Finding your authentic niche: it’s easier than you think

by | Oct 9, 2011

[This is one in a series of articles based on reader requests for coaching. If you’d like help on a self-employment issue, email me at]
Nature is amazing in its diversity. There are big green frogs and little yellow frogs. Fat red frogs and slender orange frogs. Frogs that live on purple plants and frogs that hide under the rocks in a deep blue pool.
And every frog has its niche. The place where it is the right critter in the right place at the right time with the right stuff.
How cool is that?

If only it were that easy for you
You may be thinking it’s easy for a frog to have a niche. After all, nature designed it to fit into a very specific ecosystem.
But what about you?
Well, I propose that nature has designed a perfect ecosystem for you, too. With that in mind, I have three things to say about niche.
1. You need one.
2. You don’t need one.
3. You already have one.
Want to know more?

Yes, you need a niche
If you want to have plenty of rewarding work with a reasonable amount of ease, you need a niche.
A niche helps you stand out in a crowded marketplace. Think of cookbooks. If all cookbooks were about cooking in general, they’d all appear the same. Assuming you didn’t already know which one you wanted, there wouldn’t be a particular reason to choose one over another.
But cookbooks aren’t all the same. There are books about Italian soups. Spanish tapas. English puddings. (I’m getting hungry.) And because cookbooks specialize, it’s a lot easier to find the one you’re looking for.

A niche makes it easy for other people to say what you do.
If your business were single, would your friends be able to arrange a successful blind date? If not, it’s going to be hard for people to make referrals.
Spelling out your niche makes it easier for people to say exactly what you do and for whom you do it. That makes it heaps more likely that they’ll talk about you and your work.
Enough said.

A niche makes marketing a whole lot simpler.
Imagine you’ve been asked to deliver the keynote address for a large conference. The thing is, you don’t know who the conference is for, what participants do, or the theme. And you’re not given a topic.
Pretty tough to come up with an engaging talk.
When you have a niche, you know who you’re talking to and what they’re interested in. You don’t have to reinvent yourself or your marketing materials to suit every new audience.
It’s vastly easier (and more economical) to get out the word about your business.

No, you do not need a niche
Don’t tell anyone, I didn’t have a niche for five years–and I had a perfectly good coaching practice.
If you have a way of getting your work in front of a large enough group of people and are skilled at modeling the value of your work, you can go a long way without a niche.
I started my business in 1996. My first Web site was live by 1997. And I had one of the first ezines in the coaching industry.
In other words, even though I didn’t have a niche (I was a personal-life-business-career-executive coach), I was highly visible. And through my Web site and ezine I was able to demonstrate how attractive and powerful coaching is.
I used to say that my niche was people who think I rock. I believe the same is true for you, which brings us to my third point.

You already have a niche
If you’re breathing, you already have a niche.
As nature’s plethora of frogs shows us, niche is a function of ecology. In ecology, your niche is the place where you have a natural competitive advantage because you occupy the right place at the right time. It’s where you naturally thrive and where your thrival naturally benefits others (clients).
An orange frog belongs in an orange frog niche. A green frog belongs in a green frog niche. There may be some cross-over, but there’s a distinct just right niche for each of them.
When you think niche in terms of ecology, you’ll realize that you already have a niche. It’s just a matter of noticing which of your talents, interests, and characteristics are most important in your work and how they come together to serve a particular need. Put that together with the specific characteristics of clients that fit you best, and you have a perfectly lovely niche.

Five questions to clarify your niche
The best way to identify your niche is to pay close attention to where you already shine. Here are five questions to get you started.
1. Where do you consistently find kindred spirits?
2. In what areas are you most credible?
3. Where is there the greatest need coupled with the greatest appreciation for your work?
4. To whom are the things that seem obvious to you a revelation?
5. Who is traveling a path that you have successfully walked yourself?

You know you have your niche when…
You know you have the right niche when you are highly visible, accessible, and of service to people who are most likely to benefit from your work. You can find that niche by paying close attention to the kind of critter you are.
Your niche probably won’t appear fully formed. Give yourself some time to discover the niche you’re already in. As your niche evolves, you’ll grow in confidence. With time, you’ll know with certainty which customers are right for you, and you’ll attract more of them.
That’s authentic, sustainable, and profitable.