Mastering a niche is one shortcut to success. Instead of competing against a large number of established businesses, you can spot a gap in the market, pitch your services to a small number of people and put down some firm roots. From there, you can grow gradually into any field you want without risking your entire business.
It’s a strategy that’s worked for Microsoft, which started with operating systems but now produces products from media players to game consoles, and it worked too for any number of now-large corporations which started with soap, records, insurance and who knows what else then expanded to become today’s multinationals.
But what happens when the expansion begins? How do you avoid diluting trust in your brand… and how do you do it when you’re just a one-man band trying to widen your income base?
Pick up a Book
One example to look at is the way publishing companies work. The publishing industry is dominated by a small number of major firms but that’s not the impression you get when you browse a bookstore. Pick ten books off the shelf on ten different subjects, and you might feel that they’re coming from ten different publishers. In fact, they’re likely to be imprints owned by just two or three major publishing houses. Random House, for example, owns DoubleDay, Fodor’s, Ballantine and a whole host of others. And the company itself is just one division of Bertelsmann, a giant, German media company.
Random House doesn’t hide any of this stuff. Its website lists all of the publishers it owns and the imprints that they own. But it doesn’t go out of the way to make those details clear to shoppers either, and nor do other publishers. Someone who picks up a Dummies guide, for example, understands exactly what he’s getting: a brand that he trusts in a niche offering basic information about a topic. He doesn’t know – or care — that he’s actually holding a book produced by Wiley, publishers of Frommers, The Unofficial Guide To…, and owners of WeightWatchers.
Look beyond large companies though, and you can see the same thing happening in small businesses too. Web design firms like Peppercorn generally offer a wide range of services from basic design to search engine optimization to on-site games and print services. When they pitch for a job though, they only focus on the tasks the client wants to achieve. Portraying yourself as a specialist is always going to be more persuasive than appearing as a generalist.
But those other skills could be useful too so it doesn’t pay to hide them. The fact that Peppercorn can also create small online video games, for example, could be of interest to a firm that asked it to design a gaming review site.
And Here’s My Other Blog…
The same principle works for bloggers. Blogs are usually the ultimate in long-tail nicheing. They focus on one specialized topic – in our case, helping experts turn their knowledge into money – and they appeal to a very select audience. But it’s possible to offer information of similar quality to other, carefully chosen audiences on other topics. ButtermilkPress.com, for example, is a blog about Southern food but its author also runs a host of other blogs about cats, self-help, Hollywood and even office stationery. Each blog is independent but there’s no reason why lessons learned researching one topic shouldn’t enhance blogs on others. (We also produce Photopreneur, a blog that helps photographers earn income from their images. The actions and strategies that we see photographers take while researching that blog are often applicable to experts in any field and enhance this blog too.)
That means that branching out from one niche into another – even when your business is as small as a one-person blog – isn’t difficult but it is a balancing act. The different niches need to be kept separate – as separate as publishing imprints – but they shouldn’t be hidden. Knowledge from one niche can certainly help another and the cross-promotion can be beneficial too. Do well in one niche and you already have a market, at least some of which is likely to be interested in your other field of knowledge.
And that’s the real benefit of branching out into new topics. You get to grow and expand your business. You also get to refresh your enthusiasm and appeal to new markets. But most importantly, you also find that it gets easier every time you do it because you already have at least one market to draw on.
Choosing a niche may be difficult. But choosing two niches can make your life a lot easier – and wealthier too.