To niche or not to niche?
Let me get straight to it and say that you don't have to niche down your web design and development services to be successful in freelancing.
But, I do believe it's more beneficial to work in a niche and this article will explain why.
The old man with the hammer:
One fine, sunny day, the owner of a large million-dollar ship found out that the engine is not working.
He called every engineer on board and the surrounding towns, but no one could fix it.
Then they brought in an old man who specializes in fixing ship engines. He immediately got to work and inspected the engine from top to bottom.
The owner was watching as the old man reached into his bag, took out a small hammer, tapped something with the hammer, and the engine was instantly brought to life.
A week later, the owner received an invoice from the old man for $10,000.
The ship owner didn’t want to pay for it and said, “He hardly did anything!” So he requested for an itemized bill.
This is what the old man sent:
A lifetime of experience made him an expert at fixing ship engines and he had every right to charge like one.
The subject of niching down is very much tied to the subject of expertise and why experts are able to charge more than the average developer.
Niching down positions you as an expert in a specific industry, allowing you to charge more and become more in demand.
I'm going to be discussing why niching down is the best thing you can do as a web designer and developer to earn more, become respected for your expertise and work with better clients.
Here's what to expect:
- Niching Down - What is it?
- A Niche Increases Your Perceived Expertise
- Niching Down Lets You Personalize Your Messaging
- How to Find a Web Design Niche
- Getting Started in Your Niche
- The All-in-One Niche Approach
Niching Down – What Is It?
A “niche” is defined as “a specialized market”.
It’s a specific field or an industry such as law, healthcare, photography, videography, fashion, financial services and more.
When a web designer niches down their services, they simply choose ONE industry to create websites for businesses within that niche.
So if I choose to niche down to photography, I will only make websites for photographers. Not bakers, not hairstylists, just photographers.
Now you may be asking, “Why would I do that?”
You're saying no to 99% of other businesses out there...
And you'd be right...
Why am I telling you that turning away clients and making your services exclusive to an industry is a smart move?
Let’s go back to the story of the old ship repairman.
Do you think that if he spent his life spreading himself too thinly by repairing any machinery, he would gain the expertise that he needed to “know where to tap”?
If he was a generalist who repairs all kinds of engines, he wouldn’t be the only person in the city who knew how to solve that ship’s problem.
And that’s the principle of niching down:
Specializing in a niche gives you a higher chance at becoming a recognized expert and it places you in a better position to charge more for your services.
Specializing lets you:
- Spend less time looking for clients. Instead, they come to you.
- Demand higher prices than generalists.
- Free up your time to actually start enjoying your life.
These benefits are really just a direct result of these primary advantages of niching down:
- Niching down increases your perceived expertise.
- Niching down lets you personalize your messaging.
A Niche Increases Your Perceived Expertise
Everywhere you look, you’ll see scenarios where this principle is working.
Specialization demands a premium price.
That’s why people are willing to pay more for a pair of Nike shoes than an unbranded pair.
Or why people who need a brain surgery do so with a Neurosurgeon and not a General Practitioner.
When you specialize in a specific niche, it portrays credibility and it shows perspective clients that you know what you’re doing and you’re the perfect person to help them achieve their business goals.
Let’s say you’re a lawyer and you're looking around for someone or an agency to create a website for your law firm.
In your search, you come across these websites:
Which of the two websites do you think is the best option to help you get more clients as a lawyer?
If you didn't say option 2, I'd be surprised.
Now let's take this a step further:
This is their (hypothetical) pricing for a law firm website:
OPTION 1: $5,000
OPTION 2: $12,000
Which option is best now?
Again, if you didn't say option 2, I'd be surprised.
You’re paying for their expertise in your niche. You are NOT paying for them just to create a 'website'.
Obviously the psychology of pricing a website has a big influence here, but in short, option 2 can charge more because they've worked with hundreds of laywers before and they have a proven track record.
On top of that, the value of just one new client in the life-time of the law-firm's website could pay for the additional fee that option 2 charges.
Niching down works and Derek Hart of Get the Gigs is a testament to this.
When he started his web development career, he was a generalist and competed with thousands other generalists.
He chose to focus on the coaches and speakers niche and spent way less time looking for clients, proving himself to clients, negotiating the price and scope and got to focus on what’s important: making the websites and making a good income.
Word spreads around fast in a niche. The more successful projects you complete, the more buzz you’re creating about your business.
Here’s the thing about referrals:
A reputation precedes you, so even before you talk to a client, they already have an opinion about you and that opinion is good.
This is why getting referrals is often the best way to get new clients.
Niching Down Lets You Personalize Your Messaging
Communicating your offer to potential clients is so powerful that it can make or break a business.
Your brand messaging is how you communicate what you can do for clients, how you can improve their lives and why they should work with you.
Don't be like so many people I see out there and think that just because they're a pro at XYZ programming language, it means they're going to land good clients and earn a good income.
That's NOT how this works...
In fact, my knowledge is pretty simple when it comes to programming, but that's only because I know it doesn't result in $$$.
Let’s say you’re a chiropractor and you want a website to acquire new patients, so you start looking for web design services online and you come across this company:
Get “a variety of professional web design services” for “your business”.
Sounds good because that’s what you need, right?
But then you come across this website:
You're immediately hit with the tailored messaging that jumps out and speaks to you because it addresses you as a chiropractor, not just any business.
The messaging is direct and specific and they get what you really want to achieve – to get more patients through your website.
At this point, you’ll start thinking, “These guys get me! I should get in touch.”
That’s one more lead for this chiropractic web design service.
The more specific and personalized your messaging is to your target audience, the more compelling your marketing is.
Specializing in a specific niche lets you craft stronger messages that resonate with the specific needs and wants of your audience.
To recap: A niche allows you to establish yourself as an expert and you can craft more personalized branding messages, which both result in higher income, more freedom and more vacation.
How to Find a Web Design Niche
At this point, I hope you’re seeing the huge benefits of niching down your web design services and you’re starting to visualize how it can drastically improve your freelancing career.
The first thing you need to do once you’re ready to specialize is to look for your niche.
I believe that there are only two things you need to look for in a niche:
- It’s something you enjoy.
- It has a high income potential.
If you’ve worked on a few projects before: List all of your projects.
Open Excel and list down all the projects you’ve worked on in the past.
Note the following:
- How much you made
- How you felt about the project/client
If you haven’t worked on any projects yet:
Reflect on your past experiences in school or at work and think about what industries you enjoyed working in or would love to explore more.
Once you have an initial list of industries you like or you think you'd like working in, you need to know how much you can potentially earn in each.
All you have to do is head over to Google, find out how much an individual in a given industry earns in a year and divide it by 10.
This is the rough estimate of their yearly marketing budget.
Their annual pay is around $43,000 according to PayScale.com. That means they can only afford to pay around $4,300 per year (or $350pm) on marketing.
Their annual pay is around $400,000 according to PayScale.com. That means they can afford to pay around $40,000 per year (or $3,300pm) on marketing.
If you specialize in helping neurosurgeons, you can charge higher prices because their marketing budget is higher than that of nutritionists.
For example, if you charge $1000 per month to neurosurgeons for a monthly digital marketing service, they’d probably say yes because they can afford it. But if you charge that to a nutritionist, it would probably be too expensive.
So your niche directly correlates with your income potential.
Again, it should be a balance of enjoyment and earning potential.
If you need more inspiration in finding a niche, check out this extensive list with examples of potential web design niches.
Once you have a niche and you’re 100% into it, it’s time to convert that into $$$.
Getting Started in Your Niche
Your ultimate goal at this point is to establish yourself as an expert so that clients will actually come to you and trust you with their business.
There are 3 main things you need to do:
1 - Research as much info as you can about your new niche.
Before you think about getting clients, you need to understand their niche and all that’s in it – the culture, lingo, people’s online behavior, common points of discussion, pain points when it comes to having a website or getting new clients and more.
The key is to stay focused and don’t be afraid to spend as much time as you need.
Read all the books and resources you can get your hands/eyes on and stay updated with industry news.
2 - Feature your portfolio.
Your portfolio should clearly show your past experience in your niche, what the client’s problem was, what you did to solve it and the end result.
If you haven’t worked with clients in your niche before, you can offer to do free and use those for your portfolio.
3 - With your industry knowledge and portfolio ready, start marketing your niche web design agency.
Before I discuss marketing strategies, let’s be clear about your marketing goal:
It’s not about getting clients. It’s not even about getting traffic to your portfolio website.
It’s all about establishing yourself as an expert.
This goal should inform every marketing tactic you use and should make you think twice about how each piece of content and advertisement is establishing you as an expert.
With that, marketing is broken up into these time-frame strategies:
Long-term strategy: SEO and Social Media.
Short-term strategy: Google Ads and Online Advertisements.
If you want to see better results, you need to implement these strategies side-by-side.
SEO and social media both work well in building brand awarenessand getting constant leads but tend to take time in getting results - around 3-6 months.
Because you need to eat while waiting for the results of your long-term marketing strategy, you can run paid ads using Google Ads and other online advertisement platforms like Facebook.
Here are other effective ways to market yourself as an expert:
- Volunteer as a guest on podcasts that your target audience is listening to and share what you know about designing websites in your niche.
- Create a Facebook group, add potential clients (ex: if you’re in the chiropractic niche, add chiropractors), add value to them by sharing useful content and decide how you want to sell your services to them.
- Write a book. This is by far the simplest way to increase your credibility. Sell it on Amazon or provide it for free on your agency website. The important thing is for clients to see that you have a book in their niche because people tend to assume that if you have written a book, then you must be an expert.
If you want more tips on how to market and grow your niche web design agency, I'll plug my freelancing bundle here as I do go into this in a lot of detail.
The All-in-One Niche Approach
If you’re so worried about spending all your good years in one niche only and worried you might get bored, know that you don’t need to spend your entire life on one niche.
I personally own two niche-focused agencies and I’ve also found other web design agencies that own several niche-focused sub-agencies and offer them separately on different websites or webpages.
Nifty Marketing does this particularly well.
On their homepage, they lead with a statement that they serve different sorts of businesses:
They then give a link to the webpages focused on a specific industry, like the law niche:
And the pest control:
They have 20+ staff members, so I'm sure they're not doing too bad with this strategy... :)
I hope you can see how a niche can powerfully impact your web design business.
If you think you’re ready to specialize but need more help or you have other questions, connect with me on Twitter and I'll be happy to help :)
Until next time,