Welcome to the Marketing in the Wild Podcast. I’m Julia from Stratos Creative Marketing, where we are obsessed with finding real-life, in-the-wild stories about business and marketing. 

Julia: Everybody, thanks for joining us. I’m excited to introduce you to Todd, who I met through the StoryBrand Business Made Simple coaching guide community. But I’m gonna let him introduce himself. Todd, tell us about you and your work.

Todd: Thanks, Julia. In all the work I’ve done so far, I’ve really been interested in the power of being unique. I’ve got about 20 years in product creation and strategy, but I’ve also worked on side businesses. What I realized is that in everything I did, I either succeeded or failed based on whether or not I was unique. And it was a consistent theme that kept showing up. And so I started grabbing a hold of that. I think a lot of people grab onto the idea of being better. They get into an industry and they say, I’m gonna see what other people don’t do well, and I’m going to improve upon that. I’m gonna make quality my thing. And I’m all for quality. But I got very interested in the idea of if I can do something that no one else is doing, and I can be unique, and it falls in the skillset that I have, then I can really emphasize that and be successful in what I’m doing. Another way to say all of this is, I was trying to find my niche in whatever business I was in. And a lot of people are trying to figure that out. They’re trying to find their niche. And I thought, that is a problem that I can solve. I have gone down this road so many times, I could actually figure out a way to help someone find their niche. And so that’s what I did. And now I’ve created a business, and the first thing I do is I help people figure out what their niche is so they can be unique and then grow their business around that identity.

Julia: Sweet. I know you said you were in product development, how did you enter into actual entrepreneurship?

Todd: Honestly, I was bored with corporate work. I enjoy the creativity that comes with entrepreneurship, and I think that it’s that idea of creating something that’s unique and new. I think that to be successful as an entrepreneur, you have to be ambitious, you have to have some luck. Those things are definitely part of it. But I think the biggest factor is you have to be creative. And that’s fun for me. And I wanted to get involved in creating something that was totally new. And so, entrepreneurship was kind of my only option once I came to that conclusion.

Julia: That’s awesome! I’m gonna be honest with you, Todd, part of the reason I am excited to have you on here is because I, for whatever reason, have an aversion to finding a niche. And so I’m so excited because I’m hoping that by the end of this recording, I will be swayed. Do you find that people have an aversion to that? Or are people excited? When people come to work with you and you’re like, let’s find your niche, are they just ready for it? What do you face when you’re working with people?

Todd: The people I work with are excited at the idea that they have a niche. That is extremely inspiring to realize that you can do something really, really well, that a group of people will say, “I’m gonna walk past all the competition and pick Julia, because she’s amazing at this thing. And so they’re very excited. Sometimes they don’t believe it coming into it. They have to go through the process and find their niche, but it is there. And once they find it, they’re excited about it. Let me ask you, you say you have an aversion to finding your niche, what’s going on inside of you that makes you go, I don’t want to push back against that?

Julia: This is why I brought you on here, because I’m like, well, maybe I’ll get some free therapy. 

Todd: Okay, let’s do it! 

Julia: Full disclosure, everybody should know this. On the Enneagram, I am a seven, and so I get bored easily, and I am always wanting to do new things, which is why I love entrepreneurship. So I think to me, the concept of a niche feels stifling. So that’s like what has always been my problem. I’d be curious to hear from you, I’ve heard people talk about nitching in products and then also niching in audience. Do you direct people to one or the other or both? How does that work?

Todd: You have to ultimately find who your niche market is. That is part of the equation. But I don’t start there. I have a five-part framework, and I’ll hit on it real quick. The first part is I start with someone’s unique abilities. You should definitely invest in something where you can be a specialist. Things that come natural to you, experiences you can leverage. So that’s the first part. The second is we take a look at what I call the customer’s journey. The customer’s journey is the larger story, that the customer’s trying to accomplish something larger. And when you understand their story, their journey, you can find lots of opportunities to benefit them. A lot of people just focus on the transaction, but they forget there’s things before the transaction that the customer’s going through, and then there’s things after the transaction, the customer’s dealing with. And when you back up and you see the larger picture, you find lots of opportunities that others don’t pay attention to. The third one is competition. We actually do a competitive analysis so you know exactly where you stand along with everybody else. And you wanna be about arm’s length from everybody, so it’s easy for customers to distinguish you from them.

Julia: And that helps develop what’s unique about you then too.

Todd: Exactly. I bring people down to this one liner when it comes to competition; whereas they blank, I blank. And you should be able to fill in that sentence for your top five competitors. If you can, there’s so much you can do. I mean, for example, on a sales call, let’s say you and I potentially were competitors. And I asked whoever I was talking to, who else are you talking to? And they say, “Oh, I’m talking to Julia.” I would say, “Okay, Julia’s fantastic. I know her work. She’s fantastic. Just so you know, whereas she does this, I do this.” And you immediately establish yourself as an industry expert, but you’ve also made it easier for the customer to say, “Well, thank you. That’s what I needed. Now I know how to pick one of you over the other.”

Julia: Right! Without degrading the other person. That’s what I like about it. Because maybe the customer will say, “Oh, actually I want what they do”. And then in the end, you’ve also gotten yourself a benefit, because they’re going with a better match.

Todd: Absolutely. That’s right! So first one, unique abilities, then customer journey, then competition, then market. Market is the fourth thing we do. When most people think of finding their niche, they wanna start with the market. They wanna say, I like these people the most, and so I’m gonna pick them, and then I’m gonna reverse engineer something that I think they want, hopefully. But they run into a problem, they might reverse engineer their way into something that they can’t specialize in. And so that’s the flaw of starting with your market first. So we wait and we figure out what you can do that no one else does, then we choose the market that’s going to most resonate with your ability. The very last thing we do is talk about products. So once you know that you are doing something you specialize in, you are working in the right areas of the customer’s journey, instead of just going for the easy transaction, you are doing something different from everyone else, and you’ve chosen a market that is the ideal fit for what you need, now you can build a product that is a truly niched product. It is good for them, and it’s good for you. And I find that that framework brings people to finding their niche.

Julia: Basically, what you’re saying is, to my original question, niche product or niche audience, saying both, but also, you’re in essence, finding niches in each of your frameworks, each of the five steps. And maybe you wouldn’t use the word niche, but you’re creating differentiation from your competitors, which means that you’re narrowing in on what you do. You’re creating specificity in the customer’s journey. So in essence, you’re narrowing the whole time. And it’s not just a niche audience or a niche product, it’s kind of all of it.

Todd: Correct. I’m helping people discover what they have to offer, making sure it’s unique, and then connecting them with the people they can help the most, and at the end, build a product. These ideas are not independent from one another. The answers to one lead you to the next part of the framework. And so I walk people very deliberately through those five steps, and in the end, they come up with something that they feel great about. They’re excited about.

Julia: For sure! I could see that people end up feeling very aligned with who they’re gonna serve and what they’re gonna do. I find when I’m talking to people on the marketing end, people are afraid that if they niche, they’re losing, because they’ve lost a broader market. Tell us a little bit about that. Have you experienced that with some of the people that you’ve worked with?

Todd: I hear that all the time. There’s an idea that I need to cast a wide net to get the most available opportunity, bring in the most revenue. The problem with doing that is that your marketing has to cover all those bases. And when you have a general message and start sounding like everyone else, the customer has a hard time choosing you. Differences are really important. Differences are what customers use to make their decision. And so if you go out and say I’m a business coach, or I’m an executive coach, or whatever it is, and you’re using the same language as everyone else, you’re not gonna get that many calls. But as soon as you say, I’m a business coach that does this, I use this unique approach to get this outcome, you’ve separated yourself from everyone else. And that’s actually going to get you more business because you’ve given more customers a reason to pick you out of the pile.

Julia: Which is exactly what you’ve done. Todd, you’re the only person I’ve ever met who works specifically with niche as a business coach. So you’re in essence practicing what you’re preaching.

Todd: Yes. My goal is to help people find their niche, and then develop what I call niche thinking. When you are in the process of marketing, building a website, writing a nurture campaign, you need to think like a niche business. And so I don’t necessarily work with people and help them write that copy, help them write social media ads. God forbid, there’s people that do that way better than me. But in parallel to doing these things, I am a voice in their ear saying, think about what makes you unique, think about the framework we went through. Think about the identity that you have and leverage that identity, whether it’s in your sales scripts, your marketing, whatever it is. And I find that when someone works with me alongside other coaches or guides that can help with the execution of those assets, they really get a great result.

Julia: Oh, I’m sure! Obviously you’ve walked us through the framework, it’s excellent. What are some other tips that you would give to somebody who’s trying to figure out what their niche is? One of the ones that I’m taking away is, don’t start with your market and your audience, start way before that. What are some other ones that are keystones of your process?

Todd: I’ll give you three questions that will help people think about, first of all, whether or not they even have a niche and kind of create a litmus test for them. The first question relates to how they look at themselves. In what area would you consider yourself a specialist? And that’s really something to kind of take a walk around the block and think about. What do I really excel at, and is that coming through in my business? The second question they can ask, and this relates to their competition, how are you different from the competition? You need to be able to articulate this very easily. And again, you never criticize the competitor. The competitor is trying to help the customer as much as you are, but you need to be able to say, whereas they do this, I do this. And then a third question relates to your market, and it’s what market would choose you? Everyone I talk to tells me about the market they choose. They say, I want to work with women-owned businesses. I want to, whatever it is. But when I ask them, what would make a market choose you, that’s another way of saying, what do you offer that’s different, and who’s most attracted to that? And that forces you into a different line of thinking. And in answering all those three questions, you will at least be much closer to finding your niche, which is gonna make everything else you’re doing all that much stronger.

Julia: I’m curious, are there any situations a niche would not work for a business?

Todd: Yes.

Julia: I was not expecting that answer.

Todd: This is not a one size fits all thing. This is something that works better for some businesses. So I don’t think of it as a binary decision. You need a niche or you don’t. I think of it more as a spectrum. And so let’s start with one end of the spectrum, people who do not need a niche. These are businesses where being unique does not help you at all. So these are businesses that are usually rigid. A great example of this is an NFL referee. We do not need that guy or woman winging it and going, “Hey, I’ll be unique today.” They’re doing a job that’s preset. Then there’s the middle of the spectrum, and these are businesses that benefit from niche thinking. They need to be thinking, what is a quality that will make me stand out to my customers? And even a huge company like Amazon has done this. If you go back to the early days and you start reading about Amazon and how they sort of built their business, they chose customer service. And they said, we are dying on this hill. This is where we’re pouring all of our resources. And they stuck with that. And so is Amazon a niche business? Not at all. But they have chosen something and said, we will be unique here, and they’ve made an investment and it’s paid off. So I kind of put them at the middle of the spectrum; people who need to have niche thinking, almost like taking a supplement adds to your health. You need to take that as an idea. 

And then on the other end of the spectrum, these are businesses that have to niche, in my opinion. Small businesses, solopreneurs, these are people that need to find leverage. And they cannot bring a bunch of bodies into a problem and say, we’re gonna cover all the bases, we’re gonna take care of the 15 things. They can’t do that. When they can only do one or two things, the only way they can get leverage is to do those really, really well. And so it’s worthwhile for them to figure out, what is that thing? Before I build a website, before I start spending a lot of money doing stuff here, what do I excel at? And who’s gonna get the most out of it? Once you figure that out, you have a lot of leverage and you can remain a solopreneur or a small business, and do extremely well. I think that a niche identity fit for the small business owner, a niche identity is part of that 20% that contributes to 80% of your success. And so I think it’s vital for them.

Julia: For sure! I could see that in the coaching world, even my industry, the marketing world where things are so saturated. I always joke that everybody and their mother are social media managers right now, and so you do have to stand out. And so I could see how that would be really helpful because there is a lot of noise around those industries.

Todd: Yeah, that’s exactly right!

Julia: One clarification, when you’re saying product, also service businesses could benefit from this. It’s not exclusive to products or services. Is that accurate?

Todd: That is accurate. The way that I define a niche is it’s actually a unique approach. If you can define a unique approach to delivering a product or service, then people will resonate with that unique approach and choose you. So yeah, it can apply to anyone.

Julia: So it doesn’t have to be a physical product?

Todd: It doesn’t. Do you want an example?

Julia: I would love one.

Todd: This is a charity that I think has found a great niche. There’s a charity called Charity: Water. The founder, Scott Harrison, was faced with a problem, people do not trust charities. I mean, it’s a fantastic charity. It drills wells in places where people need water and saves their lives. I mean, what’s better than that? Totally. But they still weren’t raising the money that they needed, and the founder figured out it’s because people don’t trust charities. So much money goes to administration and not enough to the cause, and so people go, “I’m not gonna give my money.” And so he came up with a unique approach and he said, “100% of the funds that we raise will go towards water projects. Zero will go to admin.” He came up with a pretty ingenious way to handle admin and take the burden off of the donors. And when he did that, when he came up with that unique approach, the money started flooding in. People wanted to buy “the product” of giving money for a water project, but they needed a unique approach that would allow them to do that. And as soon as Charity: Water figured out a unique approach and put it out there for people, they grabbed on and they said, “Okay, we’re gonna give money.”

Julia: I feel like, Todd, you have just expanded my concept of niching, and that it’s not just this audience. Because like I mentioned, I’am enneagram seven, I’m like, but what if I get bored? Or what if I stop liking them? Don’t worry, my clients, I love you all! But I think that what you’re doing is in essence saying, hey, there’s other ways to create this unique aspect. And that is still one of them, and a big part of it, but the focus is on finding what is unique, not necessarily living by these rules of like, this is your niche audience. Am I totally twisting what you’re saying?

Todd: No, you’re absolutely getting it. So let’s go back to your anxiety for a minute. Go back to the therapy session. I think that at the beginning of this call, you thought of the idea of a niche as a limiter. You’re a very creative person, so why would you limit yourself? That’s nuts! I think of finding your niche as an enhancement. It’s an understanding. It’s a deeper understanding of what you bring to the table, and who gets the most outta working with you. That can be an extremely wide audience. It’s not like three guys in a back room somewhere and that’s it. You can have a tremendously successful career, but once you understand this is all that I have to bring to the table, this is a unique approach that I can develop, it actually enhances your creativity. I can focus on the idea of helping businesses develop niche thinking, I can create 40 products over the next two decades and relate it all back to what I’m doing. The product is just the application of how I help someone. But the identity of my business is tapped into a unique approach that I’ve developed this idea that businesses will be more successful if they spend time thinking about what makes them unique.

Julia: Totally! I also like the idea of switching the market question rather than saying, who do I pick to work with, to saying, who would pick me? Because that also widens the possibility, say hey, if this is my unique approach, oh, there’s actually a lot of target audiences that might pick that. It’s not just one person. That’s what feels confining to me.

Todd: This always surprises people. I would say 90% of the time when someone goes through my framework and finds their niche, when we get to the part of the market, they think they’re gonna find one group, and they find multiple groups. Because they realize when we put market to the end, and I kind of got that out of their conscious thinking, and they really focus on their unique approach, and then we get to market, they realize, man, this unique approach I’ve got works with lots of people. And then we talk about how you can help them.

Julia: For sure! I feel like a great example of that is us. We do marketing, we do social media, we do email, we do websites. We don’t have a niche because we’ve got a ton of stuff that we offer, and so that’s where I’ve been trying to figure out who’s our audience. And so this is where I’m doing it backwards, because a lot of the people that I work with, who have coached me in the past, are like, well, look at who’s buying your stuff. And I’m like, well, we have one person marketing teams who are just so overwhelmed and they can’t do it. But we also have solopreneurs, we also have small businesses. And I’m like, I don’t wanna pick just one. But what you’re saying is I might have several groups who can use the services, not just like, oh, I’m only gonna speak to one person, marketing teams.

Todd: That’s exactly right. I would say put the market and product out of your mind for a moment, and look back at yourself. It’s more of an introspective start. And figure out what is the unique approach that I can offer to people. And as you move towards that, then later you’ll say, how do I use this unique approach to help this market, and this market, and this market? And that brings you to a different answer. Then if you start with the market, then you take one solution to the market.

Julia: I have two more questions, one of them being, I could see how this feels really aligned for people who are just starting, like they don’t have any products, they’re figuring it out. I can see very clearly how your framework would apply. To somebody who has already created stuff, it feels like I would be blowing up my business to figure out this niche. Do you have any words of advice, words of wisdom for people who might be considering it, but are overwhelmed because they’ve already created things?

Todd: Yes. It is intimidating, you’re right. The more that you have invested in a certain identity, the idea of changing that identity, that’ll keep you up at night. To that person, I would say gently, knowing is better than not knowing. So it is very much worth the exercise to find your niche. You might find that it’s not that far away. If you’ve been in business for a while, you’ve naturally already leaned on your own abilities, you started resonating with some customers, so it’s not necessarily a wholesale shut down the shop and build it up somewhere else, it’s gonna be some degree of tweaking your business. And once you understand what your niche is, you can do that in phases. For example, even if you’re an existing business, chances are in the next year or two, you will develop a new product. If you know what your niche is, you can emphasize your unique approach in your new products. So that would be a way where someone could say, I’m gonna stick with what I got, but I know what my niche is, so anytime I do something new, I’m gonna head that direction.

Julia: So you can build it on a new foundation in essence.

Todd: That’s correct. And over time, you can move that direction. You don’t have to shut everything down though and move, but if you are going to be in business for another 5, 10, 15 years, by all means, know where your sweet spot is so that you can start leaning that direction.

Julia: I love that answer. I think that it makes the approach more bite-sized. Obviously everybody knows after this podcast that I’ve been having my own niche conundrum, but I would see even what you said knowing is better than not knowing, even if I’m not speaking the way that I would ideally be speaking in, at least knowing is better than wondering.

Todd: That’s correct. Let’s tie it into social media. Social media is an ongoing thing. You’re constantly putting information out. If you found out today what unique approach you had to offer that was very attractive to a subset of the market, that would influence the way that you do social media marketing from here on out. And so six months from now, you’ve brought your audience into a new awareness of a quality that you have, something that you can do to help them that you weren’t doing six months ago. That’s fantastic!

Julia: Totally! Even though I have had my own niche conundrum, I’m swayed. This is a much better approach than the run of the mill, we’re just getting tidbits of advice out there of just worrying about your audience. This is just such a better flow. Todd, if somebody was like, yes, sign me up! I need to do this. Where can they find you?

Todd: They should go to my website, grow a nichebussiness.com https://growanichebusiness.com/, and they can find out about the workshop that will help them find their niche. But also, I’ve got some free resources for people who kind of think they know what their niche is, but they’re looking for some way to just inch that direction, and they wanna apply some of these ideas. I’ve got some free resources out there that they can have. And then I am on social media, Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/people/Grow-a-Niche-Business/) and Instagram. (https://instagram.com/grow.a.niche.business/) Just look up, Grow a Niche Business, and you’ll find me.

Julia: I love it! So last question, I need you to solve the debate. Is it niche or niche? We’ve been using both words this whole time.

Todd: It’s both.

Julia: Is there a right or wrong?

Todd: There is a right answer, but unfortunately, both are correct. Niche is based off of a French word, niché, which means to nest. And so the idea is you are actually building a nest around your business and you’re setting it off somewhere that the competition can’t hurt you. That’s where the word actually originates from. And so to shorten that, you get niche. In the UK, they started saying niche because they wanted to be different from the French. And so since we take our English pronunciation from the English, in America, we say niche. If you go to France, they say niche. Both are correct. It all depends on which one you wanna pick, if you’re feeling English or French that day.

Julia: I love it! There’s a little bit of tidbit. I was hoping we would get a great answer. And that was it. Todd, thank you. Thank you, thank you! Everybody go to his website, growanichebusiness.com for some of his free resources. I am positive it will benefit all of us.

Todd: Thank you, Julie. This was fun!

Friends, thanks for tuning into this week’s podcast episode. I am so glad that you have. If you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have, I just ask you to subscribe so you know each time we have a new episode coming out. If you loved our podcast and wanna give us a rating or a review, I promise, we will read each and every one of them. A special shout out to our friend, Carson Childers, who is producing our podcast. We really appreciate him and all the hard work that he’s done for us. 

Also, thanks to the Stratos team. They have been behind the scenes doing all of the graphic design, brainstorming, et cetera, et cetera. Really, this wouldn’t be possible without them. I’m thankful for each and every one of you guys. 

Lastly, listener, we’ll be back next week, and I hope you will be too.