Let's Talk Business: Week Five. The Art of Being Different: Finding Your Niche

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Finding your niche   
{excited to share this guest post from Tracey Selingo}

The key to helping your business become big is thinking small and special. No, not small in the sense of miniscule..small in the sense of focused and special in the sense of different. Many small business owners think if they offer a variety of products to a variety of people they will sell more products. In reality, the more diverse your audience, the more difficult it is to garner the appeal you need to effectively grow your business for long-term success. Diversity is a great selling strategy if you have no idea what makes your product special, who your customer is, or what fulfills them. But that's not you, right? If you place fear-of-never-selling-anything-to-anyone aside and focus on the needs of your customer and the strength of your offering then finding your niche and celebrating your point of differentiation becomes easy.

Start by considering the products you sell.

What is your best-selling product or service? Is it distinctly different from all of your other products/services? Do you offer this product in a variety of colors, styles, etc? If you don't, can you? Is this product different from other products in the market? More often than not you can tweak your best-seller in such a way to encourage repeat purchases or to simply make it more desirable to your audience (by expanding your color/fabric choice, for instance). You can also tweak it so it's different from what your competition is offering. All you need to do is understand who you're selling to...

Define your customer.

Chances are the customers who invest in your best-selling product or service share some similarities. Take the time to write these similarities down on paper. Start with the hum-drum demographics: gender, age, income, marital status, etc. Then dive a bit deeper into their collective psyche: moods, outlook, hopes, fears, loves, cravings, desires. You might be wondering "how am I supposed to know any of that personal stuff?" Listening is the key to understanding. If you have a brick and mortar shop and you're lucky enough to interact face-to-face with your customers then you just need to start a conversation and hear what your customer is saying during their selection process. If you sell during trade shows, listen closely to the conversation when someone arrives at your booth. If your shop is online your best bet is to ask for feedback when you ship the product, send a quick email to your customer to "check in" with them about their purchase or consider sending brief survey. Of course, if you're actively using social media then the opportunity to connect and learn is at the tip of your fingers.

Understand how your star product delivers for your customers.

Every product or service is the promise of an experience. What's yours? When you understand the needs of your customer you can shape your product to fulfill them. This is the most important aspect of finding your niche. You need to step aside from your own desires for just a second to examine those of your customer. This is the point in the program where many small business owners get nervous, when in fact they should get a bit nervy. If you know that one of your products delivers for a specific segment of your customer base then focusing on that particular customer base is the first step to growing it.

Distance your brand from your competition.

When you open a small business you have two choices—one is to be different from the competition, the other is to mimic it. This is a conscious decision. When you choose to mimic the competition you automatically place your brand in a box where you are bound by an established product or service perception. If your product is the same as your competitors you will need to deliver your product at the same (or lower price), during the same (or faster) time frame using the same (or better) practices. Exhausting. Uncertain. Uncontrollable. If your product is different you will be able to establish the value on your own terms, using your own (better) practices. Refreshing. Directed. Controllable. Focus. Focus. Focus. You don't need to offer fifty products in your shop. You need to offer one that clearly aligns with your customers. One that makes you stand apart. One that you can easily tweak when your customer feedback offers room for improvement. Chances are this product is already in your shop just waiting for its spotlight.    

Tracey Selingo helps people get a word in edgewise by offering brand communication consultation and creation at inkengage.com. She's also an impulsive-dark-chocoholic-belly-laughing-promise-maker over at twistedpinky.com. Feel free to connect with her through her sites or on twitter (http://twitter.com/traceyselingo).

More in this series:
Week One: Passion Driven Business
Week Two: Establishing Your Brand
Week Three: To Wholesale or Not
Week Four: Getting It Done - Scheduling Tips with Meagan Visser