Storytelling To Reach Your Niche
Identify your niche by finding the client’s story.
Back when I got started on the Internet, I became aware of the advice to “find your niche.”
The suggestions I got were less than helpful.
When I focused on my career site, an “expert” suggested targeting people who have been unemployed for a long time. (“OK, they don’t have much money, but they need you.”)
One of my clients, a former schoolteacher, was advised to work with teenagers (who have neither the funds to pay you nor the legal status to sign your agreement).
A financial advisor was advised to set his sights on entertainment stars, because “they have lots of money.”
He started laughing. He knew it wouldn’t be enough to focus on the client’s qualities and ability to pay. You have to ask, “Do I have the credibility to be taken seriously in that market? Will they see me as an authority?”
Identify your niche by finding the client’s story.
Janet was an experienced leadership coach. She was looking for ways to fine-tune her target audience: corporate executives who want to make an impact in organizations where they work. This type of executive is known as an “intrapraneur:” someone who takes an entrepreneurial approach to corporate problem-solving.
Janet realized that most of her audience wouldn’t recognize or relate to the term “intrapreneur.”
Some organizations consider entrepreneurship from a top-down perspective. These organizations encourage their top managers to take ownership of their projects and areas.
Janet targets a different segment. She wants to help people become intrapreneurs by proposing special projects to senior management. Her clients would initiate a bottom-up approach, initiating new ways of working. They would need to hire their own coaches.
Tactics won’t bring you closer to your niche.
When Janet raised these questions in a forum, she got several suggestions.
- Use the term “change agent” instead of “intrapreneur.”
- Use the slogan “Stop blaming the boss! Take the initiative to drive change.”
- Write a book about “becoming an intrapreneur” to educate her audience.
But this advice wasn’t working because they focused on Janet’s solution. To find her niche, she needed to start by focusing on her clients — more specifically, on their backstory.
Begin with the backstory
For many business owners, that’s the story a client would bring during the initial phone call. It might be something like:
“I’m really frustrated with my job. I think I’m going to have to move to a new company or even a new career. I’ve gone as far as I can and there’s no room for growth here.”
Or they might say:
“I’m really frustrated with my job. I want to find a way to stay in this job, but also feel like I’m growing, changing, and making an impact on the organization.”
Each of those two stories would call for a different program. The actions you need to stay in a job can be quite different from those you need to mount a search on the open market.
Target the person who writes the check.
The most important question about your niche isn’t, “What can I offer?” It’s, “Will they pay me? And is there anything that could change a ‘no’ to a ‘yes?’”
- If you’re hoping to work with children or teens, you’re targeting parents.
- If Janet targets individual corporate executives, she’ll need to find those who will pay her directly — those who have both the discretionary income and the mindset.
Some fields — especially sales — attract people who are accustomed to paying out of pocket to get results. Their mindset is, “I’ll pay $10,000 to make $100,000.” In other fields, executives and professionals are used to getting a free ride on everything from supplies to personal services.
- If Janet wants to pitch company HR departments who will pay, she’ll need a sophisticated sales process. She might need several layers of approval before getting started. One executive might want to hire her, but corporate rules might specify credentials she doesn’t have and conditions she can’t meet.
Discover how you’re perceived by your potential niche.
I used to attend a networking event that attracted many brand-new financial planners. Inevitably they would target the older members of the group who seemed to have accumulated assets — the “manage your retirement portfolio” niche.
Inevitably, these people had built up relationships with brokers they trusted; if they wanted to make a switch, they’d get recommendations and choose someone with a track record.
An experienced broker laughed when I told him this story. “You have to start in something like taxes,” he said. “Or work with struggling families who need a budget.”
In our example with Janet, we’re seeing someone who has a lot of corporate experience and who will be respected as a member of the club. She may need credentials, certificates, and high-end testimonials. Her nonverbal communication as well as her verbal communication style will support her authority.
“When the business owner is ready, the niche will appear.”
Many business owners don’t find their niche until they’ve worked with a variety of clients. Just as casting a wide net can give you a fuzzy image, cutting off possibilities can limit your upside potential.
Your own background may be irrelevant.
You may have a great deal of credibility for a particular audience but simply not want to target them.
A legal assistant turned copywriter decided she didn’t want to work with lawyers, even though it seemed a natural fit. She wanted a different culture and a different pace.
One coach thought he’d attract a lot of veterans for life coaching because he’d been in the military himself for a number of years. He found that clients called him when they wanted to talk about significant transitions. His military experience got a lot of conversations started, but wasn’t the deciding factor for his clients.
When I first started, I was advised to target university professors, since I’d been one myself. While many professors earn very good incomes, many also are reluctant to invest in themselves. They get many free resources from the universities they work for, so digging into their own pockets may not come naturally.
As you get to know your niche, you can use their backstory to frame your message.
Let’s return to our example of Janet, the intrapreneurship consultant.
If Janet finds her clients begin with a story of job dissatisfaction, she probably won’t get their attention when she talks about empowering them to make an impact on the organization. She would brand herself as someone who solves career frustration problems.
But if they begin with a story of, “I want to stay but don’t see how that’s possible,” she can focus on intrapreneurship. She may use different words to convey the concept. For instance, she helps corporate executives transform their jobs to be more meaningful.
Her brand message would be about making an impact on the organization. It might be something like, “Transform your current job.” Or even, “Grow your career with your own intrapreneurship program.”
Can she find many people who share this backstory?
If so, she’s got a potential niche. But if most of the action comes from dissatisfied workers, she’s got some strategizing to do.
Originally published on medium.