Does Your Business Have a Niche or Specialty?

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Recently I was at a conference (Small Business Marketing Unleashed) that got me to thinking about the importance of having a distinctive specialty or niche for your business.

Think about this: have you ever had the frustrating experience of visiting a website or talking with someone for a half hour only to end up afterwards with no idea whether their company would be a good fit as a vendor or provider. You come away knowing they are software developers. But you have no idea what kind of software or whether it’s in your price range. Or you discover that they are marketers. But you can’t tell whether they serve Fortune 500 companies or a 2-person business.

So I’m always pleased to run into businesses that have the guts and smarts to say they focus on a niche or specific industry or a clear target market. It makes it so much easier to understand what they do.

To see what I mean when I say specializing, let me offer examples. Here are five of the people I met at that conference and their businesses’ specialties:

  • Alex Krohn, CEO of Gossamer Threads — Gossamer Threads is a hosting company and software development shop. Their flagship product is software for listing directories — such as for jobs, press releases and company directories.
  • Chad Everett of Everitz Consulting — Everitz is a business that specializes in development and customization of sites using Movable Type content management software. Chad also has developed plugins for MovableType.
  • Ryan Freeman, the President of Strider Inc. — Strider is an SEO and Internet marketing company serving small businesses. But they also happen to have some florist clients and now offer an online storefront package for florists, called Florist 2.0.
  • Wayne Small, of SBSfaq.com was another person I met. Wayne is a Microsoft MVP professional — that cadre of consultants and professionals who are certified experts in Microsoft’s products. Wayne’s site answers questions and provides information about Microsoft’s Small Business Server product.
  • William Scott is the President of Search Influence, a company that provides “economical SEO and website promotion.” Search Influence guarantees they can double the traffic within a year for small biz websites with fewer than 1000 page views a month (meaning, that they work with very small websites).

All these firms do more than the one specialty I highlighted. But I’m reminded of something that Laura Allen of 15SecondPitch.com once said in a conference session I was moderating. She pointed out how we small businesses are much better off defining our businesses narrowly … by carving out a niche or specialty.

I’ll paraphrase her remarks: “Be extremely specific in describing what you do. Don’t worry about limiting your appeal or excluding potential customers. If you are specific, people will instantly understand. Then on their own they will make the mental jump to think about your business for related services or other markets. They will ask ‘can you do this other thing for me’ or ‘hey, do you ever serve businesses like mine’? The worst thing you can do is present your business vaguely or as all things to all people. Most businesses err on the side of being so general that potential prospects can’t tell what they do or how to relate it to their own situation.”

UPDATE:  Mike Stevens also has some thoughts on the need to be specific.

So my question to you is: do you specialize or have a narrow niche focus in your business? If so, has it helped you get business, or do you think it has cost you business by being so specific?

15 Comments ▼

Anita Campbell - CEO


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses, and also serves as CEO of TweakYourBiz.com.

15 Reactions

  1. Good posting today on the importance of having a niche…

    Pick something and stick with it

    Stuart Crawford
    Calgary, AB
    http://www.stuartcrawford.com

  2. Mark Anderson

    I think early on, like most artists, I tried to show off that I could do anything you wanted.

    Now I pretty much focus on selling cartoons for very specific purposes, and a growing market for custom cartoons.

    Not only is it easier to explain and market, it’s a heck of a lot easier on me! :)

  3. Anita,

    It was a real pleasure to meet you at the show.

    We’ve always tried to make it clear that we’re there for even the smallest customers. We have some big ones too, but it’s those Main Street businesses where we get our greatest rewards.

    Too few search marketing companies have the systems in place to adequately serve small budgets and we’re happy to do it.

    Thanks again for your good company at the show. I’m sure we’ll keep in touch.

    Best regards,
    Will

  4. For a long time my husband and I had no niche. Sold motorcycle parts. Then we fell into a niche… forced into it is more like it. The market changed… more competition.. more hassles. Now we specialize in classic and vintage parts harvested from junk yards and by buying up old bikes. He goes out and finds parts along with some pickers. I check the Internet every day, man the phone and handle sales. We’ve even branched out a little into classic car and tractor parts. We have a warehouse in our barn and sell online now to classic enthusiasts and to small restoration shops. They say heaven sends you good if you can just see it, and its been a blessing in disguise. The parts market for current models has changed in 10 years. I’m glad we are not in it.

  5. I focus on pets in my commercial portraiture studio. It is a very rewarding niche.

  6. Anita,

    I think all businesses struggle with this.

    The key is to constantly tweak it. You may not start out with a niche, but you will end up with one!

  7. Thanks so much for mentioning 15SecondPitch! Judging from the amount of traffic we are getting today, (people are creating lots of new accounts and sending their pitches off to their biz contacts and friends) your readers are eager to create a pitch to promote their specific niche!
    I look forward to reading the comments of how focusing on a specific area has helped people.
    :)
    laura

  8. Rebecca, Sounds like that would be so much fun! Pets today are big business. I have always wanted to get a portrait of my husband, my 2 cats , dog and myself.

  9. This is great advice — both in social and business contexts. I’ve transitioned from saying “we develop software” to “we develop software that helps retailers find new products to well”. In retrospect it is obvious that people with no technical background will understand the latter description because of the context.

  10. Hi Anita -

    Good meeting you at the conference, and thanks for the mention here! Great note on specializing – often it feels like I’m being dragged in every direction at once, but sometimes it can certainly help to keep that focus, so we can all use a reminder!

  11. Martin Lindeskog

    Laura Allen, I want to learn more about the 15 second pitch. Right now I land on “www.com”…?!

  12. I’d have to say that a niche is the way to go. By specializing on something specific, you eliminate a lot of competition. There won’t be many companies doing what you do.

  13. Specialization is an absolute necessity when operating an online business. People search the internet with surgical precision typing in exactly what they are looking for -using the keyword or phrase that explicitly describes what they are looking for. The mistake many internet companies make is not focusing on a narrow niche. Surfers, unlike brick and mortar shopping mall browsers, know exactly what they want and seek it out with laser like precision. Specializing in a niche – whether it is a product such as hammocks, or a service like doggy daycare – will give you a better chance of success and definining who you are and who your target market is.

    Personally in my business, specializing in brokering ONLY websites and internet businesses, has been a great way of separating our company from the thousands of other business brokers selling companies. We specialize and have expertise that internet business owners relate to and want for representation.

    David fairley
    websiteproperties.com

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