It’s no surprise that ambitious founders seek exclusive opportunities for growth because of the immense value of being a first-mover.
Business is trending toward wanting to have it all – create what you want, when you want, with the lifestyle you want, making the money you want. This trend has been accelerated by corporate and business burnout, both of which reached a tipping point in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Attracted to starting a business, first-time entrepreneurs flooded already saturated categories. Existing founders are fatigued for a similar reason. Instantly, businesses were forced (and aided) to adopt digital-first strategies for growth. Suddenly, in a marketplace already overloaded with alternatives, the airtime any one business could have dissolved, crushed by the competition for that real estate.
These tired groups are hungry for the same outcome. A life that is as satisfying financially as it is personally.
Enter the niche, which is spoken of as the silver bullet solution to differentiation. Problematically, the way it’s most commonly strategized has none of those first-mover or growth advantages.
I’m going to show you how to use my alternative process. It brings niche back to its original promise – accessing the growth potential that comes with being totally unique.
Get Detailed about Your Future
The way it’s always been done is the problem. For you, it now brings the solution. As a futurist business designer, I see business as a bridge between what’s wrong with the now, and what could be in the future.
My process begins with creating a niche by vision. Your vision isn’t a paragraph on a business plan, it’s the way your brain considers what the future could be.
The way your brain considers what the future could be is based on a comparison between what it considers the present is, and what it should be. It comes down to the status quo. A status quo is the way it’s always been done. The ‘it’ is anything and everything you’ve experienced. How your brain sees any topic is based on a unique intersection of your skills, interests, memories, experiences, and values. The combination of those traits is as unique as a fingerprint. That means your vision of the future is totally unique.
Use Your Vision to Find Your Niche
I want to show my process to you in action before explaining how to use this technique. Just for fun, pick any status quo at all that you don’t like in this world. I’ll show you it in action by picking ‘Libraries’.
- What about the status quo of libraries do I particularly dislike?: That there are billions of more or less the same books with the same ideas in every category
- Why do I dislike that?: I waste my time reading because I’m sifting through repetitive content
- What would I like to be doing instead?: Reading the initial idea, and then just the unique variations that other people have that were inspired by it. Instead of their whole new version of mostly the same book, with one difference.
- What could a new status quo of a library look like?: That authors could write extensions to the books that were foundational for their topic. Then it would be one original book, with only extra chapters or parts. Each ‘base’ book would be completely different from anything else to be allowed in. Every book in this library would be truly different from every other one. Reader reviews would become more valuable because they’d now be focused on credibility and effectiveness.
There’s a niche business concept right there. It’s that easy. The next person’s library would be totally different.
All you need to do is keep letting your brain show you what it wants to exist. Do that until you find something you’re really excited to make a business of. It’s essentially a process with the potential to ideate unlimited businesses.
Tie Profit to Impact
How do you know that it isn’t just you that wants that library?
If you focus on just your interests, you could very well launch to crickets if your niche is too narrow. If you focus on just your customer, their wish is to have their needs met for free which isn’t in the business’ interests. If you focus only on the marketplace, when that trend passes, so does your profitability.
Your niche business is a bridge between your vision of the future, and what you want to exist in the now. In the second phase of my process, you want to move from just considering your interests to balancing the interests of these 3 different spheres.
There are 4 steps to shaping your business concept:
- Innovate what the ultimate experience of this would be
- Deep empathy with your audience, so you can work out which of their unmet needs has your solution as the #1 strategy to answer that need
- Add an additional competitive advantage that the market finds important over a longer duration
- Create an action plan that defaults to the lifestyle you want to have
Revisiting the library example, perhaps authors could approve or make ‘official’ extensions they find useful, and readers would then know they were getting the most verified content.
Being able to download not just a book, but a verified ‘topic discography’ would enable anyone that is a novice in a topic to gain a comprehensive understanding in a considerably shorter amount of time. Instead of needing to read through thousands of business books, now I can read everything there is to know about specifically ecommerce. As it is verified, I can trust that my knowledge on the topic of ecommerce is now comprehensive and up-to-date.
I used this process on a client who had the idea for an augmented reality (AR) dining company. They already had the technical knowledge to bring together both hospitality and AR, but sensed there was more potential in their idea beyond showing videos of the sea whilst serving a course of oysters.
The first 2 steps of this process uncovered that their target audience didn’t really care about experiencing a digital version of the real world. They wanted to experience a world that could only exist in a digital context. To eat the impossible. Then the next two steps of shaping their business concept emerged from that powerful insight. By the end, the more this audience could experience eating the impossible, the more they were willing to pay. So instead of focusing on a revenue goal, they focussed on a metric tied to their impact instead.
My process culminates in ensuring the concept is branded in a way that embodies the emotion the target audience wants more of, in relation to that key need.
There are key instinctual drivers that are present in all humans. What you want to do is understand which one is motivating the behavior when your customer chooses a strategy to solve their need. And also, which one is stopping them from solving that need.
Once you identify this, then you position yourself around the emotion that promotes action instead of inaction. You also do one more thing. Twist the way you express that emotion, to reflect your competitive advantage. The result? They want what you’ve created and recognize how you do it better, all on a subconscious level.
What if we uncovered this library needs to help authors and their readers feel credible, and that they are repelled by the idea of appearing egoic? We might choose to then build a brand that is based around the emotion of curiosity. The type of curiosity would depend on the competitive advantage you chose.
Read more: How to Find the Right Product Market Fit for Your Startup
Don’t Stop at the Obvious
Don’t just accept the first version of your library. Push the potential of that idea instead of accepting the idea that initially comes to mind. I believe the most successful businesses have the following 4 characteristics in common, use them as a checklist to help you push the edges of your vision further.
- Delight: Does your idea have the spark?
- Alignment: Do you have a clear roadmap to deliver the promise?
- Resonating: Do you know why your customers are attracted to the trends they participate in?
- Engaging: Do you know how this idea attracts and repels your customer?
I use this process to design business concepts on a weekly basis. Each one could change the world as you know it. Each one is tied to profitability. Each one feels to its key buyer, like the thing they’ve been waiting for. Whether you want 100 innovative businesses or just 1, if this process spoke to you, my program Turning Points is the pro version. You go into the vision quest with your old idea of the world, and you come out of it having found the niche you’ll be known for.