The first rule of Rainmaker Marketing is that you must be recognized as an expert who can solve the needs of your target market. Key that to read “you must be an expert on the needs of your target market.”
That short paragraph implies two very important requirements.
You must be recognized as an expert in your target market. Which, of course, implies that you must have a target market. Without meeting those two requirements, the only option you have is to compete on price, as no one has any way of juding how your expertise will satisfy their needs.
Remeber, as Michael Porter, of Harvard Business School told us, ages ago, there are only two ways to compete, through price leadership or differentiation, and the only variation on those two methods is to establish a focus with either one..
Now, of course, since that basic pronouncement so many years ago, we’ve learned that there are infinite variations in each quadrant of the resulting matrix, but that is for another time. Today, we talk about differentiation, and focus, and how to achieve recognition when you are just breaking into a niche or specializtion.
Which begs the question, why must you specialize in a niche , or offer a specialized service? what’s the point? Isn’t accounting transferable across industries? Aren’t the principles of accounting the same, no matter what the industry or niche? Aren’t those principles applied consistently, no matter what the specialization or service?
Yes, they are, and not they aren’t.
Yes, the basic principles of accounting are transferable across industries, but the things that make any industry or profession unique is its lingua franca, its language, and its operations. If you can’t speak the lingua franca of an industry, and understand how the terminology applies to operations in that industry, then you are as blind as a bat as far as members of the industry are concerned, and about as useless as t*t* on a boar hog.
As far as competing on price, that is a difficult proposition, and one I suggest small local practitioners shy away from as it requires a heavy investment in specialized resources in order to have the systems and procedures necessary to handle the volume required to earn a reasonable return on time and capital. So, I am going to avoid taling about price competition, as it is something that results in industry concentration and low margins. In other words, I just don’t think you can com[pete on price, unless you are a very unique providere.
On to Niches and Specializations.
Because prospects have needs that can only be understood by someone who speaks their language, they look for people who understand their industry, and who can communicate about solutions to their needs. Without any quantifiable measure, they loof first to solution providers who are familiar with their industry and who speak their language. Absent identifying a satisfactory provider who speaks the language, the prospect will attempt to identify the most knowelegeable generalist available, with the hope that they will be skilled enough ato learn the basiscs of the industry, and at least solve some of their needs.
However, the ties to this generalist are tenuous at best, at least until the generalist has acquired enough experience to provide satisfactory solutions for the client. Until then, they may be easily wooed by a solution provider who is familiar with the language and operations of the target market.
So, how can you become familiar with a niche or specialization?
Well, of course I am going to mention the Industry Specific Marketing Kits that Amanda has pulled together for members, and the Practice Specialization Manuals I’ve pulled together with the help of authors such as Marcus Dyer. But, while those get you up and running, if you’re strapped, and looking for a way to get started in an industry of a specialization, there are other things you can do, and one is to make ‘friends’ with your competitors.
Instead of struggling to learn the lingo, and get in front of dubious prospects, talk to maybe 15 niche mentors, people in the specific niche or industry that you are targeting. Folks who have the kind of reputation you would like to have, and who are further along in their business than you are, and ask them four key questions:
- What has worked best for you in gaining new clients?
- What hasn’t worked for you, and why don’t you think those strategies worked?
- Who else is relatively successful in the industry, and generous of heart, that might be open to talking with me? And,
- Is there anything I could do to help you? Or, what is the main project you are working on now, that I could lend some support to?
- Have you noticed what your prospects have responded to best? What type of messaging gets their attention? (Here, you’re trying to discover the actual words or phrases that get the target’s attention.)
- What would you say is a hidden secret of out kniche, known by people like you who’ve been around, that newbies like me, are not aware of?
- If you were to start building your business from scratch today, what would you do?
- What online resource (e.g. blog, podcast, webcast, website) would yo9u recommend for building our type of business?
Now, on that last question, you must be sincere, and willing to help where you can.
If your mentor has some additional time to talk, ask them the following questions:
If your niche mentor is local, reach out to them and offer to take them to a lunch or dinner, at their convenience and wherever they work or live.
If they are not local, contact them and offer to interview them for a half hour to an hour on a podcast, video or interview series. And, let them know, that although you will be promoting them to your audience, they don’t need to promote it at all. Most likely they will share the link to your interview, but do not require it. Your goal is to build a mailing list from your audience, and if it appears that is what you are doing, the mentor may balk.
One last bit of information
When trying to identify who to talk to, folks who are just ahead of you in experience are more informative, and may share more than someone who is so far ahead they are unable to relate to your needs, give you the information you want, or have an interest in working with you to build an audience. Someone who is two to five years ahead in experience is more likely to remember the struggles they ahd, and have sympathy for you.
Keep that in mind, and remember, always find out what your prospect needs and wants.
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