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Identifying Your Niche

When it comes to finding the niche that’s just right for you, it’s a good idea to start with what you know. It simply makes sense to focus on the niches that revolve around your knowledge. You don’t want to start from scratch if you don’t need to do so. For example, I know a bit about the creative process, so consulting with those folks is one of my primary niches.

Perhaps you’re an attorney breaking out on your own and have been doing intellectual property work at a firm. That’s your natural market. You have the knowledge, experience and probably contacts to get things moving.

After looking into what you know, hone in on those things you enjoy doing. If you’re a designer it might be high end brochures, custom publications or trade show displays (Which I personally loathe doing, although I’ve made a load of dough doing them). Maybe you’re a writer bitten by the travel bug or a serious foodie. Writing about those topics makes sense.

Next, ask yourself, “Who buys high end brochures or custom publications?” “What kind of business or publication buys travel or food articles?” “What about writing restaurant reviews?”

You get the idea.

Once you’ve settled on a niche or two, start doing some research. Here are some questions to investigate:

What’s the current state of affairs within the niche? Is it growing, stalled or declining?
Industries and products have natural life cycles. What’s hot today might not be around in a few years. For example, it’s probably not a great idea to focus on the newspaper industry, unless you happen to be a business turnaround consultant.

Do members of the niche buy what you’re selling?
This might seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve run into lots of people over the years who tried and tried to sell their services to prospects who were never going to buy.

It might be that they do, in fact, need your services but they’re not aware they do. That means you’ll be spending a lot of time educating them. Is the payoff worth that time and resource investment?

Is there competition within the niche?
This is a first cousin to the above. At first glance, it might seem brilliant if there’s no competition. But, in reality there’s probably a reason and that reason might very well be that they don’t need or want what you’re selling.

Is the niche sustainable?
Are there enough prospects and projects within the niche to keep a roof over your head and food on the table? For example, let’s say you’re a print designer targeting small law firms specializing in senior citizen issues. It might look like there are many prospects, but you find they only print a brochure every five or so years. That’s going to require a lot of leg work, phone calls, presentations, drafting proposals and a bunch of rejection along the way.

It would be better to broaden the niche a bit and seek out those firms that are a little larger and need various types of marketing and public relations materials, such as a brochure system for various practice areas, but also an e-newsletter, print ads and regular site updates.

Here are some ideas for researching potential niches:

Fire up Google or your search engine du jour and search for industry associations
You can glean some valuable information about the state of the industry on these sites. Plus, you can discover common problems that your services might fix. Industry association sites often list their members, which leads into my next point.

Visit potential prospect sites
Don’t forget to find out who the movers and shakers are and visit their sites. Read their news releases and marketing materials, if available. Check LinkedIn for top brass profiles. Also check Facebook and Twitter if the prospect is active in social media.

Visit trade journal sites
Look for media kits on these sites. A few media kits will provide you with a wealth of information including demographics, buying patterns, circulation data and more. A peek at the Editorial Calendar topics can often give you an idea of the state of the industry, challenges and such.

Also be sure to read through several publications and/or articles on their sites.

Make some phone calls
Another no-brainer, yet often overlooked. Simply call some potential prospects and ask them if they regularly buy what you’re selling. Check into price points while you’re at it.

You might consider offering some type of downloadable report or tip sheet as a thank-you for their time. This is also a nifty way to get them to visit your site.

It takes some time to research potential niches, but the payoff is well worth it. You’ll avoid sinking time and resources into a niche that isn’t a good fit for you. Or, you’ll uncover a niche that fit’s like a glove.

Next up: Developing expertise in an industry, technique or project type.

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