How to build your business by narrowing your focus

Oct 26, 2018

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.

An effective way to establish a market position and build your business is to experiment with your marketing efforts by focusing on niches. This means you pitch certain services or skills to specific target markets. It’s in contrast to marketing as a generalist in your field, reaching out to all possible desired types of potential clients.

I’m not saying that you should concentrate your long-term efforts on marketing only one skill or going after a very narrow group of clients. I’m advocating for an overall marketing strategy that includes experimentation with niches to test opportunities.

These might be niches ignored by your competition or ones that you can dominate due to a highly customized approach. Ultimately, you’d aim to build visible and profitable positions within several niches. This would be a component of your marketing plan while still offering a variety of services to a reasonably broad market to ensure diversification.

Let’s say that you’re a programmer who develops websites. You can develop just about any type of site for any type of client using the most popular programming languages. That’s just like thousands of other developers around the world.

You can market your services to everyone you can reach, but that isn’t very efficient. It’s like randomly sending out a boilerplate email to 1,000 companies across the country and hoping for a one percent response rate.

Taking the niche approach

Instead, what if you take a niche approach? First, you consider the types of Web sites you prefer building, the knowledge you have about particular industries, your credibility with a category of businesses and other characteristics that set you apart from other programmers. Then, you focus your marketing efforts on one or two niches associated with the following:

  • A specific industry or audience with which you have a connection.
  • Prospects in need of programming in a specific language or on a special platform. Sites designed for a specific purpose, such as sales, education, news or outreach.
  • The type of site content, such as ones that are media-rich, interactive or multi-language.
  • Site re-designs or upgrades.
  • Prospects in a single location, such as locally, regionally or in a particular country.
  • Sites that feature a certain design style.

Focus your demographics

Another niche approach is to focus on your own demographic. Use your own experience and insider knowledge to identify ways to target clients your age, education level, living situation, lifestyle, business sector, etc. After all, you might share certain business values, work situations, industry views and interests.

A slightly different entry point is to look for products and services that cater to your demographic. Then, market to the companies that offer those products and services. You tailor your services to their needs related to serving people in your demographic. This idea could be developed many ways as a specialty.

Be flexible

If one niche doesn’t work out, you move on to others. The goal is to experiment to find niches—pain points that you can address in selected markets—that yield the number and type of clients you want to have for the projects you want to do. These are called “verticals,” as you’re building depth in one or a few defined areas.

At the same time, you remain open to general work that comes your way. That allows you to be diversified and maintain steady revenues to experiment with new niches.

I warn my associates about becoming overly dependent on single niches. It’s like only knowing how to use one software tool. If something dramatically changes in the customer’s market and it’s no longer the tool in demand, you suddenly could be left with no clients.

Niches typically come and go, so it’s wise to always be on the hunt for new ones.

Go outside your comfort zone

It’s also a good idea to look for niches outside your comfort zone. Also, look beyond your obvious client market based on your experience or connections. This allows you to explore new types of opportunities and pushes you to build on your skills and knowledge.

Ask yourself question like the following:

  • What are your transferable skills?
  • Which categories of new clients might need those skills and value the perspective you offer when considering your previous work?
  • How can you re-frame your skills and knowledge to appeal to specific new audiences?

I encourage you to experiment with skill and market niches. Depth from a focus on verticals along with diversification in other areas of interest are the foundation of a sustainable and profitable solo venture or microbusiness.

This article is an excerpt from Doug Freeman’s new book, Smart Marketing for Solopreneurs and Microbusinesses. It’s available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, in paperback and e-book editions (162 pages). Information is available on Freeman’s company Web site at Doug Freeman has been self-employed for over 35 years. He has provided a wide variety of communications and consulting services to clients including Intel, Hewlett-Packard, T-Mobile, NASA and the U.S. Dept. of Energy. He also co-founded four small businesses, in publishing, entertainment and management consulting.