How to find and access your niche
A two part series of how to figure out who to market your skills to as a
freelancer or agency.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet up with Juan Valera for the first time. He’s a member of the Compass of Design community that I run, so this was insanely cool to have the chance to meet him for the first time in person. He is the 2nd person that I’ve been able to meet up with now from the group.
Juan is a designer who is running his design agency in the medical startup space. He started his journey as a designer around the same time I did back in 2016 when both of us began focusing more on freelance work.
It is one thing for someone to tell you their goals, it’s another to be able to see someone talk about their passion.
I have come to love moments like this, meeting people in person for the first time.
If you’re in our design group and you’re ever around the Seattle area, lunch/coffee/beer is on me. (:
We had a great conversation on how we deliver value through design, possible ways to showcase value to clients, how to access a niche that he had picked out, and what our goals are for our design agencies.
Out of that conversation, the topic of finding and accessing a niche stuck out to me.
I realize that even I have had trouble pulling together a specific target group for both of my side projects. And at this point, if I’m having trouble finding a niche market to focus my work around, you probably are too.
Let’s talk about how to access your niche
Identifiable group, Identifiable struggle
In my most recent coaching session with my friend Justin, he was talking about having me narrow down my market to be able to start gaining traction in the work that I’m doing.
One of the ways that I have heard Justin describe finding a niche is by finding an identifiable group with an identifiable struggle.
That means that if you have a selected group, but not have an identifiable struggle, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have a defined niche.
If you have an identifiable struggle, but a very broad audience, it might be difficult to gain any traction or be seen as the domain expert of that particular problem.
So in order to start, you have to find who you are marketing your skills to.
Identifying your group
There was a chart that I saw at one point from Sean McCabe about how we position our services.
Some of us have inspiring, altruistic goals, which when we are marketing our services to them, it becomes very difficult to sustain our business.
I know a handful of people who passions are doing projects for non-profits, with underprivileged cultural businesses, or giving back to students and communities alike, but struggle to keep their business afloat when trying to provide services to them.
One of the most challenging things is trying to sustain your business goals by doing work with them, without the support.
This is where I was introduced to the chart.
- You can have a nice-to-have product or service.
- You can have a value-driven product or service
- You can have a group with money to pay for solutions
- You can have a group with almost no extra money to pay for solutions
This intersection looks like this:
What I suggest is that you spend time working on selling your product or service to people who have money, get your business self-sustaining, and then you can focus on the groups that you feel is your duty to help.
As Justin has taught me, there are just some people that are easier to reach than others.
So then, who do you recommend becomes the group you focus on?
In our article for whether it’s better to be a generalist or specialist we talked about the cross-section of two of your expertise by going either horizontal or vertical (slightly different than last month’s t-skill but related)
“I have the option of using my skills and going further in the banking industry by recognizing things that I can apply my skills towards an opportunity there, or I can choose to go horizontal and focus on helping other designers (what I chose to do).
This cross-section creates two pathways right off the bat to allow you to utilize what you know about one industry and apply it to the other industry.
The thing about serving markets though, depending on your goals and willingness to have what you do support you, you need to find markets that are easy to reach and willing to pay for your services.”
After coming to your conclusion, you’ve got to ask yourself,
“Are these the people I want to spend the most of my time with”
I think Justin had asked, “who is it that you would want to spend some time talking to over coffee?” (or icecream. that sounds really good right now)
You’re going to be spending a lot of time with these people, so if your cross section isn’t giving you the results of who you want to get to know, then take some time to put together other cross sections of people who you would love to sit and learn from over coffee.
Identifying their struggle
If there’s one thing in common with what we all know as human beings, is that most of us are working towards a better life than we have now.
Though you hire someone to do a logo design for your business, what you’re really looking for is an identifiable business niche that you can be proud of.
Though you bought accounting and tracking software, you want a better handle on your finances each week.
You didn’t want X [the thing] you wanted to become Y [the result of X]
The same is true of the products and services that we are trying to sell.
Take a look at the group that you selected:
- What are the barriers holding them back from the ideal state they want to be in?
- What is their ideal state?
- What skills do you have that equip you as a person who can help these people attain this?
The answers to those questions are the reason why you should be selecting a niche group that you identify with. The more you can zoom in and find what it is you are best equipped to help them with, the more effective you will be at gaining them as customers or clients.
When you know exactly what they need and how you can help them, your customer is going to feel like you can read their mind.
So where do we go from here once we have found the group?This is something we’ll talk about next week. In the meanwhile, here’s what Justin had said to me:
You need to choose a specific audience. This has always been true, but it’s more important than ever. You can’t just target “freelancers,” or “small businesses.” You need to pick a group that has strong growth potential (for example, right now Shopify store owners is a hot niche).
If you understand your audience better than everyone else, you’ll win.
— Justin Jackson
Next week, we’re going to be looking at how you can get access to your niche and start gaining the clients and customers that you need.
— Darian Rosebrook, Compass of Design
How do you know what skills you should focus on?
If this is a question you need an answer to, come join other like-minded designers who are also working at becoming masters of their craft.
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