How important is it that you have a clearly defined market niche for your professional services? Can’t you simply make yourself available to work for anyone who might need you? Doesn’t having a niche limit you to serving only a small portion of possible clients? Why would you want to rule out any possible sources of business? Discovering the answers to these questions can have a powerful impact on the success or failure of your business.

Target market

When you have a market niche, it defines either your target market — who you wish to target as prospective clients -– or your professional specialty –- the services you specialize in providing within the broader scope of your profession. The most effective niches define both these elements.

For example, a graphic designer could have the target market of the financial services industry and the specialty of customer communications. A career coach could target the legal industry and specialize in helping lawyers experiencing burnout.

But when you don’t define a specific market niche, by default, you are marketing to everyone and anyone. And that takes an endless amount of time and energy -– resources that are probably already in short supply.

Consider the difference between the sun and a laser beam. The sun’s rays shine everywhere, reaching everyone and everything without discrimination, but this takes an enormous output of energy. A laser beam, on the other hand, points at only one thing at a time, but a tiny bit of energy can focus and direct it exactly where you choose.

Since you only have a limited amount of time, money, and attention to devote to marketing, wouldn’t it be better to spend it pointing your efforts directly toward the prospects most likely to become your clients?

Many professionals, especially those newer in business, fear that choosing a niche will limit them in some way, because it reduces the number of potential clients they might serve. But as a solo professional or small professional services firm, you don’t need millions of clients, or even tens of thousands. Over the course of a year, you might only need a few dozen, or even less. It would be rare indeed to select a niche that was so small it couldn’t yield enough clients with numbers as low as those.

Instead of limiting you, what choosing a niche does is focus you. Just like pointing a laser beam, it allows you to direct your marketing efforts exactly where they need to go.

To understand this better, imagine any specific marketing tactic you might employ, say, attending networking events. Without a defined market niche, how do you choose what events to go to? How do you even know where to look for events that clients might attend? What do you say to the people you meet at these events about who you serve and how you help them? How do you determine which people at an event you should spend time getting to know, or to follow up with afterward?

When you haven’t defined a niche, your chances of making the right marketing decisions are often little better than if you were throwing darts.

It sometimes seems as if you might be able to avoid making a decision about your niche by simply making your services “available” and not actively marketing at all. For example, you could rely on your website, directory listings, social networking profiles, ads, flyers, etc., to bring you business.

But even this sort of passive marketing requires a niche to be effective. When an executive woman surfs the web looking for a financial planner, will she choose one who serves everyone, or one who specializes in helping executive women? When a corporate buyer looks up copywriters in an industry directory, will he contact one who does all kinds of copywriting, or one who stresses experience in the buyer’s industry?

Choosing a market niche allows you to not only seek out prospective clients through personal outreach like networking, referral-building, and phone calls, it allows you to attract them through online visibility and other less personal means. This is because having a niche makes it possible to craft messages that speak directly to the wants and needs of your target clients. Without a niche, you can only make generic statements that will attract no one.

So don’t be fooled into thinking that the best way to get clients is to offer to serve anyone. Your prospective clients don’t think of themselves as “anyone.” They consider themselves to be unique individuals with very specific needs, and they want to be served by a professional who not only understands that, but is truly dedicated to helping people just like them.

Once you limit your marketing focus to a particular kind of client and/or a defined specialty, you may be pleasantly surprised by how much easier marketing becomes. You’ll find it easier to talk with people about your business, easier to write about it, and easier to decide where to go and what to do to market yourself. And you’ll probably also find that your marketing will begin to produce results with considerably less effort.

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