Finding A Niche: The Difference Between Adaptation and Extinction
Meet Sarah. She’s an English major fresh out of college. She’s also a wide-eyed, new entrepreneur who has decided to start a freelance editing business. She starts out thinking like this:
- I’m going to edit resumes, website copy, journal articles, blog posts, and books for people.
- The US population is about 320 million. About 240 million of those are adults.
- If I can do editing work for just 1% of them, that’s 240,000.
- And if can make on average $25 per person, that’s $6 million.
- I’m going to be rich!
Wouldn’t it be lovely if this kind of math worked out?
If you have been in business for a while, you know this approach doesn’t usually work because any message targeting a market this large will be so diluted and generic, no one will care.
It seems counterintuitive, but the more specific you are, the more sales you make for most products and services.
The math works this way: your conversion rate will be teeny tiny if you go for a vast population. But if you go for a smaller niche, though the pie is much smaller, you can get a huge slice. That’s the paradox of niching down your offering.
So instead of trying to sell editing services to US adults, Sarah could, for example, specialize in helping small business owners edit and format eBooks for a specific platform, like Amazon.
Plant Editors: A Mini-Case Study on Finding A Niche
Be Well-Adapted to Your Environment
Going beyond hypotheticals, we can take a page from the playbook of a real-world niching success story. Plant Editors has been one of the most successful businesses we’ve seen when it comes to finding a niche. We interviewed the three company founders to understand what makes them the best in their business.
Three PhD-level plant biologists, Kathleen L. Farquharson, Nancy R. Hofmann, and Jennifer M. Mach founded Plant Editors in 2009. They met as editors for a high-level plant biology journal, The Plant Cell. Comparing notes, they realized that in addition to the post-acceptance editing they were doing for the journal, they could help authors make their papers better before submitting them to the journal. Starting Plant Editors was “the perfect fit for our combined expertise in editing and in plant biology. A lot of other editing services use graduate students, or PhDs editing outside their areas of expertise—we decided that we could do better.”
Specializing in plant biology research puts Plant Editors in a position to provide a niche audience, non-native English speakers who must publish research papers in English, with a sense of reassurance and belonging.
“We are proud of our satisfied customers. Writing and publishing a scientific paper is a grueling process for everyone—and it’s doubly difficult if your first language is not English, but you have to publish in English. Because of our expertise, we can help our clients really let their science shine, while not altering their meaning— they get their papers accepted at top journals, which can advance their careers. One of our clients sends us chrysanthemum tea and another sent chocolates. Once you have made someone that happy—it’s a great feeling.”
Lesson 1: Know What You Do Well
Kathleen, Nancy, and Jennifer saw a gap in the editing market that they knew they could fill and went for it.
Lesson 2: Discover Your Passion
The editors have just the right experience and expertise to help a population of deserving scientists to advance their careers. In addition, it is clear from their client testimonials that their customers feel the passion for their work. Passion is infectious.
Lesson 3: Your Niche is Not All You Do
One common misconception about niching down is that you put all of your time into one market and all of your clients come out of the same market. But while using a niche helps you focus your time, energy, and marketing strategy, you can still be open to new opportunities outside of your immediate niche.
The women behind Plant Editors have been successful because they have discovered their niche market and developed a proven strategy that gets results for their clients. Kathleen, Nancy, and Jennifer understand, firsthand, the importance of honing in on a niche market to find the right path to positive growth and endless possibilities.
Why This Approach To Finding A Niche Works
The editors put it best: “When an organism finds its niche, that means that it’s well-adapted for that particular environment. Indeed, one of the main advantages of Plant Editors is that, given our deep expertise in plant biology and editing, we are very well-adapted to help plant biologists write their papers. As we have grown, we have added editors who also have strong expertise in plant biology, and have great editing and writing chops. So, we have grown organically, mainly by word of mouth, through the close-knit plant biology community. Advertising hasn’t worked for us—what has worked is making sure our customers are very happy, so they tell their friends.”
While they do accept manuscripts from other disciplines where they have the expertise, such as general molecular biology, they decided to specialize in helping plant biologists because that field requires such a specific knowledge and expertise—expertise that the editors have gained over many years of working in this specific area.
Finally, the Burning Question: How Do YOU Find Your Niche?
It’s difficult to provide a one-size-fits-all guide to finding a niche. (Anti-climactic we know, but what did you really expect?) You can’t simply copy another company’s model. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that niching down is a matter of figuring out the best way to narrow your business’s offering.
At Spring Insight, we do this by creating customer personas, semi-fictional archetypes that represent the key traits of a large segment of your audience that are interested in your niche. Whenever we come up with a new service, design marketing collateral, or even write a blog post, we ask ourselves whether it would get a certain persona’s attention.
Niching down is partially about doing more of what your business does better than your competition, focusing on what you are most passionate about in your business, and showing how what you do is unique and gets results. It takes reflection and time.
But finding a niche and making it stick is more complicated than doing what you love really well. This is one reason Spring Insight recently added launch strategy services to our marketing offerings. At Spring Insight, we specialize in strategy because we know, firsthand, that strategy is key to developing a sustainable, successful, and scalable business. We can help you brainstorm and strategize to find your niche and get your message out there.
Are you ready to find your niche? Contact us today!
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