Niches are a great strategy for small firms – particularly if you are just starting out. For consultants, the old business bromide “Find a need and fill it” could easily be replaced with “Find a niche and serve it.”
So what is a niche, anyway? It is simply a narrow market segment. As a small business, you need to target your efforts. This is very important, particularly if you are moving from a larger company or firm. Unlike the big guys, you can’t be everything to everybody.
Niches can be defined several ways, such as specialty, industry, geography, or type of customer. In fact, I like using multidimensional niches to further segment the potential markets. The more you subdivide, the better you can focus your marketing efforts. We’ll look at these subdivisions in more detail in future posts.
Multiple niches are OK – just don’t pick too many starting out. Like using a magnifying glass to start a fire, niches let you concentrate your marketing energy on well defined targets. As the old saying goes, “Do a little — do it well — you’ve done a lot.” You can add or broaden the niches as your business develops.
Here is a personal example from my own engineering consulting business, from when my business partner and I went full time in 1987.
- The specialty niche we chose was EMI (electromagnetic interference) product design and troubleshooting. We had a lot of experience in this area, and we had determined the demand was there.
- We targeted two industry niches — military (where we had a lot of experience) and computers (the PC market was exploding then.)
- Our geographical niche was primarily local.
- Our customer niche was B2B (business to business.) We did not pursue B2G (business to government) or B2C (business to consumer.)
We focused our initial marketing efforts where these four niches overlapped. We collaborated with a well respected local test laboratory, and we started a local mini-trade show. We became active in our local professional organization, and we wrote articles for the local trade press. This soon established us as local experts in our specialty niche.
The next step was to expand the niches a bit. We did not stray from our specialty niche, but we broadened our geographical niche by writing articles for national trade magazines. At the same time, we collaborated with a training organization with a national reach. We also added the medical market, as our local area was rich with medical device manufacturers.
We eventually ended up with a portfolio of niches.
- For the specialty niche, we still focus on EMI design issues, but in addition to electronic products, the scope now ranges from integrated circuits to systems and facilities. We added training – aimed at preventing problems, rather than just solving them.
- The industry niches now include computers, medical, military, industrial, vehicles, facilities, telecomm, and more.
- The geographical niches now include all of North America, with occasional projects overseas.
- The customer niche remains B2B, serving high tech companies.
By maintaining a focus on our niches, we were able to concentrate our marketing efforts without going off in too many directions. We did accept business outside these areas, but only if it made sense. All this did not happen right away, but over the years we have been able to add to our experiences and grow our business.
Niches keep you focused, and let you leverage your marketing. You can quickly become the big fish in the little pond. And after conquering one pond, there is nothing to stop you from going after other ponds.
What niches should YOU consider?
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