When people ask me what my niche is I have a hard time answering. In a way, I don’t believe niching is necessary. In another way, I get it. I think what the issue is for me is the way niche is defined.
Generally, when people ask about my niche, they mean an industry. I know of accounting firms that work with primarily wineries. That would be their niche. And that works well for some businesses.
For me, when I think of a niche, I think more of WHO our ideal clients are, not so much WHAT they sell.
And the same may be true for your business too.
If you own a Mexican restaurant, it makes no sense for you to serve Italian food. That seems obvious. But what if you keep getting asked to host quinceaneras? Does that make sense? If you have a separate party room that can be rented out without interfering with your main seating area, maybe it does. But if you must close your restaurant on the nights you have booked for the events, then you may start to lose your regular customers.
Our niche has become the hard cases. Clients who have existing accounting that is messed up is where we shine. We start with cleaning up the books, then move these clients to monthly service so once their files are clean, they stay that way. We’ve also expanded to offer business consulting. Once the clients have clean accounting it can be used to help them run their businesses. It all makes sense: step 1 to step 2 to step 3.
What I’ve found is that when we deviate from this plan, we end up in situations that don’t work for us.
Sure, we may stretch the boundaries a bit. Not everyone comes to us with mucked up accounting. And we often help new businesses get set up cleanly.
We have a range we work within. It’s not black and white. I imagine those firms I know that specialize in wineries take other clients too. But they don’t focus on bringing in other types of clients.
Because most of our business comes to us, we don’t do a lot of marketing or trying to find clients that are in need of our specialty. However, because clients are often referred to us, sometimes it’s hard to say no even when they aren’t a good fit.
For example, we don’t work with nonprofits. They are just not a good fit for us. But once in a while, a nonprofit will be referred to us and I’ll feel obligated to take them on because I don’t want to disappoint the person who recommended us. But then it happens:
We end up stuck in a situation where we are unhappy because they don’t fit our mold. And then we must let them go. This is even more uncomfortable.
Let’s say you manufacture custom kitchen cabinets. Each customer brings you the specs on their kitchen and what they want, and you design and build what they ask for. You have your processes in place so you can easily follow the same steps every time to produce a consistently high quality product. You have happy customers. They know they can count on your cabinets looking fabulous in their remodeled kitchens.
These customers are so happy they start asking you to design and build dining room sets to match their cabinets. You might think, okay, I can do that. I know how to design and build cabinets. Surely I can design and build tables and chairs.
And it’s likely you can. But you have no systems in place, you don’t have the right tools, you don’t have space set aside for this, and pretty soon you’ve messed up your cabinet making systems. This leaves your other projects running behind and you’re stressed out trying to please your customers who want dining room sets. Things start to fall apart.
Staying in your lane and doing what you do best is the smartest way to do business.
Whether you define your niche by product, type of clients you service, geographic region, size (product or client), or any other specifics, it doesn’t matter. What matters is you know what you do best, and you stick to it. Within a reasonable range.
For example, the Mexican restaurant might be able to expand into catering services for quinceaneras and other events but not offer them space to host their events. Or the cabinet maker might be able to easily design bathroom cabinets.
Figuring out where you fit best and staying in your lane will keep you from veering off course and ending up wasting time and resources unnecessarily.
Sometimes your niche may change. It might expand or contract as you grow; that’s okay. Just be super clear on what works and what doesn’t work for you. You don’t have to take them all on just because they come to you.
The challenge, of course, is saying “no” up front.
Once you have your parameters well defined, you can evaluate every opportunity that comes and decide if it fits your model. It can be hard to turn away business. And if you’re just starting out, you might not be able to. But as you take on that new business, decide does this work for me? That’s how you figure out where your sweet spot is. Once you’re going strong, start to narrow your offering to just what works best for you and let the rest go.
Find other people in your industry with other specialties. That may give you the option of referring the ones you turn down to someone else who might be a better fit.
Knowing what your lane is and not taking on clients or projects that don’t fit is key to having a smooth-running business that attracts ideal clients. It might take a while to get it dialed in, but once you do, the power in saying “no” is worth it. Setting boundaries on what works for you and your company is powerful. You will find your business starts to thrive as you get clearer and clearer on what you do and don’t do.
Sherry Lutz Herrington is the owner of Sherrington Financial Fitness, a business consulting and accounting firm specializing in strategic business planning and solid financial accounting for businesses. She is also the author of Strong Women Thriving (www.strongwomenthriving.com), a blog which focuses on empowering women to be financially savvy, particularly after experiencing financial abuse. Sherry is currently writing a book that both shares her personal story and addresses financial abuse. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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