There are, fundamentally, two approaches to niching.
One is to sell a boat. The other is to sell a journey.
If you are selling a product (e.g. jewelry, t-shirts, food) or particular modality (e.g. Non-Violent Communication, The Work of Byron Katie, Reiki etc.) then you are selling the boat.
If you’re offering a solution to a particular problem (e.g. back pain, loneliness, being broke, anxiety) or helping people achieve a particular result (e.g. weight loss, finding a partner, retiring early, inner peace) then you are selling The Journey.
I’ve had many clients express some variation of the sentiment that, “No no no. You don’t understand. This is a tool that can help anyone. Everyone really needs this or could use it. It’s beneficial to all sorts of issues.”
What they’re telling me in those moments, though they don’t know it, is that they’re selling the boat, not the journey.
If you’re going to sell the boat then you need to find people who are looking for that particular kind of boat which she confirms here.
Some of them will go on to tell me, “So basically, the people I want to work with would already know about this modality or the person who came up with it or they’d at least be aware they’ve got something they’re struggling with.”
So, ‘something’ they’re struggling with is a bit vague. But, even putting that aside, the question then becomes, “Is this marketing working?” Are there enough people who know about this work who are looking for someone certified in it to help them? If the answer is yes, then there’s no issue but to find them and put it in front of them.
If you want to buy a Spanish Galleon and you go down to the harbour to buy one but there are none there, then the chances are that you’re not going to buy anything that day. Oh, people may try to sell you their puny sailboats and luxury yachts but you want that Spanish Galleon for a reason. What self-respecting pirate would should up in a sailboat? No no. It wouldn’t do.
So the next day you show up and there’s a Spanish Galleon! You tell them you’ll come by tomorrow to sign the papers.
The next day you walk down to the harbour but now there are ten Spanish Galleons. Oh dear. Which one do you choose? Well, if they’re all identical in their model, make and materials, frankly, most people would simply opt for the cheapest one. And why not? Why spend more money than you need to?
But what if the prices are all the same? Well, then you’d be curious about who the Captains of the boats were and the rest of the crew, what kind of food they serve etc.
The point is that you’d have to make a choice and that choice would be based on something. You’d start looking for what makes them different. Of course.
So, if this you are in a market where people are hungry for the particular thing you’re offering and you’re the only one offering it? You’ve got it made. But those are two big assumptions.
What if no one’s heard of the kind of work you do? Or not enough people have?
What if there are a lot of other people offering it?
The question of niche raises it’s ferociously maned head again.
One client said to me once, “Well, it seems to be that all people, myself included, could use more spiritual attunement, so it might be that some of the people who come to us may not be aware of what’s going on for them.”
If they’re not aware of anything at all, then why are they coming? Would you go to a restaurant without some awareness that you were hungry? Of course, it might just be that folks are drawn to this kind of work even though they feel totally ok. That doesn’t make much sense to me but it’s possible.
Another client said to me, “It could be any issue at all. We don’t filter who we work with, unless they have something more serious we’d need to refer out for. But even then, we’d be happy to partner and work along side the person we refer out to as they deal with the more acute issues and we focus on the underlying chronic issues.“
That phrase, “We don’t filter who we work with,” makes me nervous because my entire understanding of marketing comes down to the importance of filtering as one of the three roles of marketing.
Now, you might be selling your point of view. You can build a whole marketing approach based on point of view. And, point of view is still based on one of those two approaches to niching: 1) your take on the best way to build a boat 2) your take on the best way to make a particular journey.
Let’s say that your modality could help with twenty different conditions. Another way of saying that is, twenty potential target markets.
So, one direction could be for you to specialize in one of those particular issues and really get to know it. Perhaps it might be an emotion you have struggled with most deeply. Now, that doesn’t mean you would never work on any of the other issues, only that your front door would be that issue. Your offers would be focused on that issue. Your workshops would be about that. Once people began to work with you the other issues might naturally appear and you could also offer to help them with those. Simple and easier to market. If you were to do this, and let’s say you chose ‘anger’ then your sales letters would dig deeper into how that anger might be showing up in their life, what it might be costing them etc. It would no longer be a sales letter saying, “Are you curious about what’s alive inside of you?” but rather, “Is anger destroying your life?”
Another option could be for you to teach therapists, practitioners and life coaches this particular modality or school of thought. Then the sales letters might have one of two approaches.
The first approach might be: Have you heard of ________ work? Here’s a chance to learn.
The second approach might be: Looking for another to support your clients through ______ issues?
Other clients have said to me, “Well, if folks come to see me, they’ll already know that I’m practicing this modality or they’ll know right away, so it’s not really something I need to mention front and center in my marketing. And, if they have never heard of the modality then I can still help them.”
What’s unclear to me still is why they would come at all.
It’s a common trap that many service providers fall into when they fall in love with their boat. “This boat could take you anywhere!” they say. But so can yoga and there are plenty of niched approaches to that. And so can permaculture but there are plenty of niche opportunities in that as well. Non-Violent Communication is a modality with many uses but you can still frame workshops about it in very unique ways.
Why are they coming to you? Either because they want to buy the kind of boat you sell or because they want a ride on it to somewhere they want to go. That’s it. If they want the boat, then you’d better name the boat at the primary thing in the headline. If they want the journey, then you name that in the headline. If they don’t want your boat or the journey you’re offering then you do not have a business – you have a hobby.
Additional Reading Suggested:
If you want to learn more about my take on niching, I recommend checking out my book The Niching Nest.