Picking a niche

The word on the street is (and kind of always has been) that you MUST pick a niche or your business will fall into obscurity, and you will end up in the streets panhandling next to all the other poor saps who didn’t pick their niche.

(And all the while you’ll be begging for scraps, because one of your fellow panhandlers “niched down” his location to in front of the bus stop, thereby taking your best prospects before they even got to you. Oh, the humanity.)

This is a particularly frequent piece of advices for coaches. And it should be, because many coaches articulate their target market as “people who need my kind of coaching”, which is a little to broad to really get a foothold in the market. A little targeting never hurt anyone.

And while that’s one end of the spectrum, it can easily pendulum the other way, and then you’re a coach who helps 25 to 35 year old left handed women in transition in the greater Toronto area.

Ridiculous, yes.

Also not far off the mark for a lot of coaches wondering why they can’t fill their book.

But hope is not lost! Read on to learn how to make niche-related headaches go away for good.

Let’s take a minute and think about what “niche” really means anyway.

One of the dictionary definitions of niche is “a specialized market.” The idea is that the more you specialize, the easier it will be to find clients. If no one is trying to corner the market on those left-handed women in transition in Toronto, you’re about to be golden.

Maybe, maybe not.

“A specialized market” all by itself won’t necessarily make it easier to get clients. Just because Joe The Parenting Coach decides he’s going after “upscale parents of toddlers” doesn’t mean that the fact he picked that niche is going to guarantee any level of success.

It’s kind of like art. The Mona Lisa is a one of a kind, and that’s one of the reasons that it’s worth millions. But just because you paint something that’s one of a kind doesn’t mean you magically get points for that. There are a lot of other factors at play there. (One of which is that Leonardo Da Vinci is dead.)

Yes, picking a specialized market can help you on your fill-my-damn-book-already journey. But you have to pick that specialized market with the right end in mind if you want it to actually sway the odds in your favor.

Two things you need to consider before saying “this is the right niche for me.”

Let’s step away from what a niche IS, just for a moment, and think about what a niche is supposed to DO.

Basically, picking a niche serves two purposes:

First, a niche gives someone a specific reason to feel an affinity to you that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Think of this as the thing that a potential client thinks in terms of “people like me” or “people in my situation” rather than the rest of the masses.

You are currently reading this because your business is so small, you don’t even think of it as a “small business.” It’s itty. Not small. That’s why reading IttyBiz sounds like a better idea to you than Small Business Daily Tips. That site would appeal more to the owner of Bill’s Coffee Nook, with 8 employees and a very organized bookkeeper. (Bill, by the way, is sleeping with his bookkeeper. Shh. The wife doesn’t know.)

For a coaching practice, your target market or niche or whatever you want to call it is going to revolve around a certain type of person, or a certain type of problem, that you can put into actual words. Words that match up with the words that those people use in their heads.

Those words are the ones that make the person thinking “I want a coach” start thinking “I want THAT kind of coach.” So Joe is a bit on to something targeting upscale parents with toddlers, provided he’s solving problems that upscale parents tend to have. He’s halfway there.

Second, a niche gives someone a more concrete deliverable to consider buying. Coaching clients, for the record do not want coaching. No matter how many times they say it – to you, to themselves, or to their golden retriever – they do not want “coaching.”

All together now… NOBODY WANTS COACHING.

They want something very particular that the coaching will give them. They don’t call Joe because they want parenting coaching. Who the hell wants parenting coaching? Who has time for that crap?

They call Joe because they feel over their head on how to discipline a toddler. Or because they need help cultivating a budding prodigy. Or because they want some guidance on how to do the parenting thing when they and their partner have very different parenting philosophies.

There is a very specific thing, when it all comes down to it, that’s more or less your coaching superpower. This is the thing that generally should make it into your tagline.

It’s the core benefit that falls into “what the client is trading her money for”, and it should be clear and easy to understand. But the thing that the client is trading her money for cannot simply be “help.”

People don’t pay for help. They pay for a specific kind, flavor, or style of help. That’s your niche. Think of the medical / wellness field. Pain-free pediatric dentistry for scared kids. Physical therapy for athletes in high-impact sports. That kind of thing.

So the first part of your niche addresses who, within the masses of your target demographic, is the right kind of client for what you do. The second part of your niche is the kind of thing that your client is coming to you for.

The more specific you get, the more likely the specific kind of person who would like to access your specific superpower will say “That sounds like the thing I want to buy from that person.”

Here’s the part where you find out you don’t actually need a niche. Maybe.

Do you need a highly targeted niche to succeed?

Maybe yes, maybe no.

You can afford to be less specific with the market you serve if you are more specific with what you do for that market.

If you’re a behavioral therapist coachy type who helps kids with very serious anger issues, you don’t need to care so much about what kind of parents you’re targeting. If your specific service is “Keeping your kids from ending up in court one day”, that’s probably clear enough to carry you through.

You can be afford to be less specific with what you offer if you are more specific with who you offer it to.

At IttyBiz, I am a marketing consultant for, generally, single-person businesses. Yes, technically they are a small business. But they are TINY. And they think of themselves as tiny. They LIKE being tiny. It would never cross their mind to be anything OTHER than tiny. So I can be more general about my services, because I’m very specific about the market.

You can afford to be less specific with what you offer if you have brand strength on your side.

If you are a big brand, your niche is actually based around your reputation or what people already know about you. Target and Wal-Mart are huge. They can offer anything under the sun. Martha Stewart can make paints and drapes and cupcake tins and superhero Halloween costumes for your dog.

If you are a very big name in your industry, you can attract clients on name recognition and the qualities that recognition contains, so you can also offer anything under the sun (to a point).

Until you’re at that point, though, offering too many things that hit a wide spread can work against you. So you should probably consider targeting yourself a bit more.

Your homework for today.

Look at the part above about the two things your niche is supposed to be doing for you.

Think about if you’ve got those covered.

Also think about where you can afford to get looser with your niche and see if that applies to you.

Remember, people don’t want “help” and they don’t want “coaching.”

They want to know what they’re paying for, and know that they’re buying it from the kind of coach that’s right for them.


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