Why there is value in being a specialist – staying niche

The value in being niche

One of the most oft-recurring conversations I have with small business- and even some larger businesses – is whether they should ‘do more’. That is: sell a wider array of goods or services. Diversify.

There is a true fear of missing an opportunity by being a specialist, being niche. And I completely understand this because when I’ve worked completely as a freelancer, there’s a tendency to say yes to everything to ensure you can keep paying the bills.

Yet there is some real value in staying niche – and that’s the opportunity to be positioned and perceived as a “specialist”. A true expert, with specialised knowledge, is what many people are seeking from either a service provide or a retailer.

I was recently reminded of this when I received this (unsolicited) email. Despite the fact it’s obviously quite ugly, mass-produced and inherently ‘spammy’ looking, the actual content is worse. Why? Because can one person, or one business, possibly be expert in all of those things? Of course not. They can likely DO all of these things, but that doesn’t mean I’d trust them to be “the best choice” for any one of them.

Value of specialisation

I’m not alone in the call to consider the benefits of staying niche. I watched a recent interview with Andrew McCutchen of Time & Tide (as part of a series of Officeworks videos). Andrew’s publication is one of the most niche media offerings out there: a publication focused only on watches. Yet it seems to be thriving at a time when much larger media vehicles are dropping like flies. He talked about not being afraid to delight in the detail of what you do, and “showing your passion for it” which, in turn, “will show authority in the space”.

At a time when Department stores are hitting truly hard times, specialist retail is also gaining traction. An impressive example of a niche retail business that’s thriving is store C.W. Pencils in New York. It is a store dedicated to – you guessed it – pencils. Yes, there’s some other stationery on offer, but this store has made itself a true retail destination by being perceived as a pencil specialist. Don’t think there could be anything in that? A hint that it’s working is not only all the media they’ve garnered, but their Instagram following that tipped to over 100,000 people in a year.

So if you’re considering your business and marketing planning for the coming year, it’s a good time to consider what it is you and your business really excel at: are true experts in. Then consider if there’s value is focusing more narrowly on this speciality and really building your authority in that arena. Some short term challenges may evolve into genuine, long-term, competitive advantage: being sought out by prospective customers as an expert in your field. The ultimate, zero budget marketing dream.

Think marketing first, not marketing last – Critical questions to ask

think-marketing-first

I had a call the other day from someone who’d done a lot of hard work to securing an international speaker she was bringing out here from the US. And after they’d negotiated it all and had dates and had committed herself to the significant costs…that’s when she called me. That’s when she really started to think about actually ‘marketing’ the speaker and thus doing what I like to call ‘the making money part’.

This isn’t unusual. I can’t actually count the number of times a client has come to me late in the process – in fact, when it feels like it’s a last resort. They’ve done all the work to set up a business – often a huge about of work – and then they discover the bad news: customers don’t magically appear or keep appearing.

That’s not to say you need a marketing expert to run a business – you just need to think marketing first, not marketing last. Trust me, it will save you a whole lot of pain later on.

Business don’t just fail to budget for marketing – they fail to even think about marketing until they ‘need’ it. Which is usually when it’s too late. Every business must ‘do’ marketing.

If you START with a marketing mindset, you’re 100% more likely to be successful in any business. Seriously.

Why? Because it means you will have considered and planned for critical elements to your business success like:

  • Who is my customer going to be?
  • What does my prospective customer want – in their life, their shopping, their work? What motivates them?
  • How do I want my business to appear visually? What tone of voice is right for my audience?
  • What problem can I (my business/product/service) solve for my customer?
  • What is it about my product or service that is special or different or worth choosing?
  • What is the best way to price my product or service?
  • Who are the important influencers I should get involved?
  • Who could I partner with to help spread the word about my business or event or promotion?
  • What should I budget to promote my business? (Because it is possible to marketing without money but it’s much smarter to allocate some budget if you can.)
  • Where does social media fit in (if at all)?
  • Is advertising going to be worthwhile? And if so, where and what deal can you negotiate?
  • Where does online fit in my business? What should be on my website? How will I get people to my website?
  • What about a referral marketing strategy? Is there a role for affiliate marketing?
  • How do I start building a marketing list?
  • How will I keep people buying from me? What will motivate repeat purchase?

I hope you see the value in thinking about these questions. It helps you put marketing first, not marketing last.

These questions help you plan for the success of your business or event. They help you create a marketing mindset, which in turn will help you have a successful business that’s built around your customer and market, not just around you.