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How to Transition to Different Industry Sectors in Your Client Base Most entrepreneurs start out with a limited customer base in mind, a particular slice of a specific market. But if and when you feel ready to expand your reach to a wider audience, should you? Can you? Here, a business owner in the midst of transition shares insights on sector expansion.

By Emily Reynolds Bergh

Key Takeaways

  • There's no need to limit yourself. When you feel it's time to reach, reach.
  • You'll never know what you'll grab on to next unless you extend yourself!
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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

"Stay in your lane." We hear it all the time now — in our professional lives, in our personal lives, in our relationships. It's a turn of phrase that advises us to stick to what we know, guides us to specialize instead of generalize and encourages us to find a niche market and hold on to it. Sounds like good advice, right?

I'm not so sure, actually. When I launched my PR business over a decade ago, I did just that: I concentrated on the market segment I knew best and aimed my services at only them. But over the years, I found myself curiously peeking into different industries, wondering how my business would change and how I would evolve personally if I pushed myself to try to enter new business sectors.

Business owners have the luxury of trying to keep things fresh and exciting for themselves, and although I certainly have enough challenges in my personal life, it's amazing how I always seem to be inviting new challenges in my professional life. I think it's because it keeps me energized and on my toes. The world is moving so fast, technology is advancing so rapidly that I feel like my business simply has to transform in kind with the climate in which it operates.

That's why this is my new advice to fellow entrepreneurs: Master your lane, yes … but then have a little fun on the road, changing lanes and passing your competition as you enjoy the ride of traversing multiple highways and byways!

Related: No Referrals, No Problem: 3 Ways to Win Clients in Highly Competitive Industries

Reasons to expand

Entering new markets isn't for everyone, it's not appropriate for all businesses. A specialty cheese shop in Anytown, USA, may wish to stay exactly where they are, doing exactly what they're doing. Sure, the shop may want to add online sales for long-distance purchases, but it's their brand to service a mostly local clientele with an inventory not found anywhere else within a 150-mile driving range.

But a candle manufacturer that started out focused solely on the home decor market can indeed consider branching out once home sales have plateaued. A client of mine expanded into the corporate sector, in fact, with a campaign aimed at company retreats and a new line of scented products for in-office relaxation techniques. Her sales increased 17% by the second quarter of entering the corporate space.

So before you think about ways to expand, first consider the reasons you may want to expand, including:

  • You've saturated your initial market and are experiencing limited growth potential. I started off in one downtown office in one foodie-friendly town, which worked great for my foundational knowledge base, the food and beverage industry. But after a few years, once I'd pitched to all the local restaurants and establishments I wanted to represent, I hit a bit of an impasse. From there, it was a logical progression to the hotel market in town.
  • The new people you're bringing on have additional areas of expertise. As my business grew, so too did my staff. And they brought with them skill sets and industry know-how beyond my own. One of my copy editors, for example, had deep experience in book publishing. I used her background to break into the book promotion market, and before long, the one author I was representing turned into two, then three.
  • To keep pace with current market trends. Some businesses can afford to stick to one thing only and do it exceptionally well. Others are more vulnerable to the variable winds outside. During the pandemic, when people were hardly dining out or vacationing (my niche markets at the time), they were purchasing goods for at-home consumption and concentrating on their home bases. This proved an opportune time for me to start widening my camera lens to retail brands and the real estate sector.

Related: 4 Honest Truths That Will Make You a Better Boss

How to expand in four starter steps

Once you have the drive and a valid justification to expand into new sectors, coupled with the bandwidth and the human resources to do so, here are some pointers I followed myself to shift my business from a hospitality and tourism-based firm to one that now encompasses the finance, tech, wellness, and nonprofit spheres as well:

Step #1: Start by targeting adjacent industries. If, for example, you service the residential real estate market, put feelers out into commercial real estate. If your clients include malls and shopping centers, your experience will translate well to large event venues, like sports arenas. The objective is to bring some of your institutional knowledge to the table while learning the specific ins and outs of related fields.

Step #2: Attend industry-specific events and conferences. You don't have to find clients first; a good approach is just to find a group of people in your targeted industry with whom you can network and from whom you can gain a better, deeper understanding of the field. At one national association meeting I attended, I invited a speaker who'd really impressed me with his presentation to lunch and asked if he'd be willing to mentor me. Several months of exchanged emails followed, in which he shared invaluable information and pointed me toward the most productive next steps.

Step #3: Don't expand too fast. Pinpoint just one or two new industries at a time, then make it your goal to establish yourself within this realm before trying to cover even more new ground. Like any new terrain, the more you travel it, the more familiar you will become with the territory.

Step #4: In those new industries, limit your services at first. This is the equivalent of dipping your toe in the water to acclimate to the temperature instead of diving into the deep end headfirst. An example from my own transition journey: I do social media; my team knows social media. So when I took on my first financial enterprise, we didn't have to know the details of titles, liens and escrow right out of the gate; we only had to know how to put together an effective social plan for the client that yielded the expected outcomes. Over the course of a few months, we got to know the proper language and vernacular of this sector; the client was more than fine with initially providing us with appropriate jargon and content ideas for posts if only we could take this now-necessary task off their hands.

Another example: When I first broke into tech, I felt a little out of water with my boutique lifestyle background. So I didn't offer this particular client my full marketing and PR package. I only pitched media relations to start, and once we'd proven our prowess in this area, our service agreement added publicity and advertising functions. Basically, then, the success of your contracts with minimal offerings will be a good litmus test for the rest of your transactions with the client.

Related: 7 Empowering Strategies for Leaders Transitioning to New Roles

Servicing new industries in the last few years has been challenging and sometimes frustrating, but it's also been invigorating and surprisingly fulfilling. Each time I land a client in an area new to me, I feel a sense of accomplishment I never imagined when I was just starting out and simply hoping for half a dozen clients or so to keep me afloat.

Moral of the story: There's no need to limit yourself. When you feel it's time to reach, reach. You'll never know what you'll grab on to next unless you extend yourself!

Emily Reynolds Bergh

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Founder at R Public Relations Firm

Emily Reynolds Bergh — vintage-shoe hoarder, cycling junkie, & lover of pink drinks — is a marketing & PR pro with 15+ years of experience under her belt. Now the founder & owner of the award-winning R Public Relations based in New York, she’s been featured in numerous publications & podcasts.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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