Commit To Your Niche

There is no perfect market.

Yesterday I wrote about the importance of your target market - picking the right table to sit on. When you're in a booming industry, opportunities seem to come from nowhere and everything is easier. If you're stuck in a bad market, even the most experienced consulting partner with the best offering in town will struggle.

After reading it, a friend who's in consulting for more than 20 years sent me this:

"Great post, I've seen dozens of mediocre consultants making a living just by being in the right market at the right time. But there's also a big danger in the message. Those who are going independent and starting their own firms might be tempted to keep searching for the perfect niche - it's important to know that it doesn't exist."

I couldn't agree more with this - you need to commit to a niche. And based on my experience, solo consultants are the ones who struggle the most with this. I'll try to illustrate why I think that happens.

Take a boutique consulting firm with 2-10 partners (the profile of most of my clients). As an example, the firm provides data protection services for FT 500 / FTSE 250 companies. That's their positioning.

The team consists of different people, with different skillsets and personalities. This means that each partner ends up naturally gravitating towards a client profile or practice area:

  • Partner A works closely with healthcare companies.
  • Partner B with banking companies.
  • Partner C with telecom companies.

Or,

  • Partner A is the expert on EU compliance.
  • Partner B on cybercrime, IT attacks, or data breaches.
  • Partner C on privacy and information management.

That's the advantage of having a "larger bench" - the firm can offer its clients deep expertise across the board. But at the end of the day, every partner sells the same thing to the same market: data protection for FT 500 / FTSE 250.

Radically changing the positioning is neither reasonable nor feasible. This would require every consultant in the firm to acquire brand new technical skills. Cultivating expertise and experience from client work takes time, sometimes decades.

That's also true for solo consultants. But being a "company of one" allows them to have more flexibility for their positioning and target market choice. And this is where the danger lies.

At least twice a month I'm approached by frustrated solo consultants. They try to sell one offer in one market, don't hit 6-figures in their first year, and think "I'm in a bad market". Most times that's not actually the case. They just don't have the right offer and/or are suffering from business development myopia.

For those running a solo practice, remember: there is no perfect market. If you keep hopping from niche to niche hoping the market will solve your problems, you are fooling yourself.

Pick one, then commit to it.

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