Succeeding In A Niche Market

When operating in the B2B services sector, it is useful to keep in mind that “Elegance is refusal,” advice that is attributed to the late style icon Diana Vreeland, who was Editor-in-Chief at Vogue Magazine from 1963 to 1971.  Perhaps some Freelance consultants haven’t realized this, but the question in the mind of the prospect  you’ve been talking to is, “Does this guy (or gal) have the know-how to understand my problem and the expertise to solve it?” You’ve got to admit, that’s a very good question and you won’t make many sales until you figure out how to demonstrate that you do.

Early in my Freelancing career, I made the rookie mistake of trying to be all things to all potential clients, because I desperately wanted to get my business rolling.  I wanted billable hours and a growing client list.  It took a little while to figure out that presenting myself as a jack-of-all-trades (who was apparently perceived as a master-of-none) was the wrong strategy and was not winning me enough business.  Attempting to spread myself thin was not the way to persuade clients that I had a depth of knowledge that they could trust.

Eventually I realized that trimming a couple of service options would amplify, rather than diminish, my perceived expertise and make it easier to present myself as a knowledgeable authority who can deliver the outcomes that clients need.

Another benefit of concentrating your expertise in a carefully selected group of services is that it’s much easier to develop and implement an effective marketing strategy.  Creating a compelling elevator pitch is much easier when your focus is narrow and deep, as is putting together marketing messages and devising promotional campaigns, choosing key words for SEO, identifying competitive advantages, communicating the value proposition and building a trusted brand.

Once you are profitably operating within your chosen niche and have earned the trust and respect of a few good clients and referral sources, it’s good business to think about expanding your footprint and entering a sub-niche market.  Your goal will be to discover a secondary line of business that’s a natural add-on to what you’re doing now.  Leverage the success and relationships that you’ve built in your primary niche market to open doors to a new product or service that a subset of your current clients would be willing to buy from you.  You’re looking to discover a specific need, challenge, or frustration that certain of your clients routinely face and will pay to resolve.

You will do some research.  Start by paying attention to your clients’ businesses and where your products and services fit into the realization of their mission-critical goals, or challenges they must solve.  Test the depth of demand for what you might offer in a sub-niche market by conducting a Google search.  If there are many articles written on the topic, that demonstrates good potential for making a profit.  Read a few articles and learn what those in the industry say about the topic—what worries them and what motivates them to buy products or services to address this need?

Search next for businesses that currently provide products or services that address that need or problem.  The presence of competitors is a good sign, as long as the market does not appear to be saturated.  If companies are doing business in that space, then there is money to be made.  Visit at least three or four websites and study the features and described benefits of products and services offered for sale in your proposed sub-niche.  Take special note of the selling points, how services are delivered, bundled, or priced.  Also read the blogs, newsletters and client testimonials.  View client lists—are any of these businesses selling to your clients?

Once you’ve decided to enter a sub-niche market, you must conduct a vigorous marketing campaign to announce your presence.  Consider it your big chance to launch an email marketing campaign.  You’ll only contact clients and others who already know you, so your emails will likely be read.  This is also a good time to offer discount pricing, so that early on you’ll get experience in delivering the product or service to your sub-niche, allowing you to obtain client feedback and perfect the process.

The launch campaign will also involve your newsletter, blog, white papers, or case studies, plus updates posted to LinkedIn and any other of your social media platforms and, as soon as you can schedule an appearance, a webinar or podcast.  In 12-18 months, you may gain enough traction in your sub-niche to be positioned to invite a happy client to give a testimonial, perhaps in the form of a case study, so that you can reinforce the value you bring to those with whom you work.  Good luck!

Happy 4th of July and thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Boston Cremes (1962), Wayne Thiebaud  (b. 1920)                                               Courtesy of The Crocker Art Museum   Sacramento, CA

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Add Value to Your LinkedIn Profile

Like so many of us, I gradually allowed myself to ignore LinkedIn.  I’m embarrassed to tell you that I logged in again last month, after a two-year hiatus.  I completely undervalued the free, widely used and beneficial resource that is LinkedIn.  It’s time to take another look.

Over the years I built up a solid profile, complete with endorsements, recommendations, a photo and even a SlideShare presentation and about once a year, I’d do an update and refresh.  After my inexcusably lengthy absence, I was happy to discover new profile enhancements that can showcase ambitious professionals and make us look very capable to both  connections and prospective clients or employers.

If you’re job hunting, or if you are self-employed and in constant search of project work, these features can be a real plus.  I think a visit to candidates’ profiles is a must-do for most hiring managers.  My profile strength is now at the All-Star level! Here are my upgrades:

  • LINK.  My favorite new feature is the website link that all professional experience listings now offer.  Click on the link; copy/paste the organization web address into the dialogue box; see the nice image that pops into the visuals box; click continue, then click add to profile and presto!  Your profile will now feature eye-catching images that entice interested parties to explore your affiliated organizations and the expertise that you contribute.  You can also link a photo, document, presentation, or a video and provide good  insight  into the organization and your role there.
  • SPOTLIGHT.  Above your profile photo and headline  job listing, notice the ticker tape of skills spotlight options that you can click on, fill in and add still more  information to showcase your expertise, professional activities and achievements.  I saw questions that  pertained to groups and acitivities that I participated in at school; articles that I might have recently published; and work samples or special projects that I’d like to add to my profile.
  • GROUPS.  Regular readers may recall that in October, I completed first round judging for an organization that presents awards to C- Suite level women in business (there are also mixed gender European, Asian/Pacific and American business awards that I do not judge). The organizers invited me to join the unlisted LinkedIn group for award judges and I was happy to do so.  I plan to follow discussions and find out what I can learn and contribute.  Remember to also join your college alumni group, which can be great resources professionally and personally.
  • UPDATES.  Regular readers may also recall that I recently performed editing, photo editing and self-publishing project management for a history book that was launched in September.  I finally posted that info in the update section on the home page and uploaded the book cover photo.

Other enhancements that may fit your situation might include:

  • HEADLINE. When you add a new employment listing, LinkedIn automatically makes the new job title your headline and for some, this may not be ideal.  Some of the traditionally employed might make a lateral move, temporarily upsetting the upward linear career slope.  Freelance consultants may take a part-time job that likewise enhances the overall skill set,  but may not be worthy of the branding headline.  Consider revising your headline, even if it will not precisely adhere to your official job title. Your mission is personal brand enhancement and LinkedIn, while often viewed by prospective employers, is not your official CV.  Furthermore, consider reordering your list of professional positions to give prominence to what you want to highlight.  In edit profile, click on the up and down arrows to the right of the job title and see a 4 prong icon.  Use that to drag and facilitate your job reorder.
  • URL. Rather than keeping the auto-generated LinkedIn profile URL, visit your profile page, click on edit profile, see the link directly below your photo and click again to set up a customized URL for your profile.
  • CREDENTIALS. On the profile page, click edit profile and beneath your photo and URL, see “add a section to your profile.” Below that, see “view more” and click there, to reveal an array of enhancements you can add to your profile, including certifications, patents, special projects and your professional publications.
  • RESPOND.  When connections celebrate a success— work anniversary, post a good update, move to a new job, or publish a blog post that you find interesting—send a LinkedIn email to comment and congratualte.
  • PURGE. Delete connections that no longer make sense, or those who ignore your questions or other outreach.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Those Who Can, Teach

What’s a proven way for Freelance consulting service providers to demonstrate expertise, distinguish yourself from the many “me, too” competitors; position yourself as a thought leader; and work against being perceived as a commodity? Teaching! The old proverb, “Those who can, do and those who can’t, teach” doesn’t hold up in the 21st century marketplace.

Teaching is the smartest-ever marketing activity.  You get paid to do it, so along with being an effective marketing activity, teaching simultaneously benefits your cash-flow.  If that’s not enough, through teaching you will become a better speaker and better able to promote yourself as a keynote or a panel moderator.  In horse racing, they call that a trifecta!

First, let’s consider what you might teach.  Ideally,  you’ll teach a subject related to your business.  Artists since Michelangelo (at least) have taught art classes.  Authors of best-selling books are usually able to join a university faculty, where they earn steady money teaching creative writing classes.  Prize-winning journalists often teach journalism at colleges and universities, which is a superb addition to their CV.

In 2006,  I created five 90 minute sales skills workshops that I presented at an adult learning center (the nation’s oldest adult learning center, BTW) and two years after that, based on my teaching experience and curriculum development skills,  I was invited to teach an 18 week business plan writing course at a Small Business Association-affiliated women’s business development center.

When that assignment ended two years later, I developed a six-hour business plan writing workshop that I continue to present two or three times a year at the adult learning center where my teaching career began.  I’ve also developed a 90 minute networking skills workshop and a six-hour strategic planning how-to workshop that are occasionally presented.

Second, you may need to acquire or improve your teaching skills.  My recommendation is that you learn both curriculum development and gain or improve your teaching skills by writing a proposal to teach some aspect of your professional expertise at an adult learning center, library, or some other organization that offers workshops to the public for free or at a modest cost.  The proposals I’ve written for workshops became my lesson plans.

Third, identify a place to teach.  As noted, adult learning centers and libraries are good possibilities.  Explore the requirements of teaching and peruse the types of courses that are scheduled.  Read the instructor bios—I’ll bet most are Freelancers.  If you’ve earned a master’s degree and you have a minimum of five years of teaching experience, you may be able to teach at a local university.  Adjunct (that is, part-time, non-tenure track) teaching is great if you can get it,  but the market has become quite competitive.  I’ve taught a couple of semesters at a special seminar series, but I’ve been unable to secure any more adjunct work in the past five years, I’m sorry to say.

Once you’ve developed a workshop and learned how to successfully present it,  consider taking it online in a YouTube video.  E-learning is a growing field and becoming proficient in presenting an online course is to your benefit.  Schools are transferring ever more courses to an online format and if you have the know-how, you will be a more attractive candidate for those disappearing adjunct opportunities.

Web developers are able to teach students how to build a website.  Freelance bookkeepers can teach other Freelancers how to use Quickbooks.  Marketers can teach the basics of social media marketing.  Landscape artists can teach homeowners how to choose shrubbery and flowering plants for their yards,  or how to create and maintain a window box filled with lovely plants.  Developing proficiency in the ancient and noble art of teaching delivers numerous tangible and intangible benefits to Freelancers and their students.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

 

 

What Do You Know? Knowledge Mapping and Management

Have you taken stock lately of what you know and the potential value that your knowledge can bring to clients? Those of us who work in the Knowledge Economy are advised to periodically examine, catalogue, package and communicate to prospects, clients and referral sources the types of knowledge that we provide and the value of that knowledge, that is, the benefits that would be received by clients who pay to receive the knowledge.

Martin Ihrig, Associate Professor and Director of the Strategic and Entrepreneurial Management of Knowledge Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and Ian MacMillan, Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Wharton School, encourage Knowledge Workers to take an accounting of the full spectrum of their strategic knowledge assets: core competencies, talents, intellectual property, areas of expertise and deep experience. In order to effectively present ourselves to prospective clients, we must first understand and communicate what we offer to them and why it matters.

Step 1 is to list your strategic knowledge assets and group them according to categories. For example, if selling is the basis of your consulting practice, then your categories of core competencies, expertise and experience would likely include sales skills training, management of sales teams, sales distribution expertise, developing and nurturing client relationships, the success of new product launches, both individually and of sales teams that you’ve led, etc.

Think also in terms of your structured and unstructured knowledge. Structured knowledge that you possess would include your educational degrees and certificates; specific job experience; quantified intellectual property; technical proficiencies (maybe you speak another language, or are fluent in a certain relevant computer software); or specific methodologies used to provide services. Unstructured knowledge usually centers around your experience and expertise. Unstructured knowledge would, for example, include the deep experience you possess that allows you to accurately and relatively quickly grasp the big-picture as well as the nuances of challenges and opportunities that clients typically hire you to address.

Step 2 encompasses the primary goal that Ihrig and MacMillan assign to cataloguing and categorizing your knowledge asset categories, which is to enable you to visualize and consider them fully and position your consultancy for maximum profitability and sustainable growth. How can you advantageously leverage what you know? Are your categories primarily stand-alones, or might you combine them in ways that make you better able to meet the emerging needs of current and prospective clients? In Step 3, examine the business model for each of your high-level categories and the organizational systems and practices that you currently follow to efficiently enable their delivery.

If you love geometry, in Step 4 you can map your structured assets along the x-axis and unstructured along the y-axis (or the reverse, if you like). Simple list-making works, too. As stated above, you may discover ways to combine competencies, structured or unstructured, that will add to the services that you provide, or you may reconsider a seldom used structured or unstructured competency and realize that it may now be marketable.

Once you’ve listed your mission-critical knowledge assets, the challenge is to decide how best to package, message and promote them. If you carefully map and manage your knowledge portfolio, you may discover lucrative competitive advantages that otherwise may not reveal themselves to you.

Thanks for reading,

Kim