Since I read The Positioning Manual I’ve been branstorming and researching various markets/niches.
My aim has been to find a market that’s conducive to both consulting engagements and a product. For example, hair salons wouldn’t fit both because almost no hair salon is going to hire a developer for a one-off consulting engagement. Most of them don’t have that kind of money.
On the other hand, I could imagine, say, manufacturing companies being a better fit. I could very easily imagine a manufacturing company that would see an ROI in hiring a developer for a one-off engagement, and have the money to pay for it.
Unfortunately I’ve found it hard to arbitrarily pick a market. I tried thinking of all the kinds of businesses I’ve already worked for. I got a couple ideas out of that but they were still a little too vague. For example, I worked for a trucking logistics startup. I researched that industry a little bit and couldn’t figure out a way to try to come at it.
I went relatively deep into a couple industries by subscribing to podcasts, trade magazines, email lists, etc. I hoped that by educating myself in these ways I’d be able to figure out a way to try to make some inroads into that industry. I haven’t been able to figure anything out.
Funnily enough, I actually had tried to position my consulting business before, I just don’t know if I called it positioning. At one point I called it my Unique Selling Proposition (USP). My first attempt at positioning was real estate. Just like the markets I’ve researched recently, I researched real estate and even talked to a few people in that industry, but couldn’t figure out how to get in. I went without any positioning for some time after that. Late I came up with a positioning statement that actually seemed to work.
Somehow I came up with the idea of selling my services not as software development but as “business process automation”. I think I got this idea from Dan Kennedy’s advice to put yourself into a “category of one”. Another thing that helped push me in this direction was that I would go to Chamber of Commerce meetings and tell people I was a software engineer, and they would either not understand or not care or both. So I knew I needed to come up with something that non-technical people could understand.
What I used to say at the Chamber meetings was, “I do business process automation. I take things that are tedious, time consuming and expensive and make them cheap, easy and enjoyable. I do this by writing custom software. A good referral for me is a business that uses Microsoft Excel. If you’re using Excel, there’s a good chance that means you’re either wasting a bunch of your own time or using up a bunch of payroll expense.”
I was using this same pitch in a BNI meeting and the guy sitting next to me actually tapped me on the shoulder and basically said, “Hey, that’s me. Maybe we should talk.” He ended up being a client. One of my favorite clients ever, in fact.
I don’t believe I ever got any work out of the Chamber that way. Eventually I got busy with client work and stopped going. But this morning I got an email from someone I had talked to several months ago about a certain Excel project and she was interested in reopening her conversation. The funny thing is that a couple days ago, I was actually wondering, “You know, maybe instead of trying to arbitrarily come up with a vertical niche, I should just keep going with my horizontal niche that has already worked a little bit.” This email from my old Chamber contact has given me a little bit more encouragement in that direction.
I might chance my mind again soon but I think right now I’ll try going a little further down the Excel path. But instead of telling people I do “business process automation”, I think I’ll just come right out and say “I turn Excel into software.” I should probably say something more like, “I save businesses money by turning Excel systems into custom software.” I’ll probably test a number of pitches and see how they’re received. I can definitely thank Philip Morgan for the idea to make my narrow focus (business process automation) even narrower (Excel). I can see people grasping the Excel thing a lot more readily than business process automation.
I’m not sure what exactly I want to prioritize next. I think I want to rewrite my website copy, get new business cards, and start going to business networking groups again. The business networking groups can really put a squeeze on the ol’ schedule.
I’m actually trying to pick up a little side work over the next couple months, so if I’m successful in doing that like I hope I’ll be, I probably won’t actually be doing much to work “on” my business during that time just because I’ll be so busy.