A niche is like hitting the bullseye on a target. You take your best aim and shot possible to hit that tiny little area that wins you the prize.
Photo Credit: Lukenn Sabella
In business or even a non-profit, creating a niche is the lifeblood of an organization. Standing out from the crowd is job number one if you want to survive in the business world long-term.
Spreading yourself too thin is usually a recipe for mediocrity. As the expression goes, you can’t be all things to all people.
Entire marketing companies exist and are devoted to helping organizations develop a clear niche to stand out and thrive in the marketplace; it’s essential to your success as a business person.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defined a niche in relevant part as follows:
"a place, employment, status, or activity for which a person or thing is best fitted: finally found her niche."
"a specialized market"
And, as any business person knows, differentiation in mission and vision and standing out in a crowded marketplace are critical to long-term financial survival.
Al Ries, the legendary branding guru, bestselling author, and creator of the idea of Positioning in the marketplace, repeatedly stated that focus is the key to success in business and the non-profit world.
His idea is that long-term success depends on focusing on core products or services and resisting the temptation to diversify into unrelated areas. Said another way, you can't do everything under the sun well. Focus your efforts on what matters most.
Organizations routinely fold because they don't stand out long-term in a crowded marketplace; they don't differentiate themselves well enough to survive in a sea of similar organizations.
Does the concept of a niche apply to other areas of life?
I argue that it does.
Depending on your goals, developing a niche in other parts of your life is essential.
You can’t do everything at once and expect extraordinary success. You can do multiple things at once if your goal is to have fun, try things out, and don’t necessarily care or have the energy to fully reach your potential in your key giftings.
If you want great success at something, though, develop a niche.
If you do just one thing well, you can attain phenomenal success. Sometimes less is a lot more. People don't have to be successful at everything (sometimes, this is a deterrent). They only have to find one thing that they excel at in life.
Sometimes you have to give up being good at one thing to be great at something else. As the expression goes, "good is the enemy of great."
Continue to spread yourself thin if your focus is fun and more of a recreational approach to your goals. The choice is yours, but you can’t usually have it both ways and do everything well by trying everything under the sun.
The situation I am describing is like someone who thinks they can constantly multitask.
Yes, you can do multiple things all at once. However, are you doing all of those things well?
Evidenced-based studies clearly say no; you probably are not doing everything well.
Focus is the word of champions in just about any area of life.
You have to narrow your focus to get better. Focusing on one area is much better from an excellence standpoint than taking a scattered approach and trying to do everything well.
Examples From My Own Life Of A Niche In Sports
I have a simple analogy to illustrate my points from my teenage years. Because I learned the niche lesson early on, I chose a very focused skill for my career (world-class project management techniques) that paid off in all of my jobs, including working as a CEO.
I was a good football player growing up. I was the fastest kid on the team and could catch many passes and make touchdowns because of my raw speed. I was the starting split end and defensive back in junior high.
When I got to high school, I had the decision to make. Would I continue to play football in the fall and run track in the spring, or would I do cross-country in the fall, which supported my track goals in the spring?
It was a tough decision at the time. I had peer pressure from both teams to participate in their group.
I decided on cross-country and track because I had a gift for running and more potential in the sport, even though I loved football.
My decision to run was life-changing in many significant ways.
My running allowed me to go to college, becoming the first member of my immediate family to do so.
Running also taught me many life lessons I used in my career and still use today.
By focusing, instead of spreading myself too thin, my whole life trajectory changed in a good way because I focused on giving my all to specific gifting. My decision paid off financially, career-wise, and from a personal satisfaction standpoint.
Focusing on a niche made my life take a dramatic turn that still pays dividends today. As a result of deciding to focus on my gift years ago, I help others go after their God-given potential as a running coach.
If I had not pursued my gift as a runner when I was young, there is almost no chance that I would be helping others as a running coach now. Many other unexpected great things during my running career would not have happened either.
When we are young, good or bad decisions directly impact
what we do later as adults.
There is no way I would have had the same success in running if I had played football in the fall, even though I loved the sport at the time.
I learned a lot about myself and developed unique life skills by working with my running coaches because I focused on a niche.
Working with people I could relate to, connect with, and respect was another massive consideration in my decision.
Once you decide on a niche, find the best people to help you reach your dreams and goals.
Who are the best person (people) in the short and long term to help you?
Who can you best grow and learn from the most in all areas of life? Who can help you hone your gifts the most? Which mentor (s) are the best mentors for you? Are you missing out by not spending time with the best mentors? What are the lost opportunities of not working with someone you respect?
The example below is a typical conversation with the adults I coach before entering into a coach-athlete relationship.
Before I work with them, I say something like this:
“work with another coach if they can help you more than I can in all areas that are important to you; after all, you are going after your potential. Spend your time with someone who will give their all to you and your goals. If you feel someone else can do that for you, then, by all means, work with them. If not, work with me; there are no hard feelings either way. I only ask that you consider this important decision objectively based on the past results of all the coaches you are considering. Make your decision based on the evidence at hand, not hype.”
If a person truly wants and can use my help, and I am a good fit
for them and me, I am all in from day one. I will do whatever it takes to help that
If the person waffles on whether or not they want my help, I wish them all the best and work with people I can help with everything I’ve got and who want my help.
The old expression that "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink" is true most of the time. If you are all in, the people you help need to be all in.
You can’t fit a square peg in a round hole. Like any other relationship, the coach-athlete relationship must work for both parties. People should never be forced into a role that does not match their personality or giftings.
If your goal is to become excellent at something, consider a niche.
You can’t spread yourself too thin and succeed at everything. Find the best people to help you pursue excellence once you choose a niche.
Regardless of what society says, you can't have it all. Something has to give when you are spread too thin. Studies show that successful multi-tasking is mostly a myth.
If your goal is mostly fun and recreation, not optimum performance, spread yourself thin and do multiple activities simultaneously. However, the tradeoff is you are unlikely to reach your potential in all those activities, and you will most likely miss your most significant victories in life.
Focusing on your best event (Niche) enables the greatest return on your time investment. Matt Centrowitz from the USA is pictured winning his best event, the 1500 meters in the Olympics.
If Matt had focused on the 100 meters, It's unlikely that he would have even made the finals of his high school state championship meet. Because he decided to run the 1500 meters (his niche event), he became an Olympic Champion.
His life trajectory would be much different if he had focused on the 100 meters.
Find your best events in life to reap the most significant rewards.
Photo credit: NBC Sports