Career Clinic: How to Define Your Niche

In this month’s career clinic, I answer a new entrepreneur stuck with creating her niche…

“I recently started my own business creating stationery. I’m quite general but I keep hearing about the importance of creating a ‘niche’.  I really struggle with this – am I going to turn off loads of potential customers if I say I only work I one area? And how do I define the right niche?”

Confused designer, Stanstead

Firstly congratulations to you – great that you have started your own business, well done.

You don’t tell me much about what started you off down the road of creating stationery – there are so many different routes into the business and sectors within it.  For example, it could be that you are an illustrator looking to add value to your work by making cards or other products with your images.

Or you might have a link to a paper manufacturer you want to exploit.  Or then again perhaps you identified a gap in the market that other people hadn’t spotted.  Whatever the reason, go back to that initial light-bulb moment and think about what the key reason was.

Perhaps you were looking for something particular yourself, but you couldn’t find it, so decided to provide it for the market.

This is the reason so many people go into business. If this is your story, I am assuming that you followed this gap analysis with some clear-eyed market research, asking other people their thoughts about your plan, finding out about the market in-depth and on the basis of what you discovered, decided to go ahead.

The stationery market is a very big pool, with a wide range of players, from the tiny providers to the large-scale card, book and paper product manufacturers.  You will have seen this from your research.  It can be hard to be seen and to find your audience.

When thinking about niches overall – it could be that your research may have shown you what niche your products would fit into.  You may not have recognized it as such – but perhaps others have.

A niche in the stationery world could be providing stationery for certain types of companies or shops, it could be stationery suited to special needs, it could be a certain demographic… there are so many different ways you can define this.

What a ‘niche’ does is allows people to see where you fit in the overall picture, the market in its entirety, rather than trying to be all things stationery to all people.  Although I realize this also could sound like they are trying to put you in a ‘box’, it could be they are trying to see where your range works in their perception of the stationery market.  This will also be determined by your product range, your branding, the materials you are using, the demographic you are appealing to.

On occasions, people worry that being put in a niche can be limiting.  However, in fact, it can help people understand how and where to buy your products, ensuring you appeal to the right audience.

And remember, with the internet, a niche doesn’t just have to be UK-based, your niche could extend across the globe!

Years ago I started a business designing home furnishing/garden accessories, which were handmade out of natural materials, as I felt there was a real opportunity in that space.  Only available through mail order, we had to produce a catalogue and get lots of p.r. underway as it was before the internet.

I felt really precious about the niche we had created, identifying the target audience really clearly.  However it wasn’t until I was approached by organisations like Historic Royal Palaces and the RHS, asking me to design souvenirs and merchandise for them that I realized the niche I had defined for myself was way too narrow, and really my target market was far wider than I realized.

By giving myself that first niche, I had been able to do something small really well, people knew what I stood for and what they were buying, allowing other organisations to approach me.

You are looking to be a general supplier, which is great, but by identifying several different niches that you sit within, you can appeal to audiences in different ways, tweaking your marketing appropriately.  This allows them to find you in unexpected places and spaces according to their needs, rather than what you are looking to sell them.

I hope you have found this helpful – niches need not be limited but can be very deep and international.  And they can be across demographics, age groups or any other factor you can think of.  What matters about niches is how you mine them for the benefit of your business.

Good luck.



Erica’s new book ‘Simple Tips, Smart Ideas : Build a Bigger, Better Business’ is out now. Full of her usual easy-to-use advice, lots of case studies, quick tips, diagrams and innovative ways to think about growing your business – its 288 full colour pages will help you transform your business.  Available to order from Amazon and all other good bookshops.



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