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This week I caught up with an old friend and we talked about how it used to be so easy to drum up business—there was scarcity in the market. These days the internet is so much noisier and defining your niche market as “anyone who needs what I sell” just doesn’t cut it anymore.
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.
Getting your dream customers’ attention is a straight-up daily battle.
The solution is to narrow down the segment of the market you target your offerings to. The more niche you can be the easier it is to get clients coming to you.
What is a niche market?
Let’s kick things off with some definitions:
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Your niche is the problem you solve.
It’s that thing you do in a way nobody else can do it. When you’re offering a service, this should be the intersection between what you love doing, what you’re really good at, and what people need and will pay you enough to meet your financial needs. This plays a huge role in the work I do with clients, and it can take some deep soul-searching.
(I talk more about finding your zone of genius or your “one thing” here.)
Now let’s define client niche or niche market
This is is the segment(s) of the market you’ll focus on to offer your solution. You can have more than one niche market, but your message may need to be adapted for each.
In a nutshell, it’s taking the ocean of people out there who potentially need your services and narrowing it down so you’re swimming in a lagoon instead. There, having a narrower audience allows you to be more targeted in your message.
The more specific your message, the easier it is for people to “self-select.” In other words, when they hear from you, it doesn’t appear to be just for anybody, it appears to be specifically meant for them.
This typically includes making decisions about which specific industries they come from, demographic categories, lifestyle characteristics, and psychographic profiles.
Everyone is not your customer.
But finding your 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 also means we have to get specific about who we want to work with—and what if we miss opportunities?
This is where a lot of people get stuck. They want to have their cake (the benefit of having a niche audience) and eat it too (still market to literally anybody). Unfortunately, you can’t have it both ways. Unless you commit to your niche, your message will be confusing to everyone.
The mental turmoil this business problem causes us can keep us going around and around in circles and it can keep us stuck.
You’re not crazy, finding your niche is a difficult process. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s supposed to be easy.
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 and found myself with no competitive 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, but I was totally lost. I had to get clear about my strengths and competitive advantages and then crystal clear about who I wanted to work with.
It took me a long time to pick a lane I felt passionate about and could commit to—it was a process. Now, this is what I help other people figure out because I KNOW how difficult it is to do from the inside.
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
Lots of people are going to have an opinion about what you should do and how to go about it, but during this fragile state of “figuring your shit out”—when you’re desperate for answers and having a heck of a time making decisions—the wrong advice could put your brain in a tailspin and keep you stuck for longer.
For example, I hear this one a lot: “Just do what you love, focus on your strengths. Work with people you love.”
I say all of these things to my clients too, but what’s missing is choosing a viable niche and a viable market segment. If you can’t make money, you’re going to create a (very expensive) hobby for yourself. It’s crucial you research the market before you go “all in” with your dreams.
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. Or, work with a business coach who specializes in making decisions and finding your niche—especially if they have familiarity with your industry.
Just know that ultimately, the answers are inside you and only you can make the decisions. Give yourself a bit of grace and time to think it through carefully, rushing things won’t help.
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 and charge what we’re worth.
This value is unique to you, it’s your competitive advantage—and you may not even aware of what that really is. All kinds of surprising things come up when I work through this process with my clients.
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, 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.
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.