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Finding Your Niche

I have one question for you: Are you everybody’s everything, always?

Do you go beyond product diversification to offer everything anybody could ever need in your shop—even things you don’t like that don’t sell? Do you let your customers dictate what they need and how they’re going to get it—even when it’ll cost you too much time, money, or stress?

Finding Your Niche

Say No to Improve Your Business and Life

By Pamela Deats, Custom Built Awards

I have one question for you: Are you everybody’s everything, always?

Do you go beyond product diversification to offer everything anybody could ever need in your shop—even things you don’t like that don’t sell? Do you let your customers dictate what they need and how they’re going to get it—even when it’ll cost you too much time, money, or stress?

Think about it. When a customer needs to approve artwork but doesn’t do it until 5 pm the day before your order is due, what do you do?

Chances are good that you just say yes. And although saying yes is a good thing, I’m here to tell you that sometimes it’s the things that you decide to say no to that make you and your business better.

You may be asking, “How could saying no actually improve my shop?” Determining which products to forgo so you can concentrate on the ones that sell can help you focus your efforts; target your customer base; create even better products; and, ultimately, develop a prosperous, positive working environment that you can’t wait to get to every day. That’s what happens when you find your niche.

Sizing Up Your Sales

But where do you begin? Whether you’ve been in business for 1 year or 100 years, the first step is to explore your work style, personal preferences, current customer base, and capabilities.

I like to do this using a simple exercise, which I’ll demonstrate here. When I speak on this subject, I like to give my audience some premade worksheets that they can fill out and encourage them to save their answers in their purse or pocket for later. I recommend that you write down your own answers. Trust me, you’ll want to look at this sheet again.

First, let’s explore your customer base.

Ask yourself:

  1. Who is your largest customer or largest customer base?
  2. Who is a middle of the road customer or customer base for you? What customers make up a middling portion of your business?
  3. Who or what is your smallest customer or customer base?

To know what customers you want, it’s important to explore what customers you already have. Do you primarily cater to local sports teams or schools? Are corporate clients the bulk of your business? Is there an audience that makes up a very small portion of your business, but who makes your heart happy with every order? Or one you’re catering to constantly, but that leaves you feeling drained?

And, most importantly, are all of these the customers you actually want?

I once had a wonderful conversation with a woman who told me that by cutting her client base, she actually improved her business. This woman and her husband were making millions of dollars a year in revenue—but they were miserable. They were working too hard, for too long, and it was affecting their lives well outside of work.

So what did they do? They went through their Rolodex and identified the customers they simply did not want to work with anymore. Slowly but surely, they cut names from their contact list until about two-thirds of their business was in the trash pile.

Does that sound crazy to you? It did to me, too, until she told me the rest: Now, many years later—after targeting their operations to the products and customers they loved—they’re back up to earning similarly high revenues, but now they wake up every morning excited about their work. Now, this doesn’t mean you should eliminate the bulk of your business—but it does show that doing some strategic cutting can have serious benefits.

Labor of Love

Now that you have a handle on your customer base, let’s explore what you do for them. Everyone has certain tasks that they love and a few that they loathe.

Sure, there are some tasks that you’ll always have to do. I don’t know many people who love cleaning their shop, but it’s a necessary evil in our business. But there are some things you don’t have to do.

Ask yourself:

  1. What product do you enjoy making the most? What product gets you up in the morning to go to work?
  2. What product is something you just do? What product do you not really mind working on, but you could really take it or leave it?
  3. What product do you absolutely hate? What products do you dread having to work on?

I will tell you, one thing I dislike doing is perpetual plaques. And everyone in my shop knows, when it comes to handling those teeny tiny screws we so often have to work with, they’re better off asking somebody else. I don’t like doing that task, so I let go and ask others do it for me.

So what tasks do you find yourself dreading—and how much of your working time is spent on those tasks?

Let’s look at your answers to see how each of your boxes are matching up: Is your largest customer your box four, the product you most love? Your box five? Or, even worse, your box six? Do you have an established customer base, whether it’s your largest or your smallest, that needs products you absolutely love to make?

Although this exercise may seem simple, I’m willing to bet that before now, many of you hadn’t evaluated your client base from the perspective of building more of business around what you’d like to do.

But now that you have an idea of what products you love and what you’ll need to do with your current client base to ensure you can sell those products to them, you’re one step closer to finding a niche. The next step? Learning a few more tricks to help you say no more strategically and get more satisfaction out of every time you do say yes.

Pamela Deats has shared her insights as a speaker at the International Awards & Personalization Expo. Custom Built Awards specializes in trophies, plaques, name badges, ribbons & medallions, and gifts for businesses, schools, organizations, sports leagues/teams, and churches. Based in Humble, TX, the shop custom builds every award to the customer’s order.

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