A year ago, I was both proud of my business and drowning in it.
In its fourth year, my digital marketing agency was buzzing. 11Web’s tiny team of three worked with over 60 clients in 2016 on websites, design, consulting, Facebook ads, and other digital marketing projects.
100% of our business came from word of mouth, personal referrals, and networking. We’d take any client who came our way, if they could afford our modest prices.
Got a business and a checkbook? We’re your agency.
I loved helping business owners be more successful. I also had a serious “Yes” problem— I’d say yes to any random, time-consuming work outside our normal website projects if I thought I could help someone out.
While I was proud of my business, it consumed my whole life. With over 100 past and present clients total, I spent most of my day just managing communications (noooooooo, not another email!). To get project work done, I worked every weeknight and most weekend days.
As a final head-scratcher, marketing and trying to increase our own reach was really frustrating. I’d try a blog post here or there and semi-regular social media posting, but I was really struggling to connect with more customers.
I was always hearing (and giving) the advice “market wherever your target customer is already hanging out.” But the problem was, we didn’t have a target customer. So I halfheartedly did a little bit of everything, and became known for nothing.
By mid-2016, I was tired of how bland my business felt. I was tired of listing a laundry list of services when people asked what I did for a living. I was tired of saying “Well, we don’t usually do that, but I’ll figure it out.”
I knew something had to change if I was going to do what I really wanted. I always imagined myself speaking at conferences, differentiating myself as an expert, traveling often with my husband, and having the freedom to unplug when I wanted to.
I had this feeling that specializing and developing a deep, serious expertise was the answer.
Why Specialize My Agency?
I think the decision to specialize is best summed up in my May 2016 monthly business email to my team, excerpted word-for-word below.
11Web Bulletin: 5/9/2016
Finding a niche
It’s time to bite the bullet
When I started 11Web with just a love of code and a laptop in 2012, I swore we would never be the expensive provider who only did one thing. I wanted to help small businesses everywhere to be successful and gain more visibility. I loved working with a variety of clients and learning about their businesses.
I still want this, but things have changed. 4 years in, we now have a team to support, lots of past clients to keep up with, and way more design and marketing skill than when I was still “figuring everything out.”
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time for us to become specialists over generalists.
Problems we’re facing operating as-is:
- It’s hard explain why we’re better than anyone else since we just offer the same services.
- We’re not attracting clients who can easily afford our expertise.
- We don’t solve the same problem over and over again, so we spend a lot of energy learning about all the problems first.
- When we write blog posts or marketing copy, we end up writing for “everyone.” That means it’s hard to keep our content from getting too broad.
- We don’t have many economies of scale. I have to check in with each ongoing client each month to see how we can help, rather than just knowing what problems they’re all facing and suggesting a solution.
We’re too good at creating solutions to lose business to someone’s niece who took a web design class in college. So, I think we need to find a specific industry or service where we can position ourselves as experts.
Advantages of niching down:
- We can write clearly and compellingly about what problems we solve.
- We can create a few products/services to offer that solve those problems for many companies (not just one).
- We can show that we’re the knowledgeable in our focus, differentiating us from generalists.
- We can gain more ongoing revenue by offering the same monthly services to multiple clients.
So what’s the niche?
Honestly, I don’t know yet. I’m going to be working with my entrepreneurs group to research, consider options, and choose a focus.
I’d like to discuss this on our call together and find out what ideas you have, what work excites you, and what clients excite you. Let’s position ourselves for big growth by finding the right target!
I feel like the “Why” has taken 4 years but is really the easy part. The “How” seems a lot more challenging. That comes next.
Not into reading? Here’s how I’m feeling, in a quick 4-minute video.