For someone reason, it’s become in vogue to bash niching in the marketing world.
I suppose it’s inevitable.
An idea becomes popular and so a way to become popular is to take the contrarian point of view and knock that idea down.
A cow becomes sacred and so you kill that cow.
The challenge is that most of the attempts I’ve seen to explain why you don’t need a niche are still niching.
And the core challenge is that the definition of niching used by most of my colleagues tends to circle around “who” we’re trying to reach (our target markets, ideal clients, perfect customers, chosen audience etc.) and exclude what we do (our specialization) and how we do it (our point of view, style and aesthetic). I’ve written more about that here.
But I want to make the case to you that choosing “nichelessness” as a business path is a terrible idea.
I remember years ago, a woman decided to email me about her views on niching to point out that niching wasn’t, it seemed a spiritually evolved endeavour. “There’s a point you miss . . .” she said. “The Dalai Lama practices and teaches noiselessness.”
I replied, puzzled to think that His Holiness had broken it down on niching for businesses in any of his talks and replied to her.
She replied to let me know that, of course, the Dalai Lama likely did not subscribe to emails from marketing gurus so he would not be familiar with the term “niche” and would therefore not use the term “nichelessness.” but insisted that, if he did, then he would.
She told me that “nichelessness” was about wanting everyone without exception to be happy and to want everyone without exception to be free of suffering and its causes. The conversation went, on my side, downhill from there as she kept pointing out that my definition of niching (which she had never bothered to ask and did not know) was incomplete and needed to be fixed.
After a while, I just stopped responding to her.
The first reason that nichelessness is a terrible approach to business is that, by my definition of “niche” (your role in the community) you actually can’t not occupy a niche. You’re always going to be known for some role. The only question is this: is this a role you enjoy playing and want to be known for?
It really all comes down to that.
Does your niche need to be consciously chosen and designed through a workshop or homestudy course? No.
Do you need to hire a coach to help you figure yours out? No.
Does it have to be perfectly word-smithed? No.
Frankly, you can have a winning niche without ever having thought about it at all and never having heard the word “niche.” The main question, from a business perspective, is this: “Am I being financially sustained in doing the work I want to do, in the way I want to do it with the people for whom I want to do it?” If you can answer yes to that, stop even thinking about your niche and just enjoy your blessed good fortune. This is a rare happening for most humans. Count your lucky stars.
And, if you can’t give a full-throated “yes” as an answer to that question, then the next question is this: “Do you know what work you want to do, how you want to do it and for whom?”
If you can’t give a “yes” to that question, then it’s worth taking some time to reflect on it. You might not need any professional help at all. Sometimes you just need to take a weekend to really think about it and the answer will appear.
But . . . if you have thought about it and thought about it . . . If you have pondered and wondered about it . . . If you have signed up for marketing programs only to realize that most of what they are teaching you can’t really be applied for you yet because you have no niche . . . then you might want to get more help.
If you don’t, then you will likely spend years doing work you don’t really want to do (think most people you know). Or you will spend years doing work that you love but doing it in a way that crushes your soul (think the highly spiritual Yoga teacher stuck in teaching classes in a mainstream mega-studio where she can’t really bring her full ‘woo’) . Or you will spend years doing work that you love in just the way you want to do it but offering it to people who don’t appreciate it at all (think Van Gogh).
If you don’t get help in figuring out your niche because you think that “nichelessness” is more spiritually evolved, you may find yourself needing to choose between making money or doing what you love and resenting either path you take.
Nichelessness leads to people feeling trapped.
Remember, you can’t not have a niche. One of my colleauges, Lisa Cherney once pointed out, “It’s become fashionable to knock niching, but remember – niche is an ecological term. If you knock niching you’re knocking nature.”
But still, there are plenty of big names out there bashing niching as a practice.
A client of mine pointed out that he’d seen a well known business author give a talk, and said, “I love that he questioned two of the sacred cows of business: 1. Never give up. 2. Niching. I want to focus on point Number 2 in this post: he actually had a slide that said, ‘Don’t Niche.’ He gave examples such as Richard Branson and Oprah who have businesses in multiple niches. They are all based on a central value. He calls it a values-based brand instead of a niche-based brand. He also said that Niching can also be a valid path but it’s not for everyone. It then occurred to me that perhaps Niching is based on the What and the How whereas a values-based brand is based on the why. For example, Apple has products in multiple industries but everyone who buys their products buy them because they are making a stand for the same values: being different, fighting the status quo.”
From where I stand, “why” you do something still factors into your niche.
Consider the danger of this. An entrepreneur who is just starting out hears someone say, “Don’t niche!” and says to themselves, “Aha! I’ll just talk about my values then! I’ll just talk about my ‘why’ and I’ll have a thriving business.”
What happens when most people do this? They go broke.
Why? Because they try to skip over the basics. The basics are what, how and who. Why is the icing on the cake.
Don’t believe me? Imagine you are at a party and you are looking for help with your migraines. There are two holistic practitioners there that specialize in helping people with migraines. You meet them both and one tells you, “I’m a cranio-sacral practitioner and I specialize in helping people suffering from chronic migraines.” The second one, and you have no idea what they even do, tells you, “I really value health, well-being and self-empowerment and an edgy, bad ass, freedom based lifestyle.”
Whose business card do you ask for?
Generally, Richard Branson has focused on industries where there are well-established and overpriced players and he sees room for a fun, lower-priced brand to undercut them. Richard Branson’s businesses all have a very clear what, how and who. He doesn’t just travel around the world saying, “Buy things from me! What kinds of things? All sorts! Just go check out my website.” That last statement also sounds too close to the new President of the United States for comfort. Steaks! Wine! Hotels! They’re all the best!
Oprah has tended to focus on the intersection of motivational stories, human interest and personal growth information and expertise, mainly for women but each of her initiatives has a crystal clear what, how and who.
Steve Jobs focused on the mantra of being different but each of Apple’s individual products have a clear what, how and who.
Let me put it another way: can you show me one of Apple’s, Oprah’s or Branson’s specific, individual businesses that doesn’t have a clear what, how and/or who to it?
And be clear also: each of Richard Branson’s, Oprah’s and Apple’s businesses also have their own marketing plans.
Let me be more blunt: you can’t show me a business that doesn’t have a niche.
It doesn’t exist. There’s no such thing.
To say it another way: your business already has a niche. It just might not be the one you want.
Richard Branson’s, Oprah’s and Apple’s businesses, they also have a clear why underneath them. The why is the spiritual energy underneath a company but the what, how and who are what give it form.
My colleague Mark Silver replied to all of this saying, “There’s always a niche- there’s no such thing as a business offer that is for everyone about everything at every time. There’s always some qualifications. I talk about 2 routes in my own work. 1) The route of personality 2) The route of focus on the client. Now, to some extent, you need both, it’s not strictly an either/or. You need to be yourself and your values need to be visible for it all to work as well as it could. However, unless you have a particularly strong personality and want to base the brand on who you are, which is not for the weak of stomach, it takes a particular kind of person to handle that and to carry it off successfully, it’s just going to be much easier to find a group of people who need what you’re offering and get intimate with them, in a way that aligns with who you are and your values. On another note, Chris Guilbault, who says ‘Don’t Niche’ has a niche. His traveling the world to visit every country, his lifestyle-design approach, it’s all about the ‘find your passion’ message. And that’s a niche.”
So, the whole thing comes back to this question: “Are you being financially sustained in doing the work you want to do, in the way you want to do it with the people for whom you want to do it?”
How’s it going?