Welcome to Business Myths. Here's the deal: we often hear business "truths" and accept them as true without stopping to question them. We're chatting with solopreneurs and freelancers who have learned the hard way that these commonly accepted facts may not, in fact, always be true. In this case, Carlana shares the story of how she learned the hard way that focusing in on a niche isn't for everyone.
Give us a bit of background on your business
It’s 2010 and my virtual assistance practice is all I dreamed it would be. Things were so great that I occasionally found myself in the position of being able to turn away work. It seemed like all the hard work I had put in since I started in 2007 was netting great results. I was happy, business was thriving and I kept busy with a range of marketing and business support services I was offering.
Sounds great...what happened then?
As a consummate learner, I was on so many lists and following so many people that at times the message was conflicting and quite confusing. Then I listened to a webinar with a marketer that I greatly admired; this marketer was advocating niching. She felt that it was the best way to grow your business and preserve your sanity. Hmm….. It seemed as of late, everyone was talking about niching. Maybe the universe was sending me a signal? I was spread a bit thin at times providing a range of complementary marketing services when most people seemed to be focusing on just one area. I spoke with other colleagues who had decided to niche after years of being what at that time seemed to be a dirty title- a Generalist VA. They felt that it was the best thing they could have ever done for their business.
So you decided to pick a niche?
I mulled it over and thought that niching was probably the best thing to do. After all, if others were succeeding at it, why wouldn’t I? I released some clients from their contracts, stopped taking on certain work and just focused on a specific niche.
And then I saw my business take a terrible tumble. You see, it never dawned on me at the time to follow my gut or do what I felt was right for MY business. Everyone was advocating niching because some felt that it appealed to clients who liked to work with someone that had mastery in certain skills and felt that a Jill-of-all-Trades Virtual Assistant really did not bring value to their business. I never stopped to consider the fact that my clients loved having their entire needs met under one roof- apparently they never got the niching memo.
I struggled for almost a year in my niche. I felt very lost and frustrated. The clients were coming but oftentimes they were not my ideal client. I felt like the joy was being sucked out of my business. I mean, I was supposed to be doing what the experts advocated and it should be working. The sad reality is that I failed to look at so many factors that went into making such as drastic move. It’s almost embarrassing now when I consider just how naïve I was to not carefully consider such a move.
Oh yikes! So what did you learn and how did you turn your business around?
Now I know that niching is not cracked up to be all that it’s supposed to, at least for me. After struggling and being unhappy with my business for almost a year, I decided I needed to have a second look at what went wrong in my business. They say tough times call for tough measures and I took some tough ones. First, I took my website offline for almost 5 months. Not having to look at it helped to clearly catch a vision of the type of business I wanted to re-launch. Secondly, I stopped listening to every guru and pundit in the blogosphere. I started unsubscribing in droves from lists I had been following and stopped buying so many business books. It was time to shut out a lot of the noise and messages and listen to my inner voice. I was confident that I had the skills, the savvy and the know-how to reinvent my business again and I promised this time I would do it my way. I’m not saying that I don’t take advice or consider the contributions of others, but I don’t have to take them on board.
Great advice. So how are things now?
Fast forward 2 years and I have managed to rebuild my business to something I am proud of and that is distinctly me. I seriously just follow my own rules. I don’t tweet or do social media as everyone advocates or thinks I should considering the services I offer but I spend my times in online communities where I prove my value and consequently find clients. I don’t blog unless I have something I feel worth sharing. I just do ‘me’ now and I have found it works even better than before my big crash. I’m blessed that I am in a position to work with people who I feel are a good fit for me while embracing my various skills and passions. The fact is I am a multipassionista. I have many passions and interests and they often cross over in the work I do and the services I offer my clients. What I discounted is the fact that many clients appreciate a multi-pronged approach to their business. They don’t want to hire a specialist for each and everything and they are happy to not have a specific label for me, rather choosing to see me more in a partner role.
Carlana Charles is the Principal of CarlanaCharles.com, a virtual assistance practice that provides a range of marketing and business support services as well as freelance writing and blogging. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, her business hub or her book review blog.