I’m currently in the market for a pair of new road running shoes. Again. Every couple of years or so, after wearing out my most recent pair, I head down a rabbit hole of trying to find a running shoe that does it all. I try to find one that provides the cushioning of a hard surface running shoe while offering the lateral support of a cross-trainer while also not looking too much like a sports sneaker so I can wear it for everyday occasions while also being rugged enough for use on rougher terrain. Also, being lightweight never hurts. Oh, and waterproof materials are a bonus because I live in England where it rains a lot.
Every time I attempt this, I end up coming to the exact same conclusion. The best shoe for running on roads is, well, a road running shoe. Not a cross-trainer. Not a lifestyle shoe. And not an all-in-one, rugged weatherproof shoe.
Recruiters, hiring managers, and prospective clients tend to operate the same way as consumers shopping for an item. They look for someone specific. They seek out and hire professionals who provide the exact expertise they need. Therefore, specialists who offer something specific tend to stand out in a sea of generalists who try to be everything to everyone.
Whether you’re an independent consultant or a full-time employee at an established organization, finding your niche is a critical part of succeeding as a professional.
Niching Enables You To Stand Out
A niche is a specific area of focus or expertise. Defining your niche is about narrowing your work to a particular domain or subject matter. It’s about putting a stake in the ground about where you want to focus your energies. Ultimately, a niche can help differentiate you from others operating in similar spaces.
I struggled with committing to a niche when I first started my own consultancy 10 years ago. I was concerned about pigeonholing myself or precluding myself from opportunities. I struggled with whether to call myself a professional coach, an executive coach, a career coach, a career consultant, or all of the above. Initially, even calling myself a career coach felt limiting. I was afraid I might alienate potential prospective clients.
I ultimately found that communicating a narrower focus enabled me to reach more of the clients I wanted to work with. These days, I typically refer to myself as a career change consultant focused on helping professionals in transition with their personal branding. I’ve found this specific niche helps clients make sense of exactly where I do and do not operate. It doesn’t mean that I don’t cover other topics (like presentation skills or networking), but it gives clients a starting point to figure out where to place me in the crowded sea of other career coaches out there.
Err on the side of being more rather than less specific when communicating what you do. For example, if you’re a writer, articulate your specific area of expertise like copywriting, technical writing, or creative writing. Better yet, layer on a specific topical area and industry you cover like technical writing about artificial intelligence used within the travel industry.
Finding Your Niche Focuses Your Efforts
Finding your niche also allows you to focus your energy and resources on a specific area, reducing the chances of you feeling overwhelmed trying to be everything to everyone. A niche provides a compass for your efforts, ensuring that the work you do aligns with your skills and interests. While being more specific can feel uncomfortable, it ultimately enables employers and clients to understand the specific value you offer.
In the early days of my consultancy, I found myself saying yes to everything, including some speaking engagements that fell outside of my immediate area of expertise or taking on clients who demanded a lot of additional effort on my part to cover the entire scope of the services they sought that went beyond my offerings. Over time, I defined clearer boundaries around my scope of services. I also tried to more explicitly communicate which services I did not offer or consider within my area of expertise.
When you niche down and clearly define your area of focus, it enables you to make clearer career choices, only pursuing opportunities that allow you to reinforce your positioning. It enables you to selectively choose projects, clients, or collaborators who support your unique ambitions. It also enables you to attract those specific clients or employers seeking your specific skills and knowledge. Ultimately, this makes you more sought-after, indispensable, and valuable.
Defining Your Niche Is Challenging But Helpful
Finding your niche is rarely easy. It requires bravely putting a stake in the ground about who you are as a professional . . . and importantly, who you are not. With that said, you could follow several strategies to identify some potential niches for yourself.
First, look inward. Take stock of your key skills, knowledge, and expertise. Determine areas where you excel, and don’t forget to consider what you enjoy doing.
Second, make a list of the key needs that exist amongst those in your target audience whether a prospective employer or potential client. Research different industries or survey prospective customers to identify needs that align with your skills and expertise.
Finally, make an honest assessment about which specific needs you would be well positioned to credibly and convincingly serve with your unique background, experiences, and expertise.
Discovering Your Niche Is a Process
Identifying and communicating your exact strengths, skills, personality, and interests can help you reach the right people and achieve your career ambitions. However, just like finding the perfect shoe to fit your needs, finding your niche will likely be a process of trial and error.
You’ll rarely know if you’ve chosen the right niche until you try it out. You may eventually discover that your desired niche doesn’t align with the needs of the marketplace. Or that you can’t reach the people you want to serve. Or that pursuing a specific niche isn’t as financially viable as you initially thought.
Rest assured that defining your unique personal brand and niche is an ongoing process. Not getting it right on your first attempt is okay. What’s important is to keep exploring and iterating until you start gaining the specific type of traction you feel is right for you.
Originally published at Forbes.
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