USA TODAY: Finding the right small business niche for you

NEW YORK, May 05, 2015 /USA TODAY/Rhonda Abrams — All over America this week people are observing “Small Business Week.” They’ll toast the huge contributions small businesses and entrepreneurs make to the American economy. Small companies will rightly be in the spotlight.

But when USA TODAY turned to me to create a special, five-day, series for Small Business Week — kicking off today — I wanted to do something more than just celebrate small businesses. I wanted to help you grow YOUR business — right now. That’s why I’ve chosen the theme “Make This Your Year to Grow.”

Each day, I’ll zero in on key strategies fundamental to small business growth, providing you with advice, inspiration, an action checklist and a free downloadable worksheet. Follow along daily — and join us on social media — to get use-it-now help for your business.

Each day, I’ll zero in on key strategies fundamental to small business growth, providing you with advice, inspiration, an action checklist and a free downloadable worksheet. Follow along daily — and join us on social media — to get use-it-now help for your business.

Megan Driscoll certainly knows how specializing contributes to her company’s growth.

When Driscoll launched her public relations agency in September, she could have provided services to any type of company. Instead, she focused exclusively on two industries she knew well: aesthetics and dermatology. That decision led to the Ferrari-like speed with which her new agency, EvolveMKD in New York, grew.

“It’s been crazy,” said Driscoll. “I opened my doors with three clients; now we have seven. I opened my door with zero employees, now we have nine. We just won another client this week. I have another employee starting next week.”

As a small business, it’s tough, if not impossible, to compete against much bigger competitors on factors such as:

• Price. Big competitors have greater buying power than you.

• Quality. A hard standard to measure makes it difficult for shoppers to discern.

• Convenience. Expensive to offer, it can reduce profit margins.

Choosing to focus on a niche gives you many advantages. It:

• Sets you apart from competitors.

• Focuses your marketing efforts.

• Gives you credibility.

• Makes you memorable.

• Helps attract higher-quality employees.

• Enables you to charge higher prices.

Focusing on a niche makes it easier and less expensive to reach potential customers. If you specialize in an industry, you can join industry associations, exhibit at trade shows, get active in its LinkedIn groups. Serving specific demographic groups allows you to advertise through highly targeted Facebook posts or websites.

“When you’re a generalist, you think you need to be everywhere,” Driscoll said. “When you’re targeted, you’re better able to figure out how to market, where to speak, which writing opportunities to take. It’s much better use of your time and you have more success.”

What kinds of specialties can you choose? Start with assets and interests you already have. Driscoll had deep knowledge of, and contacts in, the health care and beauty industries. For her, it was a no-brainer.

Niches that can lead to riches.

• Industry. If you sell to other businesses, identifying industries to specialize in is one of the most effective, straightforward ways to distinguish yourself.

• Demographics. Serving a specific demographic group gives you an immediately recognizable way to attract customers, especially in consumer businesses such as hair salons for children or tours for seniors.

• Geographic. In certain businesses, homing in on one area or location differentiates you from competitors. Think Realtors who focus on a specific neighborhood.

• Knowledge or expertise. Emphasizing areas in which you have in-depth expertise gives you a strong competitive edge. My friend Kenneth Allen was an arborist specializing in palm trees.

• Clearly differentiated style. Specializing in a style of product or service gives you the edge, for example, you might operate an organic nail salon, vegan restaurant or a made-in-America furniture company.

Does selecting a niche mean turning down other work that comes your way? Not necessarily. It does mean concentrating your marketing — including sections of your website — on your specialty.

If you’re serious about growth, stay highly focused and strategically deflect other prospects.

“It was hard,” said Driscoll. “As a new business, it’s counter-intuitive to turn business away. But I referred them (potential clients) to other agencies, who’ve already referred business back to me.”

Choosing to focus in on a niche and narrow your marketing can be scary — you naturally feel like you want every customer you can attract.

“Since I’ve started my business, I’ve met many other small business owners,” said Driscoll. “It seems like the ones who don’t specialize are driven by fear. They’re afraid they’re cutting off potential business — but no, you’re not. By specializing, you’re better able to achieve business that’s more stable. I’ve been able to gain clients who are going to be long-term partners.”

Do-It-Now Action Items

1. Use the free downloadable worksheet to list three potential niche markets you could serve.

2. Rate, and choose, target markets for the most potential: easiest to reach and highest likely income.

3. Create at least one separate landing page of your website dedicated solely to the target market you choose.

4. Identify the best social media sites and online groups for reaching your niche market.

5. Join an industry association or other group that caters to your niche’s target audience.

Small Business Week with Rhonda Abrams:

• Today: Finding a niche. How to make your business distinct from your competitors.

• Tuesday: Business planning. How to be strategic and create a roadmap for success.

• Wednesday: Marketing. How to get more customers through your door.

• Thursday: Building your team. You can’t grow alone.

• Friday:Going mobile and to the cloud. How to run your business from anywhere.

Every day this week, you’ll get:

• A five-step “do-it-now action checklist” so you can start growing immediately.

• An article focusing on the topic area with practical, real-world advice.

• A free downloadable worksheet.

Join the conversation: I’m posting on social media. Use the hashtag #yeartogrow and follow along on Twitter (@USATODAYMoney and @RhondaAbrams) and Facebook www.facebook.com/USATODAY and www.Facebook.com/RhondaAbramsSmallBusiness.

Engage with me: On Thursday I’ll host a Facebook chat at 2 p.m. ET to answer your specific concerns and to discuss small business growth and issues in more detail.

Rhonda Abrams is a globally recognized small business expert and president of PlanningShop, a publishing company specializing in business planning. Register for Abrams’ free business tips newsletter at www.PlanningShop.com and follow her on Twitter @RhondaAbrams and www.Facebook.com/RhondaAbrams.