With a startup business, challenges come thick and fast. The bottom line is that no startup can provide a high-quality product or service to every industry. So, when you hit the bumps in the road, the more focused your offering and target market are, the more likely you are to survive and thrive.
In short, it is much better to be a specialist than a generalist. If you’re having digestive problems, would you rather go to a gastroenterologist who specializes in your symptoms, or a general practitioner? In fact, research shows that the number of primary care physicians has decreased and even projects a shortage of more than 20,000 such doctors by 2020.
Finding your niche, then, makes it easier to develop a brand name and strong following within a specific industry.
Know the industry landscape.
Finding your niche is a two-step process. The first step is to find the industry you want to work in, and second, your niche within that industry. A niche can be geographic-specific, product-specific or vertical-specific. For example, my business is a PR firm -- but within PR, I decided to focus the company on technology clients (a vertical specific niche).
Amazon, another example, started out as an online bookseller, not a general online store ( a product-specific niche). Only once the company succeeded in selling books online did it expand to other products. Uber knew it wanted to disrupt the transportation industry but started in just one location, San Francisco (geography-specific), and after gaining traction there, rolled out its app in other markets.
Picking a niche is often very difficult and requires trial and error, as well as hands-on experience. Researching and understanding the marketplace and its demand for your product or service is key. But, truly determining your specialty will likely come only after you work with clients, see the nuances, learn which areas are most profitable or in demand and tweak or shift your plan as you go.
Jump in and iterate.
Once you know the type of industry you want to operate within, you'll next need to jump in, learn the ropes and iterate along the way. For example, Twitter was a spinoff from a podcast directory startup -- whose founders never intended it to be a microblogging site. Instagram started out as a location check-in app, where points go beyond and photos are exchanged. Only later did photo-sharing become the focus of the app. Believe it or not, YouTube was originally a video dating site.
You won’t find your specific niche until you jump in, feel the market firsthand, understand the gaps and work to fill them. Many companies launch with just one thing in mind, but end up pursuing another route once they learn the ins and outs of what customers want and how to best serve them.
So, be a sponge in absorbing every bit of information you can from clients on what they find most useful, what pain points exist and what niche makes the most sense for you.
Find your unique voice.
Don’t follow the herd and offer a standard product or service. Differentiate yours and make it unique and memorable -- stand apart from your competitors. As marketing guru Seth Godin says, "In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is a failure. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible."
Take a stand on issues that affect your industry and make your positions clear to your customers and target market. Attending industry events and conferences, and networking proactively at these functions is a starting point.
In addition, speaking engagements and participation at seminars can take you a long way in raising public awareness of your company’s approach. Getting published is also always effective. For example, writing a guest columns in an industry-leading publication, or convincing one to feature you, can highlight your offering. Blogging has become the new marketing frontier -- it allows prospective clients to understand you and your firm and benefit from your expertise.
What's most important, though, is that you offer a great product or service that spreads through word of mouth. “A customer talking about their experience with you is worth ten times that which you write or say about yourself,” says author David Greer.
Once you start delivering a quality product, especially if it is unique in some way, you will be surprised at how fast a good recommendation travels and how established you will become in your niche.