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Finding your niche in 7 steps

by Brian Brown (follow me on Twitter): April 14, 2008

Nicche_2 What does your business do that no other business on the planet does? What distinguishes your customers from everyone who isn't your customer? Knowing the answers to these questions will greatly improve your marketing strategies, making your advertising more effective, less expensive, and far easier to produce.

So without further delay, lets find your niche...

Step 1
What does your business do? We have to start with the number one basic thing about your business. What does it get paid money for? If there is more than one thing, what is the main thing it gets paid to do (see the article on the 80/20 rule later this week to see why this is important)? Be very specific. "We sell hand-carved chess pieces made from a variety of woods that the customer selects."

Step 2
Who are your customers? Again, be very specific. Many of you won't really know who your customers are. You may have a store or office, and meet most of your clientele face-to-face, but what do you really know about them? It's time to find out.

The reason big companies conduct customer surveys with the Gallup Poll that cost tens of thousands of dollars (I know because I used to work there), is because the data they discover tells them exactly who their customers are and why these people have chosen their company to do business with.

"My customers are 30-50 years old with household incomes between $80k and $120k, they typically have college degrees, and are most like the 'Achiever' segment of the VALS psychographic chart."

Step 3
Who is your competition? Ideally, you will have no competition. That's one of the definitions of being in a niche, you are the only company filling a very particular need. However, lets be realistic. You have competitors that are offering the same products or services to (what you think) is the same audience.

More competition is not necessarily a bad thing. If there are a lot of companies selling similar products, it may very well mean that there is a huge market for that product. On the other hand, if no one else is selling what you are, perhaps it's because no one wants what you're selling.

Naturally, you would like to be the only company selling something that a huge amount of people want. On the internet, a huge amount of people does not mean everyone. When you market to everyone, no one wants your product. When you are able to send a meaningful message to someone who is actually interested in what you have to offer, you have a powerful marketing strategy.

"My competition consists of major retailing web sites selling hand-made chess sets, but no individual artisans."

Step 4
Differentiate. What sets you apart? You must answer this question: why should someone buy from you and not your competitor? Most business owners can not answer this question, or if they do, they say the same old crap like, "better prices," "better service," "faster," or "higher quality." Guess what? Those answers don't fly. They are the same garbage every single customer hears from every single business they come into contact with. Furthermore, they probably aren't true! How could everyone say these things and all of them be true?

Instead, either figure out what sets your company apart, or start doing something that sets it apart. Jay Abraham, one of the most successful marketers on the planet, calls the thing that makes your company different your "Unique Selling Proposition." It sums up in one sentence the thing that makes your company stand apart from all the competition you have. When customers know the exact reason they should choose you, it sets you way apart from all the others who aren't offering any particular reason for that customer to choose them.

"We are the only place to get one-of-a-kind hand-carved chess pieces directly from the artisan."

Step 5
Now that you know what makes your company different, is there a market for it?

It's time to do a little legwork and see what the chances of your company succeeding are. Start off by searching for your product on Google. 'Hand carved chess pieces' produces 625,000 results. Yikes! The good news is that there are a lot of sites, so that probably means there is a lot of interest for the keywords we searched for.

Next, we might try Wordtracker. This service estimates how many times a search term is hunted for each month. Keyword Discovery offers a similar service. These websites not only estimate how many searches people do in a month, they give you an idea of how many people are competing specifically for the keywords you want to focus on.

My first venture into the world of internet marketing was writing an instruction guide for a video game. I decided to publish it myself and market the guide online. My first attempt drew absolutely no sales. After doing some research, I targetted a website for the specific phrase 'America's Army strategy.' Within a couple of months, my site was the #1 search result on all the major search engines pulling in over 100 visitors a day from search alone. Although the traffic wasn't huge, it was highly targetted to my product and sales took off. Using the keyword tools from Wordtracker, I was also able to target phrases such as 'America's Army walkthrough,' 'America's Army hints,' etc. Before I spent hours building a web page for these terms, I already knew they were getting searched for, and I knew no one else was targetting these keywords.

Another great tool that helps find keywords is Google Adwords. If you suggest a keyword phrase, Adwords will find synonyms for you and give you an idea of how popular they are, and how many people are paying to have advertisements appear for those keywords.

Finally, another great weapon to determine your market is to visit forums that have something to do with your industry. If I can return to my video game guide, before I wrote a guide I visited numerous forums looking for help to play the game better. While there were tons of discussion about the game, no one was actually writing any specific strategies to beat the game. This was the reason I wrote the guide to begin with. I was so frustrated not being able to find help, that I knew tons of others must be feeling the same thing.

Before you settle on a product, read the forums and see if you notice a need that's not being met. It may be a golden opportunity waiting for just the right business owner to pounce on.

Step 6
Fill that market! Now that you know there is a market for your product, fill it. You must reach those people who actually want to buy your product.

Online, the holy grail of marketing is getting ranked highly in search engines, partiularly Google. If your product or service truly has a niche following, there will be little competition standing in your way for good search engine rankings.

Having a blog is one of the best search engine tools on the internet. Search engines love websites with lots of content that are updated constantly, and that perfectly describes a good blog. Going beyond that, there are all kinds of techniques that may be used to make your website friendlier to search engines. There is an entire industry devoted to helping people do just that called SEO or search engine optimization. You could hire a company to help you with SEO, or research ways to boost your site's rankings on your own. I highly recommend Aaron Wall's SEO Book because he constantly updates it to keep pace with new programs the search engines are using.

In addition to SEO, another way to get your name in front of your customers is through SMO, or social media optimization. SMO covers 'social networks' like Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn. On these sites, you create 'friends' based on similar interests. For example, there may be a group called 'chess players' on Facebook, and that would be a great group to join if you made chess pieces. Or you might load photos of your chess pieces to Flickr and join groups about chess, while tagging all of your photos with keywords that would be found by people searching for chess pieces.

Step 7
Don't lose your customers!
After you finally get in front of your customers and they visit your website, don't lose them. Way too many websites allow their readers to visit once, and then never hear from them again. Use a simple program to keep your customers coming back over and over. If they bought once, they are astronomically more likely to buy from you again compared to a random person off the street.

The two tools you should make use of are RSS feeds and a newsletter. RSS feeds are automatically created by blogs and allow people who are interested in your writing to read your posts in their blog reader. It may sound bad that they aren't coming to your site to read a post, but it's actually a good thing. See my tutorial on RSS readers to discover how they work and why they're good.

The other tools is a newsletter. A newsletter is where you collect the email address of a reader and send them something of interest to their email every once in a while. This can be a powerful marketing tool as it can be fully automated and designed to lead a reader to a sale over a long, no-pressure, period of time. The service I use for newsletters is called AWeber and it helped grow a list of over 40,000 readers for my strategy guide a few years ago.

The point is that once you've dragged your customer to your site, hook them in so they return.

I hope you've enjoyed this first part of our Niche Market Week. In the next article, we'll take a look at the 80/20 rule.

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