How strict should you be with your niche?

There are tons of articles and arguments for finding a niche and sticking to it. A lot of them take a purist and idealist approach to the strategy which is always easy when producing content. However, it leaves a lot of creative leaders wondering, “So do I turn away paying business because it doesn’t fit my niche?” and “How can I turn down money when I’m still trying to get to healthy monthly billings?”

Questions like these are natural and important to ask, and the good news is that the answer is quite simple: No, you should not turn down paying work if you’re still building a viable practice. Period. That said, there is more to the story as you charge ahead to a more purist niching reality. For that, read on.

Finding and reinforcing a niche of expertise is vital to any creative practice out there for a few reasons. In the instance of niching in an industry, the reasons are clear:

  1. It maximizes the impact of your marketing efforts in both time and money because you have a crystal clear focus on the patrons you want to speak to. You know what trade shows they go to, what magazines and websites they subscribe to, and you know what their unique painpoints are.
  2. It gives you an attainable path to expertise. Since you know the industry on which you want to focus, you can invest your time learning about the nuances of that industry. How does it operate? How is revenue generated? What are the unique words used in their jargon?

However, building expertise and a steady flow of work in a niche is not something that happens overnight. It takes years to establish a name in the industry and become synonymous withe suite of services you offer. Therefore, it’d be a very bad financial move to turn down work outside of that industry niche.

The fact is, activating your niching strategy should be more like a funnel where you start generalized and march towards that idealistic reality where the only work you have for your practice is with clients within your industry niche. What that looks like is this:

  1. Develop and launch your marketing efforts immediately. Wave the flag of your niche and your expertise. Start reading the trades for that industry. Plan on the trade shows you wish to attend. Subscribe to the magazines, websites, social channels, and email newsletters that lead the industry even if they’re not related to creative, advertising, or digital.
  2. Turn your eye towards your current and historic client work. Which clients serve as the ideal? If you’re looking at a niche, it should be built form work you already have, or have had, even if it’s one or two projects/clients.
  3. Assess the remaining client work to identify which is the most profitable and which is the least. It helps to use actual numbers in this case because this category of clients and projects will eventually be weened out of your workload all together.
  4. Finish the projects that are the least profitable and identify 1-3 other designers who would be a good fit to take it over. Develop a relationship with them directly to ensure they’re the type of folks you’d trust.
  5. As new projects that are aligned with your niche start to come in begin to offload the off-niche work to those designers. Do this one-to-one so you don’t lose the revenue immediately and can balance your accounts receivable.

As you march forward with offloading the non-niche clients with your niche clients, you’ll start to realize a stronger path and studio/agency book. It’s not an overnight realization, but the results will start to build as you strengthen the expertise and your ownership over your new niche!

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