The majority of marketers, writers, and entrepreneurs eventually find themselves working in a niche.
This isn’t because they’re good at only one thing, but because it’s very difficult (although not impossible) to jump between working in very diverse spaces and develop any sort of authority or reputation.
While there’s a lot to be said for having many different strings to your bow, it’s generally accepted that clients and customers want to deal with someone who’s an expert in their field.
Unfortunately, there’s a downside to this situation.
After prolonged periods working in a particular niche, even if you’re working with a range of different clients, it starts feeling like things are getting stale. Like you’re trapped.
I know this because it happened to me. I’ve been a professional copywriter for many years, and I organically gravitated towards writing about small business, startups, and technology.
Those three subjects are very dear to my heart but, every now and then, it starts to feel as if I’ve written everything there is to write about them.
If you’ve ever felt that way about your business here are some tips to help you bust out of that rut.
ABC (Always Be Consuming)
One of the best ways to get a fresh perspective on a particular subject is to read someone else’s take on it.
Or, better yet, several different people’s takes on it. You’ll find that, as you read different styles, you’ll see what resonates and start to find your own voice.
Admittedly, the studies referenced above refer to reading fiction, but I have little doubt that the same is true of non-fiction as well.
The cartoon bear (or whatever he was supposed to be…) Arthur once sang that “having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card.” By the same token, finding inspiration isn’t hard when you’ve got some interesting blogs to read.
Business A wants to blog about their industry, but they don’t really know what they should be writing about. They notice a popular article written by one of their competitors criticizing a marketing technique that Business A has had huge success with.
Right off the bat, they have a topic to write about that other businesses will be genuinely interested in: “How we doubled our traffic using [this technique].”
The information in their competitor’s article prompts a strong reaction from Business A and helps them lay out actionable tips that will be hugely valuable to readers. Let’s just hope their competitor doesn’t see it…
Try Another Point of View
I’m not suggesting you give up the views you’ve held for years. That is a very bad idea, for two reasons:
- It’s difficult to show any sincerity if you don’t really believe in what you’re working on.
- You risk alienating clients/customers who gravitated to you because of the views you hold dear.
However, there’s still some mileage in coming at things from a different angle than you usually do.
Let’s say you’ve always been an advocate of using social media for business.
Writing an article on some of the dangers of social media—Amy’s Baking Company anyone?—could be an interesting way to see the other side of the coin.
Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is hugely valuable in business.
Getting out of your comfort zone, in this case by challenging views you’ve held for a long time, is an excellent way to practice that.
Business B has a huge volume of traffic but their sales are comparatively low. They look more closely at their funnel and find that, although thousands of people reach the checkout process on their website, very few actually complete the process.
Business B needs to identify what their issues might be—expensive shipping, unclear directions etc.—and to do so, they need to step away from the idea that they’re the best around and look at the process through their customers’ eyes.
In this scenario, being critical of the beliefs they held when they first created their site and its checkout process will give them the ammunition they need to test and improve it.
Move Horizontally, Not Vertically
Many business owners feel that they should always be moving vertically, i.e. every new client they secure should be “bigger” than their last. And that’s a perfectly valid, albeit pretty high pressure, way to do business.
But, it can definitely result in feeling trapped in a certain space.You don't always have to go up. Sometimes sideways is just as good (if not better). Click To Tweet
When this is the case, it may be time to start thinking about making lateral business moves. By this I mean that you work with a client or customer whose project relates to your niche but doesn’t directly fit into it.
After spending several years writing primarily about technology, I felt like I needed a change. I had experience in other areas, but believed I lacked the depth of knowledge to approach many of the potential clients I had my eye on.
My next client ended up being Fitocracy, an app that gamifies working out in the gym.
While there was definitely a technology aspect to the work, I was also able to write about health/fitness—another passion of mine—for the first time. Since then I’ve been able to use that experience to pitch to other health and fitness clients.
Work on a Side Project/Hustle
Trying something new doesn’t have to mean putting whatever it is that you’ve been working on to one side. Lots of businesses, particularly freelance businesses, start off as side projects that grow into something bigger.
But sometimes a side project doesn’t have to be anything more than a side project; they can also serve as a test of a skill you’ve been learning.
For example, if you’ve been learning to code, you could try to build a website from scratch.
As well as learning a ton, which might end up being useful in your day-to-day work, you’ll get your mind off what’s been troubling you about your niche and find a new thing to focus on for a while.
Business C has a successful product with thousands of users and good customer retention. However, they feel like their growth is slowing down, and they’re not sure what to do next in terms of adding features.
They hold an informal hackathon and come up with a side project that their customer base responds very favorably to. They decide to incorporate it into their main app.
Side projects have a fun, informal aspect that encourages outside of the box thinking. If nothing comes of them it’s not big deal, but they often open doors to new ways of looking at problems or refreshing the mind.
Find Another Niche!
Tried the above and still feel like you’re in a rut? Adding a second or third niche to your business can be a great way to bust out of it. You may even end up finding this new direction becomes more profitable than your original one.
And history is full of these notable pivots: Starbucks started off selling coffee beans and espresso makers. Flickr began life as an RPG. YouTube started as a dating site. And Facebook was the result of… well, we’ve all seen The Social Network, right?
Pivoting is scary. But, provided your moves are based on solid research and not just a crazy hunch that came to you in the shower, pivoting is often a risk worth taking.
If not, there’s rarely any harm in simply coming back to your original niche. The time away may help you see things with fresh eyes.
And you’ll probably be very glad it’s there if your attempt to diversify was unsuccessful.
Carol Tice has written a great article about how she found her first niche, but also how she was able to develop expertise on several other niches without having to give up on any of the others.
I talk above about pivoting, but there’s no reason why you can’t have more than one niche. Double (or triple, or even more!) the number of niches might be just what you need to prevent things from feeling stale.
Some business owners and freelancers go through their whole career focusing on a very specific niche and never think twice about it.
But, in an age of “designer/developer/copywriter/adventurer,” others start to get restless as soon as they feel confined to a certain space.
There’s no right or wrong approach to niches, but it’s important to remember there are things you can do if you start to feel trapped by your own experience. And it doesn’t always have to be anything as drastic as the above tips…
Sometimes all you need to make you feel refreshed and eager to get back to what you feel comfortable doing is a few days vacation!
How about you? Feeling a bit trapped or like things have gone stale? Or are you perfectly happy in your niche and couldn’t imagine ever being bored by it? Comment below!