Memo to Expert Service Providers: Carve Yourself a Unique Niche Rather than fishing in crowded waters, shrink the pond by honing in on what you do best.

By Tom McMakin

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Luis Alvarez | Getty Images

When you ask an average business audience to name the first person to fly solo, non-stop across the Atlantic, most people know it was Charles Lindbergh. Most can also name Amelia Earhart as the first woman to achieve that feat.

But silence usually prevails when people are asked to name the second or third aviator to do it. The fact that the third person was Earhart reveals an important facet of human psychology, namely that we tend to remember people and things based on their category rather than as part of the broader whole. If you are the first or the best, that tends to stick.

Related: How to Start a Consulting Business: Determine Your Business Model

Consultants and professional service providers would do well to heed this lesson at a time when they're swimming in an ever-expanding pond of similar firms. There are an estimated 700,000 business consulting firms globally, and many of their services are fast becoming commodities.

Whether it's getting help on an audit or installing Salesforce, customers know they're going to get similar types of people and services from the industry.

Figure out what makes you special

Rather than keep fishing in these vast waters, expert service providers need to shrink their pond by honing in on what they do best. So you can't be the best barbecue restaurant in town? Fine. But maybe instead of being the second or third best maybe you can position yourself as the premier dry-rib joint.

Carving out a niche for your practice — whether you are self-employed or running a practice inside a bigger company — takes on even greater importance when you consider how technology has dispersed an industry's clientele across the globe. It's harder for these far-flung clients to differentiate between one provider and another. The way to cut through this absence of signal is to be the worldwide expert at one particular thing.

The simplest way to position yourself as a niche expert is to focus on your most successful case studies. Where have you achieved the best results and added the most value to clients?

Build on your successes to create a niche

Your practice may have the ability to help any kind of management team, but perhaps, for instance, it's worked closely with several mining companies and achieved strong improvements to their supply chain. Backed by this record, maybe you should try to build a niche as the world's only practice that helps mining sector COOs to drive down costs and control their supply chains.

Related: How to Start a Consulting Business: Get Ready to Launch

I know one law firm with a regulatory practice that was maybe good enough to make the top 200 firms in the country based on reputation. But it happened to be based in Colorado and California where those states have legalized cannabis and hemp in recent years.

The firm has leveraged that geographical advantage to build a practice around helping cannabis and hemp companies navigate regulations and is now fast on its way to becoming the number-one law firm in the country in that niche.

Create channels to put your expertise on display

After deciding what pond you want to dominate, you can start taking steps to cement your ownership of it. You might publish articles on it or create a regular newsletter highlighting recent trends in order to achieve name recognition among those who matter.

You might seek speaking engagements or fund cocktail parties at relevant events. The aim is to narrowcast, not broadcast. We know that it only takes a small collection of select clients to build a successful practice so focus on the 200-300 executives globally who can make this happen.

Related: How to Use Your Expertise to Start a Consulting Business

Once you've dominated a niche, you can extend that success by entering adjacent niches. You've done great work with North American mining companies, so maybe an expansion to South American mining firms would work. Or perhaps you could expand into supply-chain solutions for agricultural commodities and hire people accordingly.

Resist the urge to be multi-faceted

None of this is rocket science but there can be hurdles. Perhaps the most common objection heard from providers is not wanting to downplay or give up on all the other wonderful things they can do. This misses the point. It can be fine to do other things, as long as you have a clean, crisp go-to-market strategy in your chosen niche.

Your niche practice should have its own microsite that occupies a relevant URL and features 2 to 3 illustrated case studies explaining how you helped people. If you're part of a larger family of companies, it's fine to point that out on the site; just don't throw everything on this particular website with drop-down menus for each specialty.

If your mining sector expertise, for instance, is displayed alongside your achievements in crypto-currency accounting, it's going to dilute your credibility as a specialist and erode your target customer's trust in your ability to get the job done.

Keep things simple and direct and that focus can bring surprising results.

Tom McMakin

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor


Tom McMakin is the Chief Executive Officer of PIE, a business development service focused on professional services firms. He is the author of How Clients Buy: A Practical Guide to Business Development for Consulting and Professional Services (Wiley 2018).

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