Free Business Course: Find the thing that makes you special

Ok you’ve decided what business you are in and you have decided that market you are aiming to compete in. So now you need to figure out how to stand out so that people give you the work (and/or customers) rather than the next person. There are many many many Website Designers, Bookkeepers, Translators, Dog Walkers, Printers, Florists, Coffee Shops and so on. Why should a customer choose you?

Well because you will find a way to make you unique and stand out from the crowd. The easiest way to do this is to specialise even further and look to sell into even more of a niche market. For example, My work resolves around everything to do with website design and development; but I realised early on that that wasn’t going to be enough to get me work; no matter how good – or how many testimonials I got or how much money I spent on advertising.

My background included working in the Voluntary sector, in education and working with disabled people I decided that I would specialise not just in website design but in ‘accessible website design’ and that I would narrow my target market to the not-for-profit sector, i.e. charities, public/voluntary sector.

I then set about become ‘the expert’ in the area of accessible website design; the goal being that any time a not-for-profit organisation was thinking about a website designer and they were also thinking that why would like to ensure that their site was inclusive and that they weren’t breaking any equality laws – they would think automatically of me.

To get to that point does of course take a lot of work. This was the pre-twitter and Facebook era; it wasn’t going to be easy to ensure that people would hear about me and the work I do. My initial marketing plan revolved around my need to demonstrate my expertise:

  • I created an automated mailing list that people could subscribe to that wold provide them with a free website accessibility tip every week
  • I published a book; which was easier than it sounds as it consisted of all website accessibility tips that I had been sending out each week; once I had enough I just gathered them together and published the tips as a physical book; if i did it today I would probably publish it as an e-book. I have also published many guides and e-books on my own behalf and on behalf of other organisations (e.g I wrote the Accessible Websites Guide for The Scottish Accessible Information Forum).
  • I provided free help to local accessibility related and Voluntary Sector organisations; e.g. I joined their committees as a volunteer.
  • I spoke at conferences about accessible website design.
  • I started up a networking group for other people interested in accessible website design.
  • I created a training course which I offered free through the networking group
  • I provided advice related to accessible website design to local, national and European government.
  • I gave feedback on the development tot the W3C Accessibilit Guidelines version 2 – via my role at the Guild of Accessible Website Designers.
  • I set up a mailing list and sent out newsletters to subscribers – providing tips and news related to accessible website design and my related services.
  • I visited as many people as I could in my target market, ie. I went to visit charities, voluntary sector organisations and education sector contacts (mostly research projects as they need websites about their research).
  • I was lucky enough to win some awards that I could then use for marketing purposes.
  • When Twitter and Facebook came along I started using them to send out my tips and to spread news about things related to accessible website design. Of those two I now mainly use Twitter as I found Facebook didn’t work for me – and there are only so many hours in the day. I decided to concentrate on just one social media outlet.

I still do quite a lot of these things now as marketing is an on-going process. I tend not to speak at conferences any more and the networking group I started (which at one point had 400 members across the world) – ran away with itself and ended up taking up too much of my time. It was too successful in it’s own right but became a drain on my time and resources rather than a help.

I passed the administration to another organisation who didn’t actually pay it any attention once they had it; so it has since withered on the vine – so to speak.

Anyway enough of what I decided to do – I mention it just as an example. I genuinely believe that If I hadn’t decided to specialise and serve a narrow niche early on in my business I wouldn’t have survived; being a website designer and developer just isn’t in itself special enough to compete with all the other website designers.

During a chat at one of our CafePreneur meetings wanted to find ways to ramp up her photography business but was still falling back on work related to her Chemistry degree. One suggestion was to use that skill to specialise in science photography – or more specifically photography for the chemistry industry (I’m assuming there is such a thing). This would set her apart when selling to clients working in that business; do they go with the generic photographer or the photographer that knows all about the subject area being photographed?

So don’t just be a wedding organiser be a natural wedding organiser, not just a Florist but a Florist who’s specialises in weddings, not just a Bookkeeper but a bookkeeper who specialises in bookkeeping for dentists, not just a Translator but a specialist in translation of legal documents, not just a coffee shop but a coffee shop specialising in artisan roasts and so on….

Author of The Long Tail Chris Anderson called The Long Tail says the future lies in niche products and services.

“We are now a nation of niches. There are still blockbuster movies, hit TV…shows and top-selling CDs… The action is elsewhere, with the country watching cable shows or reading blogs that play to a specific audience.”

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