How to Find Your Niche as a Professional Service Provider
Consultants, coaches, and others who offer professional services are often advised to choose a niche in which to specialize. Indeed, the importance of targeting a specific area of focus has been highlighted in previous articles in this business blog about sales strategies for coaches and how therapists can get more clients. That said, it’s not always obvious how to choose a niche or how specialized one should be.
Benefits of Finding a Niche
First, let’s review the case for specialization.
One clear advantage of focusing on a niche is that it makes it easier for a professional services provider to become and remain an expert in that area. There is only so much time available for professional development, and if it is spread too thinly across too wide of a field, it is harder to master and/or stay up to date on any given topic. Similarly, one can only take on so many clients; if they have similar challenges it’s much easier to build and maintain expertise in a specific area than if they do not. Put simply, founder of Solution Scout Blake Bobit observes that “many of the best providers lead by a clear vision, reviews, and goals, which can only be achieved when one is completely focused on a single or few aspects of one’s business.”
Specialization not helps professional service providers gain and maintain expertise in a specific area, but it also helps them communicate that expertise in their sales and marketing efforts. As Head of HR Jenna Carson, who hires and manages consultants for Music Grotto, explains, “experience and role should be as specialized as possible. If you or your company are at a stage to hire a particular consultant, then consultants from outside are only better than an in-house team when they have a specific knowledge that no one else has.”
We’ve already covered how it can be challenging to develop this level of expertise without specialization, but if anything, it’s even more difficult to convey such expertise. Most potential clients are going to assume that the specialist focused on the problem they are trying to solve has greater expertise than a generalist.
How To Choose A Niche
In choosing a niche, providers should of course focus on areas that align with their interests, experience, and expertise. Beyond these, they can look for underserved or growing segments of their field, just as one would with any business. This requires research, as emphasized by Sam Rexford, Head of Content at CHILLREPTILE: “it's true that the riches are in the niches for consultants; however, it's a fine line you have to walk to get it right. Before deciding on a niche, do some research to make sure it's a viable opportunity.”
How narrow should a niche be? Food Industry Consultant Bryan Q. Le provides some useful metrics:
A consultant should specialize down to a point where there are no less than 100 potential clients for potential work. The reason is that with a possible success rate of landing a client of 5 to 10%, you can expect to have 5 to 10 clients on the docket at any one time. The problem with specializing below that point into a smaller pool is that clients may not need you all the time. They may find someone else who can do your services at a more competitive rate, or they simply may not be interested in your services beyond a certain point.
While it is important to make a reasoned decision in terms of what niche to pursue, coaches, trainers, consultants and therapists are not locking themselves out of other potential areas of interest forever in doing so. Entrepreneur Expert Vaishali Nikhade makes the point that a niche is a starting point, not a straightjacket, and that eventually one can, and possibly even should, add related specialties:
Most of the time, finding a niche comes at the start of a business. It’s best to drill down to one specific problem and focus on a niche industry. For instance, if you have a brain problem, you will likely see a brain surgeon instead of a general surgeon. Once you have mastered brain surgery - aka going deep in your niche - you will probably come across several case studies and/or revelations that will move you into a parallel and related niche, where you can then specialize in multiple things, but it always starts with going deep in one.
Marketing Strategist for Seven Tree Media Devon Jones endorses a similar approach, while also calling attention to marketplace dynamics: “having deep skills in certain areas is just as important as having a wide breadth of knowledge in your whole field. As you go deeper in your field, make sure you can be specific with what outcomes you actually help people achieve, but always be expanding your expertise to evolve with the marketplace and your industry’s place in it.”
How should one reconcile the idea of focus with the idea of developing multiple specialties? The answer lies in Nikhade’s and Jones’ quotes, above. Once one has developed deep expertise in a particular segment, then it makes sense to leverage one’s brand into a related niche. Having this expertise will help a professional services provider be able to explain in a compelling way why the fields are related and how the provider is uniquely able to marry the two. This approach is very different from starting out with multiple specialties, even if they seem to be similar.
Managing Director at web consulting company Chilli Fruit Milosz Krasinski effectively summarizes this strategy:
While it’s great to specialize, you don’t want to ‘specialize yourself out of the market.’ Although people appreciate specialist knowledge, they want a ‘one-stop shop’ and, so, by extending your offerings slightly beyond your niche, you can increase your profile - and profits. Your verticals and functions of these will be the core of your business.
It’s clear that some level of specialization is very beneficial for newer or smaller-sized professional services firms. Following a “Goldilocks approach” of being neither overly narrow nor overly broad is a good starting point. As providers and companies accumulate expertise and credibility in the marketplace, they will organically become aware of opportunities to expand into related niches and should be well-placed to understand the industry trends and dynamics underlying them.