A few weeks ago, I was conducting an Insight Strategy Session with a client. She was concerned about whether she was offering the right services. Here’s a piece of the conversation:
Her: “I got a call from someone who was interested in working with me. But she was asking if I could offer something I really don’t do.”
Me: “How close is she to your ideal client?”
Her: “Well, she’s something of a fit. Not my ideal, but not far off.”
Me: “What percentage of the people who contact you are looking for the services you already offer?”
Her: “At least 80%”
Me: “So you want to restructure your offerings to accommodate the 20% who might be looking for something you don’t offer?”
Her: “Well, when you put it that way…”
Me: ” What’s really driving this for you?”
Her: “I want to be able to help her. I don’t want to say no to a paying client. What if she’s a good client?”
Me: “What I also hear is that you have some FOMO going on… Fear Of Missing Out.”
Introverts generally don’t suffer from FOMO. We can decline to attend the party or slip out before the end of the conference without feeling anxiety that we’re going to miss something fabulous and life-changing. We rarely worry that we’ll be left out of the conversation forever (rather than worry, we might actually be grateful!).
While we might not feel the distress of FOMO in social situations, we introvert
entrepreneurs can definitely feel it when it comes to identifying a niche for our businesses (and I’m guessing more than a few extroverted entrepreneurs experience it as well).
I’ve come to believe that FOMO – the fear of missing out – is at the root of niche resistance. When I see someone struggling in their business, either not attracting clients or attracting clients that aren’t the best fit, it almost always comes down to FOMO.
What does FOMO sound like?
“I don’t want to box myself in.”
“I want to be able to help everyone.”
“I’m afraid I’ll become bored.”
“I don’t want to be limited to just one type of client.”
“I’m interested in too many things to just focus on one.”
“I tried to focus on women/men/housewives/leaders/etc for a month, but it didn’t go anywhere.”
I understand each and every one of these statements. I have lived them all. In fact, I dubbed my experience with the final statement my “niche de jour” period.
And for some people, those statements are rooted in an undeniable truth: to narrow their focus to that which they most care about would involve sacrifice, most often financial.
For the rest of us, we’re letting FOMO rule our business decisions. It’s not the “Missing Out” part of FOMO that limits our potential. It’s the “Fear.” Decisions driven by fear are ultimately going to create the very stress and anxiety we’re trying to avoid.
Potential isn’t the only thing at stake for introverts; our energy is up for grabs, too. When we have to spend our resources trying to please everyone, or trying to be prepared for every variation, possibility, or opportunity that might cross our path, we’re setting ourselves up for a scattered, exhausted existence.
We get caught up in the “But, what if…” statements and believe that the best way to build a business is to say “yes” as much as possible.
In fact, I think that we have to create as many clear opportunities for someone to say “no” as we do “yes.”
How do you get to “no”? Two ways:
- Self-Selection: Make it so clear who you serve and what you offer, a prospect can tell almost right away if it’s not a good fit.
- Confusion: Make your offerings so generic, confusing, or all-inclusive that a prospect says “no” simply because it’s too much effort to figure out if there’s a fit.
While I don’t advise you opt for the Path of Confusion, I do strongly advocate for the Magic of Self-Selection.
What’s magical about it?
With focus comes freedom. Your voice can be stronger, more directed. Your specific, “I’m talking to YOU” message cuts through the noise. Your tribe emerges from the masses. You create resonance. Community. Conversation. No more energy wasted trying to make sure you cover all of your bases. You’ve picked a base, and you’re going to be the best at it that you can be. More people – not fewer – will want to work with you. You’ve removed the confusion that comes from too many choices, too many generalities.
Remember: a niche not only helps someone self-select out. It helps someone self-select in. And that makes the process of someone moving from prospect to client oh-so-much easier.
You want someone to read your blog, your site, your book, your social media posts, and feel a sense of “Yes! This person gets me!”
When I put my stake in the ground as The Introvert Entrepreneur in May 2010, I must confess: I was a bit reluctant. What if I only attracted introvert entrepreneurs as clients? I expressed that concern to my friend Lynn, who wisely answered,
So what, indeed! What happened is that yes, introvert entrepreneurs make up the majority of my coaching clients, which makes me happy. And, I work with leaders in corporate environments and extroverts in nonprofit organizations, which also makes me happy.
So if you’re worried about people self-selecting out based on your niche, know this: if people like you, your voice, your messaging, and your offerings, they will contact you, regardless of how narrowly you define your business. You’ll end up with a core customer or client base that’s attracted to your niche, and with an extended market that includes people who are attracted to you, your energy, and/or the way you do business.
Your niche might be defined by particular demographics, an industry, your message, or a particular program, methodology, or philosophy (for instance, Zappos differentiates through a fanatical emphasis on customer service). Sometimes, it might even be your personality and life experiences (Erika Lyremark immediately comes to mind), or the personality and life experiences of your clients. Establishing your niche is a place for creativity in your business, not restrictions.
And one more point if you’re still on the fence about claiming a niche: don’t expect to create one niche that encompasses all of your interests. When I was going through the process of niche identification, I was stuck on trying to find the one thing that would bring it ALL together.
Then my friend Lynn – again – asked me a life-changing question: “Are you expecting to find one niche that will fill all of your needs?” Ummm… YES! No wonder I was stuck. When I released that expectation, then eased the pressure on myself to find the “perfect” niche, I became open enough to see what would arrive. And about six months later, arrive it did! And it filled just enough of my needs that I was able to embrace it wholeheartedly.
Your niche – just like your business, spouse, partner, children, or best friend – is not going to satisfy all of your needs, or all of your curiosities. The key is knowing what your needs are, then creating opportunities to experience fulfillment through other areas in your life.
Of course, someone else is going to come along and identify a niche that you could have chosen instead, or that you could have included in your own. You might feel a twinge of niche regret; that’s when FOMO is likely to kick you in the gut the hardest. Let it go. Trust your choice. And if you pick a fabulous niche, others will copy it. So be it. See it as an affirmation that you chose wisely. Use it as an opportunity to further differentiate yourself. Look for opportunities to collaborate, or at least complement, rather than compete.
If what I’ve shared here isn’t enough to convince you, I’ll offer one more lesson learned: when I landed on my niche and trusted myself and my message, my business grew ten-fold over the next few years. Granted, the original benchmark was a pretty small number, but that’s not as important as the fact that narrowing my focus expanded my business. And I’ve seen this same thing happen with clients and colleagues, time and time again.
Robert Stephens, founder of Geek Squad, is credited with saying, “Advertising is the tax you pay for being unremarkable.” FOMO, energy drain, overwhelm, and stalled business growth are also taxes you pay for not clearly differentiating yourself from your peers. And that’s a pretty steep price to pay.
Now it’s your turn: what outcomes have you experienced from identifying a niche? If you want to have a niche but haven’t identified it, what’s getting in the way? And if you don’t want to create a niche, what approaches have you used to stand out from the crowd? Please share in the comments!
PS: It crosses my mind that for some introverts, a bigger fear than Missing Out is Standing Out (FOSO?!)… and that Standing Out can also be perceived as exhausting, and therefore something to be avoided. Watch for that perspective to be discussed in a future blog post.
Thank you for this beautifully distilled wisdom, Beth. I just finished writing a blog post, and I was worried that it be a little to “out there” for some of my readers. I so appreciate your reminder that as I narrow my focus, I’ll attract the right readers, and allow those who are not a good fit to drop away.
ShellyStokes Right on! That’s exactly it… the more we own our voice, the more resonance we’ll create with the people who will click with us the best. And isn’t that what we want more of? Resonance and connection? Now, to seek out your blog post… 😉
BethBuelow ShellyStokes You’ll have to wait until it is posted. It goes up Wednesday or Thursday, not sure which. 🙂
ShellyStokes Ah ha! Looking forward to it!
Morna McEver says
Shelly referred your post to me. A good reminder that we don’t have to be all things to all people. As we narrow our focus, we will attract the clients and customers that we need. Just as important, the ones who are not right for us will self-select out. This lets us work more efficiently, and, I believe feel more rewarded by what we do.
Julia Barnickle says
Oh yes – I’ve done the “niche du jour” in the past too! Now it seems
that I’m copying… but when I decided on my niche, I really didn’t
think there was anyone else out there, doing what I wanted to do. I’ve known
for ages that focusing on a specific niche is generally the way to get more clients –
but, like you, I couldn’t think of one niche that reflected all of my
interests. I’m happy with my choice now, though, because I’m convinced
my clientele will be involved in a variety of different activities – so
there will always be interesting stories to listen to!
@Julia Barnickle Julia, you’re so right! Within a niche, there are as many different stories as there are people, so there’s never – ever! – a dull moment. And even if our niche overlaps with others, it’s not copying; no one else has our voice, our perspective, our life experiences. It’s only copying if it’s not *our* truth. Thanks for commenting and sharing your experience.
@Morna McEver, nicely said. The rewards can be found in many areas, including a sense of satisfaction that our work is serving those who benefit from and appreciate it most. Thanks to ShellyStokes for referring you here – I hope you’ll be back!
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Oh yes, standing out, most definitely! I can relate to FOMO, but am also definitely scared of standing out at the moment as well, though could be to do with the unusually negative situation I’m dealing with at the moment. Thanks for this helpful article!