Multiple niches for multiple product lines?

Author and consultant 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 drniche@vbjusa.com

Multiple niches for multiple product lines?

Dear Niche Doctor,

We are a mid-size photography business that has been in the area for years. The issue I’ve been wrestling with is that we have drastically different product lines. For example, I do both commercial and wedding photography. Should my niches be similar? Or is it ok to have different niches for different clients?

Thank you.

Thanks for a great question. Although you are a photographer, your issue is relevant to businesses of nearly all kinds, and I hear different versions of it frequently.

The first thing we need to do is clear something up: You are describing revenue centers, not niches. To know if what you are talking about is really a niche, ask yourself if the subject is considered unique, one-of-a-kind, the only game in town, etc. Once you apply that criterion, you’ll quickly see that commercial and wedding photography are just two big categories that are filled by thousands of other hard working photographers.

The good news, however, is that when you are delivering a professional service, transforming a broad category into a niche can be an exciting and successful process. The starting place should be asking yourself what you bring to the party. That is, what is your style, your way, your approach? Once you have answered these questions, you can build on those qualities and intentionally shape and communicate your company’s niche. By starting with who you are, you are defining a niche that is truly all yours. You’re making an all-new pie and not going to share it with anyone else.

Now we have another issue to deal with, and it’s a question you didn’t ask. It goes like this: “Should you be doing both wedding and commercial photography in the first place?” In other words, could you have one too many items on your menu of offerings? The following questions will help you decide what stays and what goes:

Where do you derive your greatest profit? Taking time and materials into consideration, which service delivers the greatest return for the least investment? Over and over again, I’ve seen businesses of all types measure their financial success exclusively by gross dollars instead of looking closely at what it took to get them.

Do you enjoy each category equally? Since you take yourself to work each day, this is a serious question. It’s easy to identify people who ignore it. They’re the ones who aren’t smiling and don’t want to get up in the morning to go to work.

In which category are you able to exploit your greatest strengths? The point is, you should be playing to your strengths. Anything less is tantamount to building a house on mushy sand that’s waiting for the tide to come in. Of course, this all assumes you know what those strengths are. If, by chance, you don’t, it’s definitely time to find out.

Will multiple big service categories confuse your customers? Think about going to a surgeon who does brain surgeries and podiatry. Remember, a niche’s single purpose is so the right people can find you.

If you are still having trouble deciding whether your two different product lines should be under the same roof, visualize a beautiful, healthy tree with lots of branches and thousands of leaves. In niche-talk terms, the tree’s trunk is its niche. It is the lifeblood of the rest of the tree. The energy needed for the tree’s growth surges through its trunk into branches, leaves and fruit. It is the common denominator. Without it, the whole tree would wither and die. The same is true of any business. Your niche is bigger than any single product. It is the core – the trunk – of your entire business.

The moral of this story is that multiple profit centers can definitely work. They must, however, be carefully coordinated; they must be orchestrated so that they seamlessly support one another, and, like the beautiful healthy tree, share the same life-juices – aka their niche.

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.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 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.

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