Why it makes sense for small businesses to target a niche they’re part of.

I’m developing a marketing plan for a friend and client at the moment, which is a lot of work, but honestly something I really love and have great fun doing. The best thing about diving in and doing the work for real, rather than just philosophising and talking about it, is the things you learn, the light-bulb moments. Figuring out what makes sense for him and developing a bespoke plan that works with his strengths and values, and connects him to his market, is my favourite thing.

A big part of my focus when I do this work is defining and analysing the target market; identifying the positives and the negatives, and developing an avatar that represents the common thoughts, feelings, values and aspirations of this group. He had indicated who the majority of his clients were in terms of their demographics and on exploring this, I found a lot of great reasons this was a good market to focus his appeal and communications on. But there was one reason that stood out head and shoulders above them all - he was part of this niche himself.

Bang! My client IS one of these people! So not only do they exist, which we already knew, and not only are they a viable niche for other compelling reasons, but he knows exactly how they think, the challenges they face, the things they care about, the pressures they live with, and the things they value and are striving for. Market research right there at your finger tips, on tap, real time.

The whole point of defining your target market and drilling down into as much detail about their psychographics (the things they care about) as possible is to communicate in a way that appeals to them, in language they use, in places and ways they’re already in and are used to. If you have something that could really be useful to a group of people, you need to know who they are, where they are, how they speak, what they care about and what compels them so that you can earn their attention and get them to listen to you. This usually takes a lot of research and dedication indeed - it’s hard to understand people who are not like us, especially when you’re talking in terms of statistics and demographics. But on a human level, we’re very adept at understanding each other and gravitating towards those we perceive as being similar to us, as understanding us. That’s why it makes a lot of sense for small businesses to target niche markets that they too belong to.

1. It’s easier to understand a niche you’re part of.
This means it will be much easier find your voice and serve them better … because you know what they’re all about. Like my client, he has market research on tap because he’s part of that group and therefore also has access to friends who are too. Gold.

2. You’ll enjoy your marketing a lot more.
If you’re part of that group and your focus is on serving their needs ridiculously well, then you’ll probably enjoy it a lot more and it will feel a lot less like work. Marketing is less likely to be icky and burdensome and your work itself is more enjoyable spent with people you identify with in a way that goes beyond a business decision.

3. Small businesses have limited resources; time, money and energy.
Honing your target to one that you’re part of and understand intimately is less of a drain on your precious resources because your message, your products, your customer service are all going to be much more efficient.

4. Focusing on a niche you know doesn't have to exclude or alienate others
… but your focus on this one group means you’ll do a better job for them specifically and this is what you’ll become known for. Clients who don’t fall into this group may also be attracted to you, and your products and services will probably serve them just fine, it’s just that you’re not wasting time and energy trying to change your message to appeal to all sorts of groups. Remember that trying to appeal to everyone dilutes your brand and awareness, and leaves you appealing to no one.

5. You’ll do better work.
When you really ‘get’ who you’re trying to help, communicate with, make something for, it makes the work you do much less of a struggle, much less forced. And when there’s less struggle and more flow, you produce better stuff, serve better and stand out more.

And I have also found this to be true personally - I’m definitely part of my niche. When I first began to explore my marketing philosophy and who I wanted to work with, I resisted the small business pocket. I had great aspirations for writing and developing my own brand and I wanted to work with my heroes and role models, except it was difficult to work out exactly what I could offer them, so I settled on trying to be like them. But then I came to realise that although those aspirations still stand, it takes years and years to build a thing like that - there is no switch that circumvents time and hard work.

That’s when I discovered that I was in many ways my own avatar - I was part of my own niche and that’s where it made most sense for me to be. Not only because I’m part of it, but because I have friends who are part of it too and I care about the challenges they face and the dreams they have. I know them personally and I have them on hand to ask and to serve. I also love them and the courage it takes to go after a dream, beat your own path, make something that’s truly your own, and put something you really care about out there into the world and run the risk of it being rejected and failing … or embraced and loved.

You don’t have to serve a niche you’re a part of, but if you’re in business for yourself and you haven’t really targeted a niche and honed your offerings just for them, then I hope you’ll consider one you already know something about. The better you can understand, communicate and serve, the better your work will be and the more you’ll stand out.

Photo credit: "Caitriona Jennings (Rathfarnam AC) won the Flora Women's Mini-Marathon" by William Murphy via Flickr