To Niche or Not to Niche?

Article by Grace DurfeeShould you focus on a particular niche or target market, or let the niche find you? That’s a question that many service professionals wrestle with, especially in the start-up phase of their business. I recommend a combination approach.

Why niche?

It’s certainly helpful to be able to concentrate your marketing efforts in a particular area. Instead of limiting you, it can help position and focus you. You will have more targeted marketing materials and a more specific introduction or “elevator speech.” This doesn’t mean that you can’t take on other clients outside your target area.

Choosing a niche can also help with name recognition and branding. You’ll develop a reputation as being the professional to contact for certain challenges. You’ll be more memorable to people you meet and will increase your chances of getting referrals. If someone can’t describe what you do, who you do it for, and how they benefit, they won’t be able to make a compelling case for why someone should call you.

It can be more comfortable in the beginning when you are building confidence to specialize in an area you know well and with a segment of the population that may mirror yourself. When I first started my coaching business, I thought I only wanted to coach women, especially stay-at-home moms who were going back to work, just like I had done. Now, although the majority of my clients are women, I really enjoy my male clients. Although some of my clients are in career transition, none of my clients are stay-at-home moms.

How to determine a niche

Who do you enjoy working with? Think in terms of age, profession, gender, education, interests, marital status, family size, hobbies, lifestyle, and values. Other questions you might consider are:

  • Who can afford your services?
  • Who could be a good long-term client?
  • Who could be a good source of referrals?
  • What area do you feel uniquely qualified to work in?
  • In what area do you have the most connections?
  • In what area(s) are you perceived as an expert?

Why be flexible about a niche?

Your ideal client profile may change over time. In the beginning it can be helpful to work with different types of clients. It will help you determine who you enjoy working with and what types of situations you enjoying dealing with. I learned early on in my business that I didn’t enjoy relationship coaching, especially when it involved people wrestling with questions about staying or leaving their partners or marriages. I gladly refer people in those situations to other coaches and therapists.

It’s important to pay attention to the types of clients who come your way. Keep track of your clients and see if they don’t begin to naturally fall into one or more groups. This is what I mean by your niche finding you. For instance, a financial planner I know found that many widows seek her services and refer other widows to her.

It’s fine to have more than one niche. You can have a “bread and butter niche” — one group of clients who can afford to pay you well, such as stressed out executives — and other groups, perhaps starving artists or moms who are looking to get off welfare, whom you love working with but who need to pay on a sliding scale. I enjoy the variety of having more than one niche. My clients are a mix of busy professionals, career-changers, and solopreneurs. I can honestly say that I’m never bored in my business, but I’m afraid I might be if I only worked with one type of client.

Sometimes it pays to test the waters. You might think you’d love to work with a certain group but you’re not sure how receptive they’ll be or if they can afford your fee. If you explore a target market and discover it’s not for you, it doesn’t have to be a catastrophe. It can be valuable learning. Nothing has to be set in stone. You can always print new business cards, change a website or brochure, or even rename your business.

Have fun exploring what choosing a niche, or not, can do for your business.

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