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Heather Townsend

The Excedia Group


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Everything you need to know about finding your niche – part 1


Finding your niche will help you grow your freelance business, says Heather Townsend.

In my recent training zone article on how every freelance trainer can win more business, I talked about the importance of adopting a niche for you and your business.
In this first part of a three-part series on how to develop a profitable niche as a trainer, I'm going to expand on this theme and explain in more detail:
  • What is a niche?
  • Why you need a niche?

What is a niche?

Everybody keeps talking about having a niche, but what is this niche thing – and should you be worried if you don't have one? The simple answer to this question is, a niche is where you take your technical specialism, be it leadership training, workshop facilitation, change management, executive coaching; and focus on being the expert, for this specialism for one particular audience. For example, you could specialise in referral marketing for professional services (oh, that's me by the way) or in business coaching for mums who run their own business. (That's not me, by the way!)

Why you need a niche?

The current worldwide global recession is probably the main catalyst for many  freelancer trainers to adopt a this new career path. It's how I started my own business three years ago. However, this means that the marketplace is saturated with freelance trainers, and it is only going to get worse over the next few years.
"To use an analogy, if you don’t have a niche your marketing is at best like trying to get jelly to stick on a wall."
Sadly there are still many more trainers over the next year or so who are going to turn freelance after being ousted out of their corporate berth. Most trainers, like myself, know that they can turn their hand pretty much to anything. Which is very much true, however, this doesn’t mean that you should market yourself as pretty much everything.
If you find on your website that you are stating that you are a leadership, management, team building, executive coaching type person, then this is the trap I am referring to. So, am I saying that you should focus on just one specialist skill? Well, no.
As I mentioned in my article on how every freelance trainer can win more business, it's not enough these days to just be a leadership specialist or a coach. These specialisms wouldn't make you memorable enough to stand out as a best-in-class specialist within the market place. You do want to stand out – don't you? This is where having a niche helps you really stand out and be seen as the expert.
I find it's fairly easy to convince one of my law firm clients to accept an associate on the team if they specialise in working with law firms. However, if I then wanted to use a retail expert within their business, it wouldn’t be so easy. Even if the retail expert was vastly more experienced than the law firm expert. Sorry, but that's the reality.
Have you noticed how long it is taking to develop new business at the moment? One of the best ways to make your marketing more efficient and effective is to focus on marketing to your niche. To use an analogy, if you don’t have a niche your marketing is at best like trying to get jelly to stick on a wall. Whereas, if you have a clearly defined niche, you know your target market's hot spots, what will motivate them to buy, what services and products they will want to buy – and more importantly, what are the relationships you need to develop to win the work which is out there.

Strategic alliances

Using the same analogy again, when you adopt a niche your marketing, if done correctly, is the equivalent of throwing a dart at a dartboard. It’s a lot easier, and takes far less energy, to get a dart to stick in a dartboard rather than jelly on a wall!
One of the easiest ways for any trainer to win work is through strategic alliances. However, for strategic alliances to work you have to be very specific about each other’s core strengths. Many a strategic alliance has broken down because of a perceived conflict of interest. If you are not trying to be all things to all people, you are often perceived to not be competing, even though you may actually offer the same service. We are predicting that strategic alliances will make up 40% of our new business this financial year – and will be the fundamental driver for our business generating 20% more revenue than last year. How many freelance trainers or training businesses can say the same in this tough trading climate?
Do you notice that whenever you go networking, it is impossible not to bump into another trainer or coach? They are literally everywhere. In fact, just this week I was speaking at a business networking club on how to make your networking fitter for purpose. There was just over 15 people in the room and 6 of them were coaches, consultants or trainers of some description. I had similar skills to nearly every one of these six. Damn! When you have a clearly defined niche it enables referrers and prospects to differentiate you from the rest of the coaches and trainers in the room.
Now let’s talk about a taboo subject. Money. Wouldn’t it be easy if there were a standard tariff that every trainer conformed to? Sadly, this will never be the case. But, what makes the difference between a trainer who can command £2,000 day rates and one who struggles to get more than £800 a day? Very often it is the perception of the value that each trainer brings to the work.
If you have the profile as the expert in what you do, clients are often happier to pay significantly more for your services. For example, I was able to double my day rates (and attract larger clients) after writing The Financial Times To Business Networking because I was perceived to be the expert for business networking for lawyers and accountants.

'Expert' tag

What’s the best way to get the 'expert' tag and status? Focus on marketing yourself as the expert for what you do in your niche. It’s really that simple. In fact, if you get the marketing right, you will find that clients come to you rather than you having to go to them, wanting to work with you – regardless of the cost.
Finally, when you adopt a niche it helps to minimise your client churn. If your clients know and realise that you truly understand their needs and requirements – plus speak their language, they are less likely to be attracted away to another freelance trainer with a cheaper alternative solution.

Every trainer needs to adopt both a technical specialism and a niche, in order to stand out in the marketplace and be able to charge higher day rates. In my next article in this series, I will be looking at how to find and capitalise on your niche.
Heather Townsend helps professionals and firms become the go-to-expert. Unusually for someone with an Engineering Degree, Heather accidentally became a writer and used her knowledge on social media to write the current best-selling and award-winning book on networking, The FT Guide To Business Networking. Heather regularly blogs at Partnership Potential, Joined Up Networking and How To Make Partner And Still Have A Life.

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Heather Townsend


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