“Finding your niche” is bullshit
Position yourself as a specialist for each client. You don’t have to pivot your entire business to that niche.
I’ve talked extensively about the value of being a deep generalist or T-shaped professional, as opposed to getting too specialised in your services. This is of particular importance as a freelancer, where you don’t have a team of supporting specialists to complement your services — your clients often require you to do as much of the project as you can on your own.
“Finding your niche” is the opposite to being a generalist — and it’s a popular battle cry for designers and other creative service experts. Many people say it’s the first and most important thing you must do to start attracting better clients and higher paying gigs.
But I’ve encountered a lot of fear around adopting that strategy. Positioning yourself as a specialist in one niche feels very risky and restrictive.
- What if you invest time and money into becoming a specialist, only to find there’s not enough demand for that service?
- Or technology has changed so quickly that what you specialise in has already been superseded by something better?
- Or you realise that you don’t enjoy having that narrow of a focus over and over again? Becoming a specialist has killed your variety and creativity.
These fears are all very valid. Positioning yourself as a specialist means having to say “no” to most things that fall outside that niche. It’s why many people choose the comfort of remaining a generalist. They don’t want to risk cutting out too many valuable skills and potential clients, even for the reward of higher pay and greater respect on the jobs they land in that niche.
Choosing a niche doesn’t need to be this way. You don’t have to choose one or the other. I’m a T-shaped generalist designer, who also specialises in many valuable digital design niches.
In fact, InVision just reported that the McKinsey & Company October 2018 report into the business value of design has pinpointed that cross-functional designers provide the most value to their organisations, saying:
“While not a new concept, ‘T-shaped’ hybrid designers, who work across functions while retaining their depth of design savvy, will be the employees most able to have a tangible impact through their work.”
Positioning is just marketing
It doesn’t have to be business realignment.
Next time you write a proposal for a new potential client, or interview during a meet & greet for a new freelance job, you’re going to tailor that message towards the specific needs of your client’s business, right?
If they need an ecommerce site, you’re going to talk about your extensive ecommerce design experience and show samples of successful sites you’ve helped create. If they need branding for a startup, you’re going to walk them through your branding process and ensure them you’ve worked with many fast-paced startups before.
You align the way you describe your skills with their business needs, so they see you as the perfect fit for their job.
But that’s just talk. It should be truthful talk, with experience to back it up. But you didn’t reposition your entire business strategy, did you?
Of course not.
There’s no reason your marketing strategy can’t appeal to one or more deep niches while allowing your business the freedom to remain more inclusive and generalist. In fact, this is the best of both worlds. You don’t have to take the risk of limiting your business focus to a single niche, yet you still enjoy the benefits of providing extra value in the areas you specialise in the most. Plus, your generalist experience expands and complement those specialties to provide even greater flexibility for your clients.
Each niche is a marketing channel
So go head, “find your niche”. Find many of them! And then clearly define your ideal clients, and what their needs are, in each of those niches.
Tailor your marketing to speak directly to the needs of those verticals. Maybe this means you create a new landing page on your website for each unique niche you want to cater for. You don’t have to tear down your existing marketing and start over. Because these niches are add-ons to what you’ve already got. They’re extra, ultra-focused tools in your marketing arsenal, not replacements for what’s already working for you.
Create as many of these niche marketing funnels as you want to specialise in. They all lead back to you, so be sure you have the skills and experience to back up your claims of expertise in each niche you’re chasing.
Keep your options open
Positioning your entire business exclusively towards a niche is risky unless you already have ample experience in that vertical, and you’ve already proven to yourself that there’s plenty of demand and profit for that speciality. If one of your marketing funnels proves to be super lucrative AND equally enjoyable and you want to narrow your business focus to just that, by all means go for it.
Drawing that strong a line in the sand — and saying “no” to everything outside that scope — might be appropriate for seasoned freelance pros who fall in love with a very specific service. But if you have any hesitations about that business realignment, forget about it. It’s not necessary to impose those limitations on your business positioning in order to reap the rewards of marketing yourself as a niche specialist.
Leave your options open. You can always specialise later. It’s much more difficult to un-specialise.
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Hi, I'm Benek Lisefski. Since 2001 I've run my own independent design business. Join me as I unfold 20 years of freelance business knowledge: honest advice and practical tips to help you take your indie career from good to great.
MediumTop writer in Design, Business, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship.