Niched today, gone tomorrow?

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.comdrniche@vbjusa.com.

Dear Niche Doctor,

I’m a died-in-the wool entrepreneur and looking to buy a small business that I can grow over the next several years. My concern is that I want to get one with a niche that will be around for a long time. I’m worried about investing money in a business that might lose its luster tomorrow. Your advice would be much appreciated.

Thank you!

Dr. Linda FalkensteinYour question is an important one, which is also reminiscent of one of the biggest myths surrounding the concept of niche: that is, “once a niche, always a niche.” The fact is a good niche is much like a healthy human being – over time it should evolve and grow. And yes, even the best niche can die a premature death if not attended to and nourished regularly.

Bottom line, there is no such thing as a forever niche. Nothing less than constant vigilance is the price a serious niche requires to keep it alive and productive. The good news is there are many things you can do to ensure your niche does not run out before you do. The following tips will help keep your niche rich for many years:

1. Begin by simply recognizing that every niche has a natural lifecycle. So the question I ask is, “Do you know what yours is?” To answer that, you’ll need to take a careful look at trends and events affecting your target audience. Accurately predicting your niche’s likely lifecycle is critical so that you can be ahead of it. Yes, just like a pilot, you must be ahead of your destination. The faster the plane moves, the further ahead the pilot must be thinking and planning for. With change happening at dizzying speed around us, you can’t wait to plan to get where you’re going because it will be different than when you started!

2. Always remember that a niche with longevity is elastic, capable of addressing the needs of its audience and changes happening around it. Think no further than the difference between the Blackberry and iPhone to understand this point. When it originally appeared on the scene, Blackberry was the darling of the handheld mobile world. It made RIM Corporation rich, temporarily. Unfortunately, its handlers had blinders on, thinking their wildly popular device was immune to change. So it didn’t. Instead it was rigid, with its customer base taken for granted. And today, that customer base is a small fraction of what it once was. Apple, on the other hand, has remained nimble enough to keep its stock soaring, with a massive fan club asking for more.

3. Staying ahead is easier than catching up. Although it’s possible to transform a stagnant niche into one that is viable and profitable, the going can be tough, for both small and big businesses. The tricky thing is that small businesses have the most to lose because they have the least to fall back on.

4. It’s important to look at the different distribution channels offered by technology – not just today’s technology, but tomorrow’s as well. A niche that gets stuck in one delivery system, alone, may well find that system obsolete, resulting in a widget with no place to go.

The moral of this story is relevant to anyone buying a business or wanting to grow an existing one into an even more successful enterprise. You can’t fall asleep at your niche and expect to have it alive and well tomorrow. Plan to stay in the driver’s seat and alert at all times for changes on the horizon and future opportunities. Apply this simple mindset and look forward to a niche that will serve you well for many years.

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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