There’s a big movement today of people selling advice, programs, and courses about how to build your business that all sound like this: “Find a niche, run Facebook ads to this niche. Then become specialized, and get rich.”
While I won’t go as far as to call this a marketing scam, I will say that I think it’s bad advice. Here’s why I think it’s not a great way to get started on your entrepreneurial journey.
You Get Boxed In
When you’re just starting out, how can you possibly know what it is that you really want from your business? This obsession with finding your niche before you get going will keep you from experimenting and testing. You become focused on a very specific client from the get-go, and are unwilling to think beyond this narrow profile.
However, as time goes on and you start to actually run your business, you may discover that you don’t like working with that very narrow audience you’ve selected for yourself. The tough thing is that once you’ve gone all in with targeting and marketing to a small subset of the population, it’s tougher to pivot and broaden your approach. It’s usually easier to get more specific in your focus as time goes on, rather than to start hyper-focused and move outward.
You Stop Up Your Creativity
The other major risk to defining your niche too early is that you can stifle your creativity. When you only work with a narrow segment of the population, it’s easy to fall into the trap of offering cookie-cutter advice. While your suggestions may be useful to the businesses you consult for, it’s not a whole lot of fun for you.
I find that a lot of the fun of the entrepreneurial journey is constantly getting to try and learn new things. Getting to understand new industries, tackling new problems, and finding new challenges and solutions along the way is all part of the excitement!
Why Do People Fall for the Niche Approach?
There is certainly some validity to the concept of finding and leaning into your niche. For lots of entrepreneurs, particularly those working in B2B industries, you’ll encounter clients who want to work with people who have worked with similar companies. Those clients want the assurance that you already understand their industry and have a proven track record helping other businesses like them, so there are some pros to understanding a niche.
But there are some real cons to it, too. Sometimes getting too entrenched in just one industry keeps you from considering new, innovative ideas from the outside. I find that working across industries invites a cross-pollination of ideas and strategy—sometimes I’ll see something happening in one industry that inspires me to think differently about a challenge a client in an entirely different field is facing.
Share Your Point of View
To attract ideal clients, you don’t want to pigeonhole yourself with a niche, but you can’t just leave it to fate, either. Rather than doing either of those things, start by defining your point of view.
In the case of Duct Tape Marketing, our point of view is that marketing is a system. This is a simple tenet that we live by, and it’s at the core of all the products we offer, decisions we make, and advice we give to clients.
While it’s not a hard point of view to get behind, it is one that differs from what the majority of marketers say. This unique point of view allows us to attract customers who are interested in this way of thinking, rather than those who are obsessed with finding a marketing firm that knows their industry inside and out.
Identify Your Ideal Client
Sharing your point of view will help to attract clients with the right mindset to your business. When you’re first starting out, you can’t go in with a rigid concept of your ideal client. Until you’ve done some work, you won’t know the types of problems you want to solve and types of people you like to work with.
Once you’ve gotten good results for a client in a specific industry, chances are other businesses from that industry will reach out, too. Either they’ll get referred by your original client, or they’ll see work on your website and be attracted to you because they feel you know their industry. But as you begin to build up a roster of clients, that’s when you can start to take control and make decisions about who you want to partner with in the long term.
With time, your business will change. You will change. Your capacity to do certain types of work will change. It’s better to learn as you’re going rather than to enter into things with a set outcome in mind.
Focus on Behavior
When you start to undertake the work of defining your ideal client, behaviors matter more than demographics.
For me, I like to focus on business owners who have the mentality of investing in and giving back to their community. The business owners who I most enjoy working with are those who are engaged in their communities and do work to lift those groups up. Perhaps they participate in industry boards or are involved in relevant nonprofits.
I’ve discovered over the years that there’s a link between the behavior of giving back to the community and the mentality of wanting to invest in professional services. Business owners who understand the importance of investing in their community also see the value of investing in services like marketing. So rather than looking at demographics, I look for this behavior that indicates a certain mindset of the type of client I most enjoy working with.
Once you understand who your ideal customer is, that’s when you can start saying no to those who don’t fit that profile. And when you start saying no to clients who don’t make sense for you and your business, you will organically fall into your own niche. The idea that you need to start by identifying your niche is poor advice; in fact, I think it’s the exact other way around!
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