Do I really need a niché?

Jul 15, 2020

Listen to the NICHE ME episode of the uncool designer here or read the transcript below. 

Today, I’m going to be talking everything niche. As my American counterparts call it, niche, but you’re going to hear my beautiful Aussie accent call it niche today. I’m going to be talking about the importance of having a niche in your design business, the fear that comes up when you’re trying to figure out what your niche is, and how to actually figure out what you should stick to and make your niche in your design business. I know it’s scary, and I know that there are so many voices out there telling you all the things you need to do in order for your business to be successful. It can be overwhelming. You have no idea where to start, but I’m telling you now that figuring out your niche is one of the most important parts of your business foundations.

You’re going to be living and breathing your business, hopefully for a really long time. That’s why it’s so important that you are doing the work you love, working with clients who are easy and who absolutely adore you each day. Otherwise, if you do not have a niche, you’re going to end up burnt out and resenting your design business and clients. If you are a designer who is nicheless at the moment, I have no doubt that you have a set mentality that you’re trying to appeal to as many people as possible, which means you’ve had to soften your brand’s natural personality and edge. You’re feeling stuck with the same old, boring, doomed, never to be original, innovative design jobs that are coming through your door, and your brand doesn’t even feel like you. Which is ironic, considering you design business brands for a living.

By not having a niche, you are unintentionally coming across as a vanilla designer, and I talk a lot about being vanilla. Now, vanillas are okay. I mean, it’ll do the job. It’ll deal with your craving. It’ll fill a spot. However, I know that you, as a designer, as an entrepreneur, as a creative are far, far more exciting than vanilla. I want you to be double chunk cookie dough, fudge, chocolate crunch. You know? I want you to be something desired, something exceptional, something unique. And when you’re a vanilla designer, you look generic. You work with anyone and everyone. You are a designer who has no specialty and no ideal client, a designer who does not have raving fans. Like I said, vanilla’s okay. It’ll do the job, but you’re not going to hear me raving and ranting about vanilla. So, have a think. Are you a vanilla designer? It’s okay if you are, because we can change it. Are you coming across as a generic entrepreneur who’s playing it safe, who works with anyone and everyone?

There are a billion designers out there in the world, a billion, and the internet has made the world so much smaller when it comes to business. So what are you going to do differently that’s going to help you stand out from the sea of designers? Well, the answer, of course, is have a niche. And what is a niche? What is the legit definition? A niche is a distinct segment of a market. So by having a very specific design niche, you’ll have raving fans that adore and appreciate your specific skillset, which means you’ll be able to only work with the right clients. Bye bye, the hagglers. Bye bye, Picky Peter and Debbie Downer. You’ll be able to charge expert rates, because you are offering a premium specialist service, and you will only have to work on projects that are in your zone of genius.

Sounds pretty great, right? And all of that comes from just standing tall, getting the balls to say that, “This is my niche. This is my specialty. This is who I am, who I work with, and what I do.” Taking back the power in your design business to say, “I’m the boss here and I’m in control.” So, where to start? It’s a bit cliche, but you need to start with what excites you. Now, just by merely saying that sentence, I have absolutely no doubt that your inner grownup is starting to freak out right now, and that’s fear. So when I tell you to focus on what you’re passionate about, the kind of thoughts that probably pop into your head are, “But Anna, what if there isn’t enough people out there willing to pay me to focus on my passion day in, day out? What if my passion isn’t a viable business plan, and what if I lose clients, and what if I turn people off by having a specific niche?”

All of that is fear, and I get it. It’s scary owning who you are and what you do and who you work with. It’s scary putting that out into the world. But I assure you, there are people out there looking for you, and they are ready and willing to pay you premium rates for your expertise. There are enough clients for everyone. And I get it. We are all kind of programmed to be these adult robots, where we have to push our passion to the bottom of the list in order just to get clients and to make money, but that is a false belief. You can lead with your passion and have a successful, profitable design business. I’ve seen it time and time again.

Now, I want to quickly just stop and give you a bit of inspiration. I found this quote from Brene Brown, which I think is absolutely spot on. She said, “If you trade your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.” So if you tried your authenticity for safety, you’re going to be in a world of pain. That’s how you end up resenting every client you have. That’s how you end up burnt out. Brene Brown knows her shit, guys. You got to listen to her. So now that I’ve convinced you that you need a niche in your design business, how do you figure out what your niche is?

Well, the first thing I want you to do is look for clues. Often, the answer is right in front of you. I cannot tell you how many times clients have said to me, “I don’t have any special talents. I’m boring. There’s nothing unique about what I do.” And then I dig deeper and say, “Well, what creative stuff do you do for fun? Do you have a secret, hidden talent that you’re not telling me about?” And they always do, but they write it off. I don’t know why, but they do. So look around. Think about the things that you love creating for fun. Even if you haven’t had time to do it recently, in the past, what were you passionate about? What kind of creative outlets were your number one? Look for the clues. Look around. Have a look at all your little things that you’ve collected over the years. Do they have a theme? What’s your favourite colour? All that sort of stuff. And remember passion. Remember why you decided to have a career in a creative industry to begin with, before all the grownup stuff became really heavy.

Also, think about the kind of design jobs that flow easily for you, because that’s your zone of genius. If for me a brief landed on my desk for a female business coach who wanted pink and white space and modern lines, that to me would be super easy. That would flow really well for me as opposed to if someone from a corporate agency put a brief on my desk asking for a really corporate, multi-page document. That’s not my zone of genius. So think about what flows easily for you. When you’re figuring out your design niche, there are four categories that you can combine to get really specific on what your niche is, and I’m just going to quickly run through those four categories so you can start to think about what your design niche is.

First up is your client’s industry. Take some time to think about the kind of clients that you have enjoyed working with in the past, and even if you haven’t worked with a lot of clients in the past, dream. Think about it. If you are a yoga enthusiast, perhaps that’s where your passion lies, and perhaps your client industry that you focus on is yoga instructors, people who own yoga businesses. If you have a passion for dance or travel, put the spotlight on that and make it part of your business. So the first category is to think about the client’s industry, who you want to focus on.

The next category is your design style. Like I said before, what flows easy for you? If you like doing ink drawings and love the look of ink splatters, or you love Procreate and doing illustration on there, or if watercolour is your jam, make that recognisable style that is special to you part of your niche. People who love your style will make the absolute best clients and you will get to highlight your talent, so that’s another layer you can add to the niche.

The third category for figuring out your niche is your specific services. Like I said before, we just want to stick to our zone of genius. So if you love doing branding but hate designing websites, don’t offer websites. Just do branding. If you hate doing logos but love doing social media graphics, focus on that. Be a specialist in that particular service. Okay? Do not be a Jill of all trades. It will make you wishy washy. It’s important to say, “This is what I do best,” and own it.

Now, the final category to consider when coming up with your niche is your client’s values. I think it’s really important to work with people who align with your values. You just don’t make friends with anyone. You become friends with people who have the same values as you. The same thing goes for clients. If a designer you truly value the research stage of your project and like digging in deep into your client’s foundations, it’s important to have values that align with the client. Also, if you’re passionate about sustainability or the ocean or veganism, perhaps you would like to work with clients who also share those values.

So the four categories that you really need to concentrate on when coming up with a multi-layered niche are your client’s industry, your design style, your specific services, and your client’s values. For me, when I was working as a designer full-time, my niche was as follows. My clients’ industry, they were always female entrepreneurs who had been in business for three or more years and experienced some success already in their business. They all offered person-to-person services, and they were all an online business. So you can see by making that my really specific client industry, it would make it easier for me to talk to my ideal client, because I knew exactly who they were and what kind of problems they had. I also knew what kind of language that they would respond to.

Second, my design style was feminine, soft, modern with emotive imagery. I made this super clear, because my brand reflected it as well. So as soon as they landed on my website, they knew what they were getting. There was no guessing. Then my specific services were complete branding packages, and I say complete because I did not work with people who came to me with an existing logo. I only worked with people who got me to do the whole shebang, and that’s what I specialised in. My client values are feminism, girl power, confidence, independence, Black Lives Matter, Love is Love. These are important values to me, and I’ve recently just added a question for people who ask to join my Facebook group. The question asked everyone who joins what their values are in regards to Black Lives Matter and Love is Love, because if you do not agree with those values, I’m sorry, but we are probably not going to be friends and we’re definitely not going to have a working relationship.

Like I said, you’re the boss and you get to pick and choose. So now it’s your turn. I want you to start thinking about what your niche can be and really hone down on it. Also, once you’ve got a clear idea of what your niche is, it’s really important to communicate it. Make it clear who you are, what you do, and who you work with. Do not leave anyone guessing. Now, I’ve talked a lot about niches. I want to tell you a little story. At the moment, I’m looking for a new accountant. And as you may know, no offence to accountants out there, but there are a lot of generic and boring accountants out there with zero personality who work with anyone and everyone, and they’re the kind of grumpy accountants that probably don’t really understand how a creative mind works.

Now, I recently found a really cool accountant from a recommendation from one of my Squad members. She sent me the link, and their brand was kick-ass. It had loads of personality. It was modern. It was cool. It was not boring at all, and they actually specialised with creative entrepreneurs. So of course, when I landed on that website, I was like, “Yes! These are the people that are going to totally get me. These are the people I have to work with.” Do you see the power of a niche? Vanilla versus niche. When you have a niche, people will connect with you on a different level and they will just have to work with you. Whereas if you’re vanilla and generic, the first thing people are going to think of is, “Uh, I wonder how much they charge.” Yeah, no. A niche creates raving fans.

So, my friends, I encourage you, be brave. Get the balls to stand up and say, “This is who I am, this is what I do, and this is who I work with.” Because when you have a niche, you get dream clients with dream jobs, you get clients who respect you, and you get clients who are willing to pay you the big bucks. Now, if you want more help getting clear on your design niche, I have a challenge that is kicking off in a week’s time. Join me for the “Niche Me, Baby!” Challenge. over five days, we will figure out what your niche is, and I will help you work through the fear. Head to my website, annadower.com, and then click on the “Niche Me, Baby!” Challenge in the top menu. That’s it from me, guys. I hope I’ve encouraged you to take the plunge and focus on passion. Ditch the fear and live your best life.