How niche is too niche? Specialization is a marketing tool

How niche is too niche? Specialization is a marketing tool

Time and time again, I work with clients who want to be everything to everyone. And the truth is, I get it. I’ve been there, and I occasionally have to do an audit of my own services to be sure I’m not falling into that old rut again.

When you are able to provide a lot of services, it’s easy to think “why not?” When a client asks you to do something you’re capable of but isn’t what you’re building your business around, it can be difficult to say no to those extra dollars – especially when you’re starting out.

Here’s the problem with doing a little of everything: you specialize in nothing. When you’re scared of losing out on a sale (even when it’s something that’s totally not your jam), you actually end up losing out on those awesome dream clients who want you to do exactly what you do best for them.

So what makes you different in a desirable way?

Do you work with a certain size client, a specific industry, or on a specialized platform? Or do you have a very specialized service offering?

The old business adage is: if you market to everyone, you’re actually marketing to no one.

This is because marketing requires a bit more finesse than you can accomplish by simply slapping your logo or ad somewhere and walking away. That’s called ‘spray and pray’ (i.e. spend a ton of money and hope that something sticks). And it doesn’t work. Even if you get a whole whack of leads from it, your conversion rates are going to suck – basically, people might slow down to read what the signs you’ve plastered on every street corner say, but that doesn’t mean they’ll open their wallets for you.

So what does drilling down to a specific niche do for you?

It lets you know exactly who to target and how to find them. It means that when you write your customer newsletter or begin to offer new features, you can relate it to what’s going on in the world of those specific clients. And it means when someone who fits your client profile is looking for some help, you’re positioned perfectly to be the expert they choose instead of being one of the many generalists out there to choose from.

I can hear you now: “But Jessica, I don’t want to scare away potential clients by focusing on one service” or “I don’t have a lot of time to spend profiling my clients. I’m busy actually trying to pay the bills and handle the work I’ve already got”

Strategically picking your niche or specialty and defining what problem you solve for clients will help you create a marketing plan that reaches the people who need you and are willing to pay for what you do because it is worth it for them. A few extra hours fine-tuning your plan can save you countless hours (and dollars) down the road.

It also means that you can keep up on the trends and changes related to your services. Because you are focusing in one area, you can create a standard process for working with your clients (hooray for an easier workflow!), and communicate that process up front. Honestly, a process is a pretty valuable thing in a service based business.

Marketing yourself as an expert in a niche field is far easier than trying to go broad because at the heart of every marketing plan are word-of-mouth and referrals that fly through a niche, making it easy for your ideal customer to choose you. The longer you’ve been specializing, the larger portfolio or client roster you develop, and the more well known you become for what you do.

So, how niche is too niche? 

If there aren’t enough clients who fit your profile or need your service for your business to be profitable, you’re going to need to zoom out a little. Especially if there is a lot of competition for what you do. It’s going to be different for everyone, but having actual conversations with your potential clients is the best way to validate that you’re on the right track.

Whatever you choose right now, rest at ease that it can adapt over time while you grow your business.

Now what should you do if you’re not well known for a specialty and just need to pay the bills?

Chances are, even though you market to a specific audience you’ll still get requests for other work that’s not really up your ally. Or you might think of a quick and easy service offering that you can do short-term that will help cover some costs (although, if it’s so easy and profitable why isn’t it your main gig, huh?).

To help you decide when it’s worthwhile to take on some of those ‘extra’ jobs, here are a few criteria I suggest considering:

  • Are you ok with doing the work but not adding it to your portfolio, case study, testimonial folder or client list? You don't want to confuse your future clients about what you actually offer.
  • Could the time you spend completing the job be used to find more relevant work? Knowing how busy your schedule is will help you figure this one out.
  • Is the work for an existing client who uses or will use your preferred services? While it can be worthwhile to do a small job to please an existing customer, you also run the risk of sending the wrong message.
  • Will you be able to complete the work to your current standards? By doing a poor job on something you are not specializing in, you send a bad message about your abilities.
  • Will the project be profitable? Is the value you provide worth your regular rate (or higher), or will you need to spend a lot of additional time getting up-to-date and researching to do the job properly?

Cutting services and narrowing your market demographic can be scary, but it is the best way to become specialized and distinguish your offering from the competition.

What do you think?