Been reading you for over a year. My target market is environmental consultants and engineers in companies of 1 – 25 people. There are boatloads of them according to the Census Bureau. However, finding actual associations in my area to find them is proving surprisingly problematic. I live in Chicago which should be a great market for just about anything. I really believe that once I know where to look, it will not be difficult to start getting clients. I do understand all about tailoring your marketing message and website to your market, etc., but who to call? To finish getting my business ready to launch and get that “three degrees of separation” from the target, it has been suggested to me that I start marketing my skillset to entrepreneurs in general (not hard to find here). The idea being that reports and presentations are used by many who can afford me and need me. I could get some money coming in to finish bootstrapping my biz while I continue to pursue my target market. In other words, if I found myself tripping over tech guys and then got environmental types along the way, I would have two target markets and could shed the miscellaneous types. That seems to go against the grain of what you have taught, but I am not sure if there is a way to reconcile this. Maybe environmental would fall away completely. I do not want to go too broad, but web designers use one skillset that can be applied across spectrums, don’t they?
Thanks for the question! Let’s see if we can bring some clarity to your understanding…
Just about any field (generally speaking), not just web designers, have skills that can be applied across broad spectrums. But that’s not the point. It’s the folks who specialize in supporting a narrowed, specific market who are able to find clients more easily, customize their offerings, better understand all the nuances and inside-and-outs of that market (and provide a better, more valuable service because of it), create a more attractive, compelling message AND charge more.
My strongest advice is to ignore those who tell you to focus broadly. That’s an oxymoron–you aren’t focusing at all if you are trying to talk to a broad audience of anyone and everyone. They don’t know what they’re talking about, and you let me under the hood of their businesses, and I guarantee ya, it’s a bunch of the blind (who aren’t doing any better in their own businesses or doing everything the hard way) giving opinions disguised as qualified advice. That might sound harsh to the little butterflies and unicorns out there, but it’s the dadblamed truth.
You are always, always going to make things more difficult when you focus broadly because you then have absolutely no direction for any of your efforts. And you will not be able to figure out your unique value proposition (USP) without some kind of narrowed, deliberate and intentioned focus on a target market. Because your value is absolutely relative to the audience you are talking to.
Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t do whatever you need to do to bring in some cashflow as you go about your business building. We all have had to do that. Just don’t confuse that with your real business building efforts (sort of like an actor trying to make it in show biz–he often has to work that restaurant day job to support himself while his real efforts are focused on his real goals).
You are running into something that is simply part of every business owner’s task, which is to locate those with whom they intend to work with and market. But here’s the issue… one of the criteria for a good target market is that they simply must be easy to find. Now, I know nothing about the market you are looking to attract, so maybe you just need to do a bit more digging and asking around in order to find those avenues and platforms in which to connect with them. There’s no way around that.
BUT, it could also be that it’s a market that simply is too obscure and too difficult to find. In which case, that wouldn’t make it a very practical market to focus on. You’ll need to evaluate that as part of the process of market research and establishing whether a target market is a viable one for you or not.
That said, I wouldn’t give up just yet. There is no reason to limit your research to your local area or even state. Look toward the bigger pool. If they have a national association or two, give those groups a call. Yes, actually get on the phone. Tell them what you are doing… For example, “I am looking to help the boutique and solo environmental consulting firms run their businesses more effectively and flexibly by providing them with offsite administrative support. I’d like to find out how best to connect with them in this field. Are there state chapters I might contact? Are there online groups where they interact? What do you recommend?”
Perhaps you have already done this, but I’ll tell ya, what I’ve found is that when I ask colleagues if they’ve ever picked up the phone and actually asked around and talked to people, their answer nine times out of 10 is “no.”
You’ve GOT to talk to people so if you haven’t yet, get on the phone and start doing that. It’s really the key. And don’t give up after just one or two calls. You’ve got to apply yourself and be persistant.
When deciding on a target market, the most important criteria to consider is this:
1. It must have a need for what you are in business to provide. For example, small and solo based businesses are the easiest businesses to attract because they very much NEED what we do and, therefore, highly value it. Larger companies who need and can afford and have the facilities for in-house administrative support really could care less about us and therefore place little or no value on what we do. Their interest is solely in “outsourcing” and saving money and you’ll have a much more difficult time getting the kind of money you need to charge out of them.
2. It must be able to afford you. You can not afford to work with anyone who can’t afford you. For example, mom and pop businesses who don’t know much about business and aren’t charging well themselves so often start their businesses on such shoestrings, they barely have any money to operate, much less pay for proper professional support. So if you really expect to earn a living from your business, this isn’t a very smart market to set your sights on.
3. There must be enough of them to easily find, connect and fill your practice with. An obscure market can actually be super, super great because with a smaller pond, you catch more fish and have less (or no) competition. Your task, however, is to know where to find them. If you simply can’t do that and have no inside knowledge or connections, then it might be prudent to switch gears. You’ll need to determine a market where there are more of them who are more easily found, at least for you, and have networking circles you can easily locate and get involved with.
Hope that helps!