Frequently Asked Questions on Niching
Q: “What if I’m drawn to multiple groups of people?”
A: That’s totally normal. The question is, do they all fit in the same Big Circle (eg holistic practitioners, life coaches and permaculture designers are all “conscious service providers”)? If not, you may have multiple businesses on your hands (eg you play the harp at weddings and also do web design for tech companies – totally different businesses). Which is fine, it’s just good to be clear about that.
I’d still suggest picking your top three and making those 80% of your focus in your marketing. You’ll get further. You’ll still attract plenty of people who aren’t in those top three groups, but you won’t be relying on them.
“You talk about letting your niche find you. How do you do that?”
This is something I go into more in in my intro workshop. You can find it at www.marketingforhippies.com/intro and will delve even more deeply into in my upcoming Hub Marketing Homestudy Course.
But the basics are to have your niche as clear as you can and then to make sure as many of the hubs who are connected to your scene as possible know about who you are and what you do. And to partner with them. You find where your target markets hang out, who they respect and then, whenever possible, partner with those people in whatever way is most appropriate.
Q: “What if I have multiple modalities and tools in my tool box, which ones do I focus on?”
A: This is something I go into more in in my intro workshop. You can find it at www.marketingforhippies.com/intro.
Short answer: don’t worry about it.
People are usually not coming for the tools and modalities anyway. Sometimes they are. But most often they’re coming for a particular result or to solve a particular problem. Or because they love your point of view. Or because they just love who you are. Certainly, one way to niche is to pick a particular tool and become know for how well you use that tool. But another, equally legit, way is to be known for who you are, how you see things, the bigger cause you’re all about. The tools and tactics you use are only one part of your overall platform.
Having said that, if there is a particular tool you’re most in love with and can’t ever imagine tiring of, there’s no reason not to laser in on that one and use the other tools as you see fit.
If you decided to specialize in The Work of Byron Katie, I can promise you that no one would become enraged if you threw a little bit of Non Violent Communication work in there too.
Q: “What if I’ve gone through and overcome a lot of things? How do I choose what to focus on?”
A: This is the hardest question to answer. I don’t think the question is which part of your story to focus on. I would instead focus on “What are you drawn to give? What do you see missing in the world?” and then look at your story for clues as to why you’re drawn to that. If you do it the other way, it can feel overwhelming. It you look at your life story and try to figure out which element to use to draw inspiration, you miss the fact that you are already inspired about certain things.
Q: “What if I’m good at a lot of things? How do I choose?”
A: I would tend to follow what inspires you the most and what you’re most passionate about and look at how your gifts, talents, skills and strengths can serve that, rather than the other way around. Your skills can be used in any number of directions. But there are certain meaningful needs in the community that you both notice and care deeply about and the more you can orient around those, the better.
Q: “What if I’m not an expert in the thing I want to do?”
A: There’s an idea that you must spend about 10,000 practicing something before you can be considered an expert in it. I think there’s a lot of wisdom there. Does this mean that you need to wait 10,000 hours before you can charge money?
Not necessarily. My colleague Pace Smith makes the astute observation that we all, already, have many things we’ve spent 10,000 hours on in our lives:
“Sometimes we’re blind to our expertise because it doesn’t fit the mild of a commonly accepted profession, like glassblowing or accounting. But shine the spotlight of your attention on the parts of your life you take for granted. Listen for the backing vocals instead of the lead melody. That decade of working odd jobs? Maybe you were learning resilience and flexibility. Those long years getting into and out of that abusive relationship? Maybe you were learning self respect and boundaries. That dead-end tech career that wasn’t aligned with your heart? Maybe you were learning analytic problem solving.”
Q: “What if I’m too explicit in my niche?”
A: Just because you’ve picked a niche doesn’t mean that you can’t work with people outside of it. It means that the bulk of the people you attract will be within your niche, but you will still attract other folks who don’t fit your niche – just because they like you, happened to hear about you first, or were recommended by someone they trust. That’s fine. There’s no need to turn them away. Always remember this phrase: you can be explicit without being exclusive.
Q: “Do we have to have been all the way through our clients’ struggle and be more progressed than our clients to be authentic?”
A: I would say no, but I would also advise that you frame it differently. The most important thing is making sure that you’re not posturing as something that you aren’t. Let’s say you’re trying to help someone get over a heartbreak and you’re still totally stuck in one. It could be inauthentic to say you’re an expert in getting over heartbreak when you haven’t gotten over it yourself (and currently have no idea how to do so).
If you’re halfway over it and you give a workshop on how to explore heartbreak or how to make progress, you might be able to authentically say that. You can still do projects around it.
You don’t have to be an expert to do projects. There’s a woman who loves straw bale homes, but she didn’t know how to do straw bale homes. What she did was organize a tour of the existing straw bale homes in the Guelph area, and she got paid for that.
You may not be through it, but you could host a series of workshops or conversations about it, where you bring in other presenters and speakers. You could just tell everyone clearly, “I’m hosting these because I need these.” You may not be able to teach it. If you haven’t overcome it, and you aren’t a few steps ahead of people, I would just be cautious about it because that’s a really terrifying place to be, if you start to posture as something that you’re not.
Whatever you do, don’t pretend. Don’t over-promise. Be real.
Pace Smith puts it so beautifully in her wonderful (and free) ebook The 11 Most Dangerous Myths About Finding Your Path:
“You’ll never be done. You’ll never be ready. You’ll never know ‘enough’ or be skilled ‘enough’. But you can help people who are also struggling with it. Take that struggle and express it. Share your struggle in a way that comes naturally and easily to you – in a way that you live. If you love to tell stories, tell the story of your struggle. If you love to teach, teach about your struggle. If you love to write, write about your struggle. If you love to paint, paint about your struggle. If you love to speak to audiences, speak to audiences about your struggle. If you love to dance, dance your struggle. If you love to sing, sing your struggle. If you love to heal, heal others who are struggling with the same struggle. Someone who struggles with motivation and loves to teach, could teach classes about motivation. Someone who struggles with grief and has a natural talent for energy healing could become a grief healer. Someone who struggles with self-love and loves photography could help other love themselves through selfies. Someone who struggles with money and loves to code could create software that helps others trust. Someone who struggles with trust and loves to make jewelry could create jewelry that helps others trust. Someone who struggles with finding their path and loves to write could write an ebook to help others find their path.”
Q: “My practice offers group facilitation, so who should I target?”
A: You want to speak to what they’re craving. What’s Island B for them? The way you want to frame the group facilitation is not to talk about the boat of group facilitation, but to talk about the journey of the person who is hiring you.
It would be, “Do you notice that your team is unmotivated? Are they slacking off all the time? Is there in-fighting and gossip?” Find out what they notice, from their eyes. How are they seeing the situation? That’s how you want to speak to it. You don’t want to be speaking to the diagnosis, asking, “Are the leaders of your group out of alignment?”
You just want to say something like, “You’re in charge here, and this is what you’re seeing happening in your group and you don’t know what to do about it and it reflects badly on you. If you handle this well, you look really good to your higher-ups. You get more funding. Your non-profit is a better place to work. You get to feel proud about it.”
The key is don’t talk about the boat; talk about the journey. Again, go with Big Circles and little circles. The Big Circle might be people in charge of organizations, and the little circles might be the executive director, the boss and the human relations person.
They’re all going to have their own hubs. For example, HR people have their own networks and conferences that they go to, and if you could be going to speak and run sessions at those, they’ll be asking you to come in, as opposed to you chasing them.
Q: “I’m not sure what my calling is right now. Do we need to be clear about what we want to do and what kind of business we want to design?”
A: Yes, I would say so. If you’re on the fence because you don’t know what you want to do yet, and have so many interests and hobbies but don’t know how to fit them all together, I can’t recommend the work of Alex Baisley enough. Check out his website BigDreamProgram.com. He’s brilliant.
If you’re in that place where you don’t know what to do, I recommend his stuff more than my stuff. He will help you figure out how to create income projects and weave together all of your strengths, interests, hobbies, and fascinations into something that can make you money. If you don’t even know the “What,” he’ll help you figure out the “What” and the “How,” and a bit of the “Who” as well. And at that point, I feel like I can be a lot more useful.
Q: “How do little circles fit into a niche?”
A: The little circles are subgroups of the Big Circle (the kind of people you want to work with).
The more cohesive the Big Circle is, the easier it’ll be to find the little circles. The little circles might be the industry that the people are in. It might be by the type of problems they have. They’re just little expressions of the niche, they’re things that you can experiment with. So again, my example is: Big Circle – conscious entrepreneurs, little circles – holistic practitioners, coaches, permaculture people.
Q: “My biggest problem is the fear of being defined. How does that fit in?”
A: That’s a great fear, the idea that people are just going to see you in one way. Again, in my experience, that fear comes up when people haven’t really found an authentic niche for themselves. When people have found something that really, really resonates, I find that this issue just doesn’t usually come up.
Here’s the thing: you’re being defined anyway. What you may be being defined as right now is just being a total generalist. Like, “Oh yeah, she’s good at a bunch of things, but nothing in particular . . .”
Does it make sense? You’re being defined anyway. The only real question is: are you being defined in a way that’s going to be most useful for your business and for your own satisfaction?
“What if I’m targeting more than one person in an institution or family?”
The Rule: Your Target is Always the Person Who Hires or Pays You
“Many businesses have no direct contact with their final buyers. If you use representatives (reps) or sell though distributors and retailers, you will probably want to direct most of your marketing activity at the people who actually buy from you.”
Marketing Without Advertising.
This is a really important thing to get.
A friend of mine does a lot of speaking at New Thought Churches. She also sells books and CDs. But she mostly sells them at the back of the room when she is speaking at these Churches. If she doesn’t speak at a Church she doesn’t sell many of them. She felt stuck in trying to articulate her niche. “You know,” she’d say. “These people are open, they’re into new age stuff,” but she couldn’t refine it any more. She was getting really frustrated. I pointed out that she was actually totally clear but just wasn’t realizing it. I told her, “Your audience is the congregations at these new thought churches. There’s nothing to figure out. You don’t need to focus on marketing to the Church goers. You need to focus on marketing to the people who could bring you in to speak at the Church.”
Another example comes from a client of mine who sent me this as her first crack at her niche statement:
“I work with the elderly in nursing homes and as individuals in their homes doing a one-on-one painting procedure resulting in a beautiful painting which they can be proud of.”
I pointed out that this talked to the results but not the problem. And that it was almost certainly not the elderly folks themselves who were bringing her in. She agreed. So, she thought about it and sent me these two textbook perfect statements.
“I work with assisted living facility administrators who are feeling frustrated and wanting to find uplifting, stimulating and enjoyable activities that they can offer to their residents.”
It’s a start.
If you’re a massage therapist who massages only infants – the infant is not your target – the parent is. If you’re a therapist that works with teens – the parents are the primary target– and so you must identify and speak to their own problems (not the problems their teen is facing but how those problems affect the parent).
Stinky Ice Skate Cleaners: A friend of mine was working with an ice skate cleaning business. Guess who had to clean the ice skates? The team coaches? Nope. The teenage hockey players? Nope. The Hockey Moms. Guess how incredibly bad skates smell. Pretty nasty. One hockey player almost lost his foot because of how bacteria rich his skates were when he had a cut on his foot. This company had figured out a way to clean the skates and remove the odour. Guess who their target market was? Hockey moms. All of their ads needed to speak directly to them.
Stress Relief CD for Bridezillas: A friend of mine – a really good copy-writer – was trying to market a CD his wife had come up with. It was a series of relaxation meditations for stressed out brides. But it wasn’t selling. He rewrote the sales letter a zillion times and had his copywriting friends look at it too. Nothing. My take? It’s not something that brides would buy for themselves – but their mothers and fathers? The bridesmaids? I bet they would. Know who you’re selling to.
So, if you’re stuck, ask yourself, “Who’s paying my bills?”
Q: “What if I want to be a generalist?”
A: One of my dear friends Vicki Robin extols the virtue of being a “glorious generalist.” My colleague Katie Curtin speaks of being a “21st century renaissance person.”
I submit that being a generalist is still a niche.
It’s an important role in the community to have someone who knows a little about a lot of things. I’m like that in many ways myself. I’m often asked by people, “Who should I talk to for ________?” and I often know someone.
Not everyone wants to pay the high prices of most specialists, and they’re happy with solutions that are “good enough.”
I’ve led a workshop called Marketing 101 for Holistic Practitioners. It covers the basics they need to know. On one level it’s a very “general” workshop. On the other hand, it’s actually a very specific niche – holistic practitioners who have no idea where to even start with their marketing.
Metaphorically, the generalist holds the compass and the specialist holds the map. The compass can tell you which direction to go in, but it can’t tell you the best route. The map shows you the lay of the land, but can’t tell you which direction you need to go in. Both are needed.
Another metaphor – generalists tend to be really good at connecting the dots whereas niche businesses pick one dot to focus on.
If you want your niche to be that of a generalist, here’s some suggested reading and websites to check out:
The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People by Carol Eikleberry
Refuse to Choose!: Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams by Barbara Sher
The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One by Margaret Lobenstine
And here are three lifestyle coaches who can help you sort through all of your amazing gifts, talents, interests and experiences and weave them together into something that can earn you money:
Christina Morassi: christinamorassi.com
Katie Curtin: katiecurtin.com
Emilie Wapnick: puttylike.com
Q: “I need money now. What if I chose the wrong niche and burn my community?”
A: This is a question I address more in my ebook The Meantime (which you can find on my site).
The first issue is actually about figuring out how to take the financial pressure off yourself. That’s the very first thing to do. Cut your expenses, get a part time job if you need to, maybe even borrow some money.
It’s also why niche projects are so important. They let you be nimble and agile. Able to try a bunch of things in small ways that can still bring in some money without building a whole brand, website and reputation around it.
And, you may, in order to make money, dive deep into a niche and then change a year later. And people may feel confused by that. Meh. That’s life. People change. People switch nitches. It’s okay.
But one thing you can do to help alleviate the potential for confusion is to brand things around different company names instead of your name. That way Company X is known for X result and Company Y is known for Y result. But you aren’t as intimately connected to either.
Q: “What’s realistic in terms of timeline from choosing a niche to getting clients?”
A: That depends on a number of factors:
How clear your niche is.
How burning and urgent a problem it is that you are addressing.
How well you’ve done at finding and connecting with the right hubs.
How well you’ve designed your sales funnel and business model (eg do you have free things they can try as samples, and then bronze, silver and gold levels of what you offer?).
How good your offers are.
Honing in on your niche is only the first step in getting clients quickly.
Q: “What do I do once I’ve found my sweet spot?”
A: My colleague George Kao, when I showed him my Niching Spiral model of how things Spiral inwards had this to say:
“I would have said we begin in the center (as in self centered) and go outward a trying things and helping many people until our hearts and minds can become big enough to help more than just a few people but encompassing a big enough audience to make a niche profitable. Also there’s maybe not a “center” in this lifetime.. maybe we aren’t trying to find “the answer” but more knowledge. Start with one specific person to serve and serve well, and keep expanding out as we grow.”
My response would be that this is good but that we need to find some sort of a center first. I think it’s possible to spiral out until your centre gives way because you change or marketplace changes or you’ve grown too fast and then you need to spiral inwards again.
But, once we’ve established ourselves in a certain niche, we now have the choice to expand if we want. And many of my colleagues have done this. Mark Silver began his business focused on reiki practitioners and now serves the more general target market of “conscious entrepreneurs.” The Thrive Academy has done the same – starting with a focus on holistic practitioners and then expanding out.
I think that most people try to expand out too quickly before they’ve really established themselves in any sort of niche.
But it’s important not to underestimate the potential size of your niche.
Most entrepreneurs do.
You don’t have to only appeal to the hardcore, “true believers.” Sure, that’s who you might be most attractive to, but you can also reach those who are “on the road.” As you grow, you may need to tinker your marketing to reach a slightly broader niche. If there are enough hardcore folks to meet your needs that’s fine, but sometimes people make the mistake of thinking, “Oh, there aren’t enough people who are into ______.” Well, maybe not as a full time lifestyle, but there are probably a bunch who are interested. The ‘weekend warriors ‘of the camping sector for example – they’re not “hardcore campers,” but you don’t all of your clients to be the most hardcore. I can promise you that the majority of income from raw food restaurants doesn’t come from 100% pure raw foodists – it comes from the people who are dabbling in it to some extent. Most of the money at Buddhist spirituality shops doesn’t come from Buddhist Monks but from those who feel aligned with the spirituality and might go on a few retreats over their lifetime or are buying gifts for friends.
Once you’ve found your sweetspot, let it grow, but let it grow slowly. And don’t lose site of who your core customers are. They are the center of the bullseye. They’re likely the ones telling everyone else about you anyway.
Q: Am I pigeon holding myself?
A: “I am hearing what feels like a 1000 different answers but after watching your videos and reading your website, I was able to create an avatar of my Ideal Client. I am a Crystal Healer, Reiki Practitioner and Soul Coach and my target market is Mother’s coping and dealing with addicted teens/adult child. I now have a focus for all my services and products. From your videos, I am taking the different approach as my coaching comes from a multi-level approach using earth and energy medicine along with the traditional recovery models. I am not the first one out there (there are very few who solely focus on the Mothers POV as I have experienced in this aside from my training) My question is this. Am I pigeon holing myself as I was told or is what I am doing going to afford me a sustaining coaching/healing practice? For me, I feel less scattered and more focused. Am I cutting myself off from other women and/or clients/customers?” – Jennifer
First of all, what beautiful work it is you’re engaging in. This will bless so many mothers, and through them, their whole families.
Are you pigeon holing yourself?
I suppose it depends on how we define that, but my sense is that you aren’t. You’re choosing your niche. You’re choosing your role in the community. And it’s a much needed role.
And, because you’ve chosen a focus, you’re likely going to get better and better at helping these mothers. You’re going to make a real difference. And, because of that, they’re going to be talking about you with their friends and colleagues. A number of whom will want to work with you, even though they don’t fit that exact niche. Maybe their kids aren’t addicted yet, but they’re concerned they might become so. Maybe they’re just ‘troubled’ kids. And you can decide if you want to expand to work with those mothers. Or not. It’s up to you. You can be explicit without being exclusive.
I think an important, and very delicate, thing you’ll need to address is how you could be ‘charging money’ for this. It’s easy for people to look at this kind of thing as exploiting people’s pain and crisis. So, I think reminding people that many addiction centres charge money and other forms of treatment do too would be wise. Though you’ve likely already considered this.
Will it be financially sustainable for you?
That is the big question. I really don’t know.
It will be, if you decide to focus on mothers who can afford it. If that’s a part of your criteria, it will be.
An option you might consider is making it a social enterprise. A mix of for profit and non-profit. Could you charge for some of the services and make others free? Could you fundraise money to offer certain services and partner with non-profits (I’d strongly recommend such partnerships)? Could you invite mother’s who’ve survived this harrowing ordeal to become ‘support’ to other mothers in an unpaid way – many of them will want to. Could you certify other mothers in this approach and give them the opportunity for a right livelihood through transforming their wound into their medicine? Could part of that involve them working a ‘hotline’ for free like Byron Katie requires as a part of her certification process?
Much of the success of this, as with any venture, is really thinking through the business model or sales funnel. Having different levels and price points they can engage in.
There is also an incredible opportunity to not only build a relationship between yourself and these mothers as clients – but for them to build relationships with each other. Creating some sort of anonymous, online forum where they can support each other will be vital to this.
These are some initial thoughts. I hope it’s helpful.