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Choosing a Niche Market: How and Why?

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Would you go to all the trouble to build a coaching business if you knew it wouldn't be financially successful? No! And yet, so many coaches doom their businesses to failure by trying to market to everyone - a strategy that rarely works in any industry. Those coaches take themselves right off the success track by staying a generalist.

What's a generalist? That's a coach whose website or marketing materials bill them as a Life Coach, Relationship Coach, Career Coach, Business Coach - or, even less effective, all of the above. Those are not niche markets - they are broad specialties or titles.

The Life Coaching Myth

Many people stream into this field with a romantic notion about being a "life coach" - the idea of working with people holistically, supporting them to balanced and fulfilled lives - it's a beautiful concept. But, like many abstract ideas, it's a hard sell. Dangling the promise of that holistically balanced life will not attract enough people to buy your coaching services.

So here's the success point: Market to a specific group about something more concrete - their challenges and how you can solve them. And once they hire you, you'll still be able to support them to a more balanced and fulfilled life.

Whether you're working with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a stay-at-home-mom, or a massage therapist, you will be coaching them about their life. But if you try to market the notion of life coaching to all three of these people who have very different needs, you'll spend a lot of time marketing and little time coaching. In other words, staying a generalist means working very hard for little money.

Any successful business owner will tell you that people buy a service when they feel it addresses their particular needs. Those needs are distinct to one very specific group.

For example, AARP targets people over 50 heading towards retirement. More Magazine is aimed at women over 40. Look at some of the cell phone ads and you'll see they are marketing directly to teenagers or their parents. Those are examples of marketing to a specific demographic.

The Top Ten Reasons Why You Should Choose a Niche Market

  1. To make more money with less marketing effort.
  2. To focus on benefiting one group rather than many.
  3. To build visibility and credibility faster.
  4. To reduce or eliminate competition.
  5. To create a distinctive brand for your coaching company.
  6. To become an expert on your niche market more quickly.
  7. To command higher fees (niche specialists can charge more).
  8. To gain the respect of your colleagues and become a leader in your field.
  9. To create a congruent and powerful presence in the marketplace.
  10. To leverage all your marketing into expanded income streams.

Those are compelling reasons. Need a little more convincing?

The top 10 percent of coaches with six-figure annual incomes market to one specific target market. The other 90 percent of coaches are making significantly less, with the majority grossing only $20,000 a year. Most of them are generalists. A sobering reality!

Coaching is still a new field. It's not a category in the yellow pages yet. As coaches, we must create our own marketplace. The smaller the marketplace the easier it is to attract the prospect's attention to buy your services.

A viable niche market:

  • Is well defined.
  • Is accessible. (You must be able to find them in groups.)
  • Has identifiable needs and desires.
  • Has disposable income to invest in coaching.
  • Is a group that you have inside knowledge about - which usually means you're either a part of that group now or once were.

Three Ways to Go

If you look at what successful coaches are doing, you'll see them approaching their market in one of three ways.

  1. Many choose a market defined by business needs or connections and base their marketing on recognized experience, knowledge and credentials. This is most lucrative and easiest way to go.
  2. Others choose a well defined specific niche and approach that market in an unconventional and creative way.
  3. The smallest group consists of those who can command attention from a wider audience with the sheer force of their message. This takes great chutpah, willingness to go the distance and be a public personality. If you don't like to sell - don't even consider marketing just a message.

Consider option 1 or 2. Here's the thing that practically no one in the industry is willing to say but all the successful coaches know is true. If you want to follow the inside track to success, you will choose a business niche and market to that niche based on expertise. The most accessible and lucrative markets are defined business markets. Coaching is most well known and used by business markets. If you have experience in a particular field or industry, you have inside knowledge about that group.

But the inside track is not the only track. Maybe building your business on the expertise you have now is just not your vision, or maybe you don't have the kind of experience that business markets are buying. There are other ways to the finish line - but it will take passionate creative energy, or an extroverted drive to get out and reach large groups of people.

Getting Out of the Box

Even if you think a business related niche is not for you, try looking at it from a different angle. Sometimes you can still market to a business group even though you don't have experience in that group. It takes getting out of the box in the way you think about niche marketing.

Try pairing a specialty with a business market. For example:

  • Working with single executive women to find their soul mate.
  • Helping solo entrepreneurs to build their business around their lifestyle choices rather than the other way around.

While you might need to do a bit of research and read up about the market to understand their needs, over time as you work with them you will develop expertise about that industry.

It's not critical to work with a business market. If you choose a non-business market, you'll want to choose a distinct-enough group that you know how to get in front of them, and you'll want to have your own unique but compelling spin to attract them.

Two Fisted Marketing

If you want to follow the third path, the one that relies on the sheer power of your message, get ready - it's not for the faint of heart.

Most coaches are motivated by a personal and genuine message they want to convey. Wonderful! The trick is how to get that message out in a big enough way to have that work feed you well - both financially and spiritually. In this case, the two-fisted approach works best. In one hand is the specific market and their challenges, in the other is the way you'll benefit them. The benefit to the market is what allows you to get your message out.

Think about Oprah: the wealthiest woman business owner in the United States. Oprah is the master of the two fisted approach. She combines business savvy with a big-hearted message. Her market is women 30-45 who have lost themselves in some way. But she markets the practical, down to earth things that group needs - financial support, weight loss, body image - and then weaves in her personal message.

This approach requires a willingness to be bold and think big. Public speaking, writing and getting out in front of large groups will be necessary

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Rhonda Hess
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