How to Determine Your Niche and Grow Your Business

When you’re starting a business, don’t target everyone. When you do this, you’re essentially targeting no one.

The importance of having a very clear niche is one of the key points that stands out from my training at the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (IPEC). Of course, defining a niche is easier said than done. In fact, it can be one of a business owner’s biggest challenges. Over the past few years, my niche has evolved. Even though IPEC’s warning — that by targeting everyone, you’re targeting no one — kept rattling around in my head as I launched my business, determining my ultimate ideal client didn’t happen right away.  

When I launched my coaching website, I had zero clue who I wanted to work with.

Okay, not exactly zero, but I truly wasn’t sure who would most benefit from my services and who I would enjoy working with most. I have a vivid memory of sitting in a restaurant with my dad telling him I wanted to work with clients who had immune deficiencies like mine. I could relate so strongly to these people and it felt important to me to target a demographic that wasn’t already saturated.

But I quickly realized that working exclusively with these clients would require me to learn a lot more about the medical world, and it also wouldn’t align with the experience I had envisioned for myself. At the time, I had enough health challenges of my own to manage, and I knew I wasn’t in the right place to take on responsibility for helping clients shift their attitudes and own their health hurdles. I felt exhausted just thinking about it. So even though I felt an affinity towards these potential clients, and they resembled me in a lot of ways, they still weren’t my niche.  

While I knew what I didn’t want, I still hadn’t identified exactly what I did want in a client. But I charged ahead, and spent the summer of 2014 working with Optimistico to develop my logo, branding, and website. I also worked with my close friend and brilliant copywriter, Maeve, to create my website copy and then revise it numerous times. I was still finessing my exact offerings and model, but at some point, I realized I needed to get my website up and running. I could always change it later.

 A colleague of mine from IPEC spent almost a year trying to determine her niche. She paid for courses and spent days upon days drafting up her avatar. While I am completely on board with the concepts of brainstorming and strategizing until you have something perfect, I knew that my approach needed to be more hands-on. I needed to get out there and start working with people to figure out who MY people were. What types of clients were drawn to me based on my website and experience? And of these people, what types of clients did I enjoy working with most? 

So, I began as a Lifestyle Management Coach.

I sent an email blast out to my friends, family, past employers and coworkers, informing them of my new business and website launch. After all the planning and website tweaking, it was thrilling to finally be diving in. When I announced my launch, I also offered free coaching sessions, which I expected everyone to jump on. It didn’t happen that easily. In the beginning, I was willing to take on any client interested in working with me.

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After a few months, something shifted and I didn’t feel like the word “management” in my title was coming across in the way I intended. Let’s be honest, I don’t know how I came up with that title but suddenly it wasn’t working for me.

I decided to change my business title from “Lifestyle Management Coach” to “Lifestyle and Career Coach,” because many of my clients were coming to me to discuss their careers in addition to life-related coaching.

I quickly found that because of my own story and career journey, I was attracting clients who were going through career transitions. They had read my bio, checked out my testimonials, and recognized that I had been through it all and could speak to their experience based on my own. I started working with lots of clients who were looking to change jobs and industries. Some came to me knowing they wanted out of their current job or situation but having no idea where to go, while others had a sense of their desired industry or role, but didn’t know how to get there. Some clients wanted support updating their resume and cover letters.

There came a point when I had a combination of two different types of clients: those going through career transitions within the traditional job industry, and those who were small business owners or people who were in the process of becoming small business owners.

I decided it was time to change my title to Business and Career Transition Coach.  

Over the past few months, I’ve realized that I completely light up and thrive while working with people who are currently working full-time jobs (and sometimes have side-hustles) yet want to go full-time with their own business. I love working with clients who want to live, work and earn on their own terms. And as a small business owner myself, I relate to them. I knew from the beginning, from that conversation with my dad, that I wanted to work with clients I connected with; I just hadn’t yet known what that point of connection would be.  

In the past several years, I’ve been fortunate to have a constant flow of clients, many of whom have come to me via referrals from friends, social media (Thank you Dreamers//Doers!), and networking. Given my diverse client base and their varied needs, I’ve also been lucky to have the opportunity to collaborate with other coaches with expertise that could benefit my clients. Take Hana Ayoub, who offered the Myers-Briggs assessment to my clients who felt lost and wanted a foundation for our work together, and Jaime Petkanics of The Prepary, who provided interview prep sessions to clients. The people I’ve worked with have come from all different backgrounds and walks of life, and it’s been inspiring to work with them and see them make big and empowering changes. It’s also nice to feel as though I have coworkers — as entrepreneurship can sometimes be isolating.

And as luck would have it, in my work with my clients, I discovered who my ideal client is. I was always most excited to secure a new client who was a business owner or soon-to-be business owner. My niche had found me. And so, here we are: It’s July 2017, just under three years after I started working on my website, and I just ordered new business cards and updated my website copy (thanks to Ronlee Ben-Gal and Krista Gray)

My new title, which reflects my desire to focus on working with new and emerging business owners, is “Business Coach and Consultant.” 

It took two-and-a-half years of owning my business to come to the conclusion that I was most inspired and the best version of myself (a saying that was all over the first version of my website) when supporting entrepreneurs, consultants, and freelancers.

I love working with new and soon-to-be business owners because I love seeing clients create lifestyles with the freedom and flexibility they want, all while building and maintaining successful businesses. My clients are people who like working independently, yet take opportunities to collaborate with others. While their intention is to keep the size of the business small, they may hire an assistant or consultant to support them as their business becomes successful. When clients find me, some have already taken on a few clients or customers of their own, but they need help with monetizing their business, outsourcing, messaging, managing their time, and more. If they are running their business on the side aka side-hustle, we also tackle the conversation about how and when to quit their job. All of my clients are between 0-5 years in their businesses, and their fields vary widely, from professionals in the health and wellness space (coaches, yoga instructors, trainers and doctors), to bloggers and writers, to interior designers and home organizers, media professionals and more.

So, I’ve found my niche. While my way of finding my ideal client profile required me to get out into the world, others may have a completely different approach. I needed to talk to people, work with clients, and see which clients were a good fit for me and which I was a good fit for. I knew I would figure it out eventually, whether it took a few months or a few years.  

If you’re in the midst of defining the niche for your own business, here’s my best advice:

  • You can approach the process any way that works for you. Take a course, talk to a mentor, or get out there and see who resonates with your message. There’s no wrong way to go about it.
     
  • Take notes. If you currently have clients, write down notes, or mentally take note of the conversations or tasks that have made you the happiest. Many times, when you feel the most inspired and effective, both you and the client are reaping the most benefits.
     
  • Remember, websites and business cards can always be changed. Don’t let yourself get stuck because you feel like you can’t change once things are written down. You can. It’s website copy, not stone! 
     
  • Cultivate a network of professionals in your field. These contacts can refer clients to you, and you to them. If a client is a good fit for you, they may be a perfect fit for a colleague of yours.