Derek shares how he took his struggling web design business to new heights by narrowing his focus. Instead of building sites for anybody and everybody, today he specializes in creating awesome websites for professional speakers.
While today he has dramatically increased his rates and brought balance back into his life, the journey of niching down wasn’t always easy.
In this interview, Derek shares the struggles he had as a generalist, why niching down was the answer, his fears going into it, how he developed a true expertise, and how it has completely transformed his business.
I’ve talked to a few other guests about the benefits of niching down, but this interview is different in that you get to hear the unfiltered ups and downs of the transformation and get advice from somebody who has gone through the transformation themselves.
If you’re tired of getting beat up on price and feel like the client holds all of the power, then this is the episode for you.
The life of a generalist
As a web designer who worked for anybody and everybody, Derek was getting beat up on price and constantly having to prove himself. He was spending so much time on proposals, getting on phone calls just to schedule more calls, and having meetings to talk about other meetings. At the end of many of those interactions, the potential client would say they were going to go with somebody else who was cheaper.
It was a waste of time and Derek was tired of it, but because he was just scraping by, he felt like he had no choice. He just had to sit back and take it, giving the client full control even though he was supposed to be the expert. He got into freelancer for freedom, but at the end of the day he wasn’t fulfilled because he was working long, stressful hours without much pay.
Why niching down was the answer
To help find a way to improve his situation, Derek started working with the business coach, Gene Hammett. From the beginning, Gene suggested he focus on a niche market, but Derek resisted.
“How am I supposed to make a living out of just one industry?” “I’ve got all these people from all different industries and they’re paying me money. Am I supposed to just tell them no?”
It felt like Gene wanted to take his entire business and flip it upside down. He would need new branding, new messaging, everything would have to change which is a scary proposition. After taking stock of the situation, Derek realized that something had to change and that he would trust the advice of his coach.
As he came around to the idea, he had a project come up for a speaker. He took the project and they referred him to another speaker, who referred him to yet another speaker. After doing a few of these projects and enjoying the clients, he decided that would be his niche.
Becoming an expert
It’s not as simple as just slapping on a label and staking your claim on a new niche. In the beginning, Derek took the transition slowly. While his new focus was on speakers, he wasn’t turning away other clients. As he continued delivering projects, he dove head first into research this new field.
In the first year, Derek estimates he read at least 50 books for speakers and started soaking up as much information as he could. If somebody had their finger on the pulse of the industry, he would listen to them.
The learning curve was steep as there was so much to learn, but as the hours of research piled up and he began delivering more and more successful projects, he became a true expert in the field.
A transformed business
Today, most of Derek’s clients come from referrals, so when they come to him, there is a reputation that precedes him. Clients view Derek as an authority, so instead of making him prove himself, prospects have already decided they want to work with him. The only question at that point is whether or not they can afford Derek.
With this new balance of power between Derek and his clients, he no longer has to spend days and weeks putting together proposals and taking calls before they even agree to a project. Now, within the first 30 minutes of talking he gets a yes or a no. If they say yes, he charges them $500 deposit for a strategy session to get the project started, rather than putting together a free proposal.
As an expert, clients are coming to Derek for help, so they fully expect him to take the lead and they understand that expertise doesn’t come cheap. In the 3+ years since specializing, Derek has increased his rates by over 300%.