Dr. Lynda Falkenstein is the expert behind Ask the Niche Doctor, a Vancouver Business Journal business advice column. Do you have a question for the Niche Doctor? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Niche Doctor:
We are a small firm in Washington. Not surprisingly, these last few years have been really tough. Fortunately, we’re finally seeing light at the end of what was a very long dark tunnel. Our problem is that as things improve, the competition seems to be getting fiercer. Even though we made it through the worst part of the recession, our future is really on the line now. We are trying to find a secure niche, but the truth is I don’t have a clue where to begin looking. Any ideas will be very much appreciated.
I have several ideas for you. First off, forget the thought of ever “finding” a niche – at least a good one; it won’t happen. A niche worth anything isn’t something you waltz into by accident. The fact is, you make them very strategically and you do it step-by-step. Following is a self-test that you can take to determine how well “niched” your firm already is and what areas need attention.
Be sure to keep score and answer yes or no to the following:
3. Are you sufficiently special that prospective customers can tell you apart from the rest of the pack?
4. Do you know who your target customers are?
5. Do you know who your target customers are not?
6. Are you prepared to turn down certain kinds of business if it detracts from your niche?
7. Can customers tell what you stand for?
8. Is your niche refining/evolving all the time?
9. Do you have a clear plan and delivery system that can effectively convey to the right audience the need for your niche?
10. Is your niche one that your target audience actually wants?
11. Do you know what your target audience’s goals and perceived needs really are?
12. Do you know the life-cycle of your niche?
13. Can your niche be rolled out into a variety of products or services (profit centers)?
14. Do you have a sense of passion and focused energy with respect to your niche?
15. Will your niche take you where we want to go; that is, will it contribute achieving the goals you have intentionally identified?
16. Do your customers truly believe you are committed to what they perceive to be in their best interests?
17. Do customers ask about your product first and price second? In other words, do they ask “how fast?” not “how much?”
18. Is your marketing system current, using all available resources and strategies to aggressively reach your target customers and their gatekeepers?
19. Are your customers also your best sales people, generating referrals and good will?
20. Is your business a “household word” in the lives of end-users and/or those who will be paying the bill?
Now add up your “yes” answers. If you scored:
20 – Excellent! But don’t go to sleep at the switch because a successful niche is constantly evolving. Where will your niche be in three years?
19 – Very good, but even one slip-up can cause your niche to trickle away. Get back in action fast.
18 – Average. As you know, average isn’t enough to stay ahead. Better give a lot of thought to what kind of specialness you can own.
17 – Below average. Serious trouble looms. You are in danger of being niche-less.
16 and under – Trouble city. You can survive but need to get on top of it fast by creating a niche that eliminates the competition (without bloodshed). In today’s world, more than ever before, it’s niche or die!!
Dr. Lynda Falkenstein is a business consultant and author of NICHECRAFT: Using Your Specialness to Focus Your Business, Corner Your Market, and Make Customers Seek You Out. To contact her with questions or comments, email DrNiche@vbjusa.comor call 503-781-0966. Please note that the Vancouver Business Journal and Dr. Niche reserve the right to publish your letter or an edited version in all print and electronic media.