Successful Small Businesses Serve a Niche

Thursday, June 15, 2006

While it may sound cliche' to "find your niche", the fact is having a niche market greatly increases your chances of success online as a small business.

As an aside:
One of the things that sets my web design business apart from others is practical experience. Yes, we have practical experience designing the sites themselves, but the TRUE difference is that we create the potential experiences of our clients and learn from them. We actually build our own stores and various small business websites, promote them, optimize them, and learn from the experiences so we can better serve and advise our web design clients.

So back to the "niche":
To illustrate my "niche" theory, MSW Interactive Designs launched two online retail storefronts about 4 years ago and promoted the heck out of them through online advertising, PPC, print advertising, affiliate programs, and the like.

The Success Story:
The first storefront serves a niche market - brides. WhereBridesGo.com sells bridal accessories, wedding favors, wedding party gifts, and just about everything a bride could ever want for her wedding. While the wedding market is flooded with comepetition, we were able to quickly grow and brand this store in the niche bridal market by narrowing our marketing niche even more ... to localized areas. In other words, we promoted this niche market site through LOCAL (city-based) wedding portals (an even smaller niche) rather than at a national level where we'd have to compete with the "big boys" in the industry. The site is now hugely successful, a great source of revenue for our business, a great sample "success-story" eCommerce storefront.

The "Not-So-Successful" Story
The second online storefront we opened is more of a general gift site, EagleNestLane.com. The problem with the site should jump right out at you with the words "general gift". There's no niche market here. While the original intent was to convert our bridal customers from WhereBridesGo.com, into repeat customers for our "general gifts", there was nothing unique about what we were doing and it wasn't serving any niche. Yes, the site gets the occasional random order, but the success of the site pales in comparison to WhereBridesGo.com. Brides, now wives by the time we introduce them to EagleNestLane.com, can get their "general gifts" anywhere. We were pormoting this site in EXACTLY the same manner that we promoted WhereBridesGo.com, but it didn't yield the same success. There's no hook, there's no real brand, and it's difficult to create an urgency to buy. The better approach and perhaps a more successful niche site as a follow-on to the WhereBridesGo.com site would have been Baby Gifts -- a nice niche market, with a natural and built-in follow-on to the wedding!

Why does it matter?
As a web design company, I think it's important to have these experiences to draw on as personal case studies to share with clients. We can draw on what works and why it worked and easily share what doesn't work and why it didn't work. It lends to our credibility. Based on my own experiences, it's clear to me that the niche is what it's all about.

Finding your niche is win-win:
MSW Interactive Designs, as web design company even serves a niche. We don't just build websites for anyone who wants one. We work with small businesses who want a professional presence online, who want to "WORK" their websites so their websites work for them, and who don't want to mess with it themselves - in other words, they entrust us to handle it for them. We do all the maintenance and updates for them, but they are actively involved in the site, continually interested in its growth, offline promotion, and improvement. We have defined our niche by describing the type of client we want.

Believe it or not, we actually turn away clients who don't fit this niche. Why? Because clients who don't fit our niche aren't good for our business -- when their websites don't work for them they may blame us, even though it was all about them not "working" and "participating" in the success of their website. We want clients who are actively involved, not just during the design but throughout the LIFE of the website -- this is what makes the business relationship successful and their website successful.

By serving our niche market only, we serve clients with the same business attitudes and beliefs that we have. Our clients rave about our services and consistently provide referrals. In other words, our niche clients KNOW more people who are in the niche and they refer them to us! It's a win-win. Sticking to our niche naturally helps our business success and grow because we are happier with our clients and our clients tend to be happy with us.

The moral of the story:
Find your niche. Forget that it's a cliche ... do it anyway because it works. It works for your business AND it works for your website.

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