me in the right direction.
So I coordinated masterminds, I took courses, I talked with coaches, I asked everyone I knew for advice, and I even hired creative professionals to help (it didn’t help).
The problem? The more “input” I got, the more I struggled. I didn’t get answers, I just got more things to think about.
Getting clarity is the foundation for building a strong brand, we all instinctively know this even if we’re not thinking about it in exactly that way. We know we must know where we’re going in order to determine the steps we need to take to get there.
It took me a long time to pick a lane I felt passionate about and could commit to—it was a process.
So back to my friend I was telling you about—he’s in the same situation I was in a few years ago, and he’s contemplating making a pretty big financial investment to join a mastermind group.
I understand first-hand that this problem is painful and it’s tempting to throw money at it … but my advice (having walked through hell before I got to the other side) is to remember when you’re not clear, you’re vulnerable. When you’re setting out to shift your business (and your life)— making the wrong financial decisions is only going to pile on more problems. (Trust me, I wasted thousands.)
This is my best advice based on my personal experience —and you can choose to take it if it feels right:
1. Until you’re clear about your direction, be careful who you take advice from
Other people can’t tell you:
— What choices will make you happy
— Who you want to be (if you don’t know)
— What business decisions will make you money
But, everyone is going to have an opinion about what you should do and how to go about it—people LOVE to be “useful” with their opinions and tell you what you “need to do.”
Before you put too much weight into these opinions, ask yourself whether these people offering you advice are also stuck. Or if they have specific experience solving your specific problem. Because stuck attracts stuck, and opinions are like *you know what*.
If anything, give more weight to the advice given by people who have walked your path and found their way out of it and are several steps ahead of you.
During this fragile state of “figuring your shit out”—when you’re desperate for answers—the wrong advice could put your brain in a tailspin and keep you stuck for longer. More to process, more data to sift through, more decisions to make.
Working with a business coach who specializes in making decisions and finding your niche—especially if they have familiarity with your industry— is, in my opinion, a much better investment than a mastermind or a course or even hiring creative professionals at this stage. (Those things are all great, but work better when you have a clear direction.)
Less input, more internal contemplation. The answers are inside you and only you can make the decisions.
But here are some tips to help frame your thinking:
2. Use the Process of Elimination
Work the problem from another angle and ask yourself:
— What am I doing now to pay the bills that I don’t want to be doing three years from now?
— What am I spending my time on that isn’t tapping into my full potential or helping me grow financially or personally?
— What services do I know are a “dead end”—there’s only so much I can charge, only so far I can grow?
— What types of clients do I really dislike working with?
3. Use Your Imagination
Forget about being practical and tap into your intuition and visualize how you want your future to be and ask yourself:
— When am I happiest in my work — what am I doing?
— Who do I love working with, what are their common characteristics?
— (I’m waving a magic wand here, you can have anything): Three years from now, what do I want to be doing? What does my ideal business & life look like? How much money am I making? What am I doing with that money? Who am I surrounded by and working with? How do I feel?
Get yourself a vision for how you want your future life and future business to be and know that anything is possible. The reason why I say “three years” is that we tend to focus on today—we have bills to pay, we have decisions to make, and it can all be so overwhelming. But we forget what we’re capable of building and creating over a period of time.
It’s not just about what you’re capable of today, it’s what’s possible. It’s what you can set your sights on and build, developing an area of mastery you can “marry,” and then trusting yourself that YOU WILL BUILD THAT.
Choosing a new direction doesn’t mean your life will change overnight—it’s always a transition. If you want to be in a different place than you are now in five years, if you want clients to flock to you for “that thing you specialize in” — it helps to have a vision of your future you can get really psyched up about so you’ll have the discipline to see it through on the difficult days.
4. Take The Time To Learn About Yourself
We have to figure out where our real value is if we want our dream customers to choose us for the value we can provide rather than “all the stuff you can sell them).
This value is unique to you, it’s your competitive advantage—and you’re probably not even aware of what that really is.
You can do some research:
— Take the Briggs Myers test and understand the superpowers that exist in your personality
— Ask people you’ve worked with in the past what they found most valuable about that experience
— Ask your friends what they think your best qualities are — if they were to hire you, why they would trust you
— Work 1-1 with a coach who can help you overcome your psychological blocks, help you see yourself from new angles, and build confidence in your superpowers and your zone of genius
— Read Strengths Finder 2.0
Once you understand yourself better and the value you can offer, you can start making tactical decisions from a place of strength and confidence.
Once you have a clear direction, THEN you’ll know what courses to take, which mastermind groups to join, and you’ll seek out the right people for help. When you’re offered advice that doesn’t serve you, you’ll be centered and grounded in your own vision and your own goals and you’ll know what to take and what to leave.
And this includes the advice I offered here today. Take only what feels right and trust yourself.
99% of the Battle To Niche Down Is Mindset
One thing I’ve learned is that if you’re not clear about who you are and who want to attract, any marketing initiative you put into place is going to feel like stabbing in the dark, winging it, and just doing things (but not getting anywhere with it).
In my book, The Client Attraction Mindset, I share all of my “Aha!” moments, paradigm shifts and exercises that helped me go from learning mode, research mode, “I’m scared shitless” mode and get crystal clear about who I wanted to serve and the work I want to be focused on. And, to create a plan I could take action on that helped (and continues to help) me attract clients I love.
The homework ain’t easy, but if you do the work, you’ll have more clarity about how you’re going to attract great clients to your business feel more confident and focused in your marketing efforts.
Taughnee Stone is an award-winning designer, brand strategist, and location-independent business owner for over 15 years. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, she now lives in Croatia with her husband, energetic Samoyed, and three bossy cats.