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TO SPECIALIZE OR NOT?

Have you heard the Seth Godin quote "Everyone is not your customer"? Or how about this gem from Andrew Davis, "You can't be everything to everyone, but you can be something to someone"?

Of course you have. We all have. Anyone who's had any business training has learned why it's important to specialize in a specific niche, vertical, geographic location or something. You can't be all things to all people, right?

But if you've ever been in the position where you had to choose a specialization for your company, you know how incredibly difficult it is to actually do. It's the equivalent of picking a marriage partner for your business.

How do you choose a specialization to marry if you don't know it very well yet? What if you end up hating it? What happens to your existing customers if they're not in that industry? Are you really the best company to be in that niche if you haven't done any work in it yet? Will it be profitable? The reasons to NOT specialize are endless.

But you know you need to choose something. Because if you don't, it's impossible to differentiate yourself. Being the vanilla option is not what anyone aspires to. When you know or do something better than anyone else, it's much easier to articulate the value you add. It also allows you to have better margins and avoid competing on price.

This is the quandry we've been going through ourselves for the better part of this year. And I am happy to say that halellujah, for better or worse, we have moved on.

WHAT'S MOST IMPORTANT?

Earlier this week we were brainstorming with the whole team about possible niches (for the upteenth time...) and shortlisted several options. We were trying to identify the industry which covered all three P's (we had People with experience in the industry, Passion around the topic, and Profitability because the industry needs what we do and can pay for it). One of the industries was the clear choice; we have a couple of clients in it, two of us have some background working in it, and the industry is a good fit for inbound marketing, which is what we do. The problem was that nobody got excited about it.

So we looked at our shortlist of categories again. One category was green / sustainable building and design.

We don't have any clients in any of these areas. We're not sure how profitable it will be. But it's the category that made people's eyes light up. So we decided to go for it.

WHY?

1. Because we believe in it.

We believe that this is an industry which can change the world for the better and we want to be part of it.

2. We live it.

We've installed solar energy in our home and artificial turf in our garden. We've bought furniture made from recyled milk cartons. We run a paperless office. We invest in great design and wellness for our team with sitting/standing bamboo desks, ergonomic chairs and beautiful aesthetics. We recycle and compost. We spend our free time researching these topics for fun.

And guess what happened next.

  • Not even twenty minutes after we made the decision, a man came to submit his resume for a position with us. His previous role was with a solar energy company.
  • Our new strategist, told us that her personal passion is tiny houses and that she's been studying and researching the topic for years because she's been wanting to blog about it.
  • The next morning I was telling some business colleagues about our decision and they offered to make some introductions to people they know in these fields on the east coast.

If you've read "The Secret", this all makes sense! Put your dreams out to the universe and it delivers!

BUT THIS IS WHY I'M REALLY EXCITED...

1. We have a purpose

Not that we felt like we didn't before, but choosing a niche has given us more clarity to make better and more strategic decisions on many fronts. And now we understand how what we do on a daily basis plays into the bigger picture of what is going on in the world and the impact we can have on it.

2. It's easier for people to refer us

Just like nobody ever says "try the vanilla, it's the best!", it's hard for people to refer businesses who aren't clear about what they do and who they serve.

3. It's easier to attract & retain people

Job candidates who are passionate about your niche will be drawn to you. It's much easier to motivate people when the purpose of what you do every day is crystal clear. Shared values and passions are strong connectors.

4. It's easier to scale

Building a business is hard work. But when you can systemize processes and not have to keep learning new industries, their language, protocol, and influencers with each new client, life is so much easier.

5. It's so much more fun

Can you imagine spending a day creating strategies and executing plans around something that you're passionate about? Interacting with people who share similar interests? And get paid to do it? We call it #BigThingsAhead.


IT'S A PROCESS

I'm not glad that it took us as long as it did to decide on our niche, and granted it still needs to be further defined, but I am so relieved and excited about our decision. Suddenly, our team's collective and eclectic backgrounds and experiences make sense. That in itself is essentially a miracle since it wasn't planned and they are wildly diverse.

What is your experience? Do you have a niche? How did you choose? Did you stay the course or need to alter it somehow? I'd love to hear your comments below!

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Image by Roman Boed via flickr, licensed under CC by ND-2.0

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