I fell in to being self employed. It wasn’t part of my plan (not that I ever had much of a plan for my career). I’d seen self employment make my father very ill and experienced the precariousness of his fluctuating income when I was younger. Having said all that I’ve grown to rather enjoy the experience. The flexibility gained and the variety of employers keep it interesting so that what started as a few odd jobs whilst I waited for my next operations role has built in to a small business.
Early on I was encouraged by a number of people, many of them also small business owners. It was suggested that I needed a “niche” – something that I am known for, the “go to guy” for that particular discipline. For a long time I resisted that as I like the variety of differing work. As time has gone on though my work has started to fall in to two main areas. One based on my operational experience and the other based on helping organisations and individuals with their emotional health. The only departure from that is some occasional mediation and generalist associate work.
I’m currently taking advantage of a few quiet weeks to do some business development (between the Tour de France and the upcoming Olympics / Paralympics I think I timed this well). Seriously though, I’m working on what my narrative is, what I actually do for my clients and I’ve managed to identify an underlying process which works across a variety of my offerings. Right now, anecdotally at least, it’s a tough time for small independent providers and it’s tempting to try to offer more, be all things to all people in an effort to drive business. I’m trying to update my website and display my niche skills whilst still providing visibility to other services I provide……
…..and it’s not easy.
Another variable is that my (perhaps) best known niche is in the area of Mental Health. I make some of my living as an “Expert by Experience” and herein lies the challenge. Does working in this niche actually help my own mental health? It’s a problem I’ve wrestled with before and there don’t seem to be easy answers.
Where does that leave my business development? I’m working in an area where I’m unlikely to go out of business imminently (though it does feel that way often – you have to kiss a lot more frogs than you’d think). However, whilst it’s great helping organisations make changes to the way they look after their staff it does come at a cost to me.
I’m not unique in finding myself in a niche which isn’t where I started / wanted to go – that describes many people in employment. I imagine there are others amongst the self employed who would like to be known for much more than a narrow strand of their capabilities but the reality is that it’s hard enough to get the work, do the work and get paid on time before you think about diversifying.
I don’t have a particular reason for writing this blog, it was just on my mind as I work. Maybe though there is a resonance for both the employed and self employed. What niche have you ended up stuck in and what (if anything) are you doing to break out? I’d be interested to read your stories / comments.