Why Your Niche Matters More Than Ever

You will hear entrepreneurial leaders and other talking heads (Seth Godin, can you hear me?) telling us to find our niche. As I was watching a Twitter feed during lunch on the day of the manhunt for the (alleged) Boston Marathon bomber, it struck me how unimportant nearly all the voices (tweets) were, at least to me. They were all just a bunch of noise.

Why is finding your niche so important?  It is easy to look out into the world and easily become overwhelmed by the flood of information.  You have a product, a service, or an idea that you want to share with the world, but you will more than likely be drowned out, unless you start with your niche.  Take the case of the Twitter posts I mentioned above: nobody cares about your comments unless you have active followers.  Finding your niche is the best way to be heard through all the noise.

Don’t worry about being listed on the Amazon best seller’s list or getting a call for an interview by Wired, Inc., or Fast Company.  Focus on your niche first.  I have learned this lesson over the years. When I started this company, I had grand hopes and dreams for this company to become a large player in the ERP space, providing implementation services across the full spectrum of Oracle E-Business Suite modules. I never put much effort into that bigger plan for a variety of reasons, and frankly I am glad that I did not. Instead, I focused on being really good and getting better at just one area: Human Capital Management (a/k/a HRMS). Although I read this more than a decade ago and can’t remember who said it, this is the age of the specialist.

The reason the niche matters is because people who care about what you sell or say will be the ones listening.

The Headless Ghost Movie Poster

You won’t hear this guy complaining about his niche.

It is much easier get the attention of 200 people than 200,000,000 people. If the message is important or interesting enough, those 200 will make sure it spreads to a larger audience.

The important thing is to find your niche, decide if there is growth, and then get in and build.

The book Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World is next on my reading list, which addresses platform creation.  The platform is one of the concepts Seth Godin proposes in his book Linchpin, another book that I consider recommended reading. I will offer my thoughts after I’ve read it.

~ + ~

As a general rule, I spend no time on Twitter. I will usually visit when I want to see how a big new event trends, especially from people on the ground.  Aside from that, I am only there when I post updates to this blog.

Where Mark Zuckerberg Got it Right

I finally watched The Social Network last week and was very impressed with this film.  I take it for what it is and nothing more: just a film based on a book based on true events.  For me, there is one major takeaway from this movie that was probably lost to most in the ensuing drama.

I’m not a fan of Mark Zuckerberg, despite the fact that we share a first name and his accomplishments are very impressive.  I do not know him personally or enough about him to form an opinion one way or the other.  When I meet him, then I’ll let you know.  What I can say is that Mark Z. got it right, and by it, I mean the core concept behind all entrepreneurial effort.  The creation and propagation of Facebook into a world-wide phenomenon is the result of one word: Action.

Consider the sequence of events:

Build Customer Loyalty by Adopting their Vision, Mission, and Culture

Wine and Olive Tapas

You can wine them and dine them, but it is going to cost you.

For the small consulting firm and independent consultants, building strong customer loyalty can make or break your business. Weak customer loyalty, at the very least, will make the struggle to keep your sales pipeline full a lot more difficult.  Strong customer loyalty will provide dividends for years to come.  Some of the common approaches to loyalty building are:

  • Wine and dine (or lunch and brunch) your clients
  • Provide outstanding service
  • Be professional

Spoiling your clients with good meals and drinks is fun for all involved, but I do not recommend this as a general rule. There are too many ways for this to go wrong: company policy violations (improper gifts), setting a precedent for future dealings, liability concerns, and the risk of being the next big thing on YouTube.  Reserve this for post-go live celebrations, if you must.  Providing outstanding service is an obvious choice and professionalism speaks for itself, though the monetary value of either is difficult to quantify.

I have found one method that is not as obvious, but is absolutely effective and profitable: adopt your client’s vision, mission, and culture.  There are three steps to doing it right, which I term the RDI MethodReconnaissance, Disguise, and Integration.

 

Step 1: Reconnaissance: 

Find out everything you can about the company.  This is fairly easy for most organizations, although you might have to do a little more work for closely held private companies.

Company website:

  • Find their mission and/or vision statements;
  • Read everything you can find about them.  You can infer a bit about an organization’s purpose just by reading about them;
  • Take a look at the job postings, in particular the area in which you will be working;
  • Pay attention to pictures, see what people are wearing, and determine what appears to be important to the organization.

The Internet:

  • Start with Wikipedia.  This may seem odd, but you can find out a lot about a organization’s culture by their history.
  • Search for news articles from reliable news sources.
  • Look for company events, especially pictures.
  • Check their stock price history, if they are publicly traded, and do an EDGAR search.
  • Find community events or local causes where they take part and support.
People:
  • Ask your peers if they have worked for or know someone who has worked for the organization.
  • If you are going to a client through a recruiter, gather as much information as you can from them.
  • Ask your client contact about the dress code, culture, and environment.  This is obvious, but often overlooked.

Step 2: Disguise

This sounds a lot more clandestine than it really is, but you are essentially adopting a different persona when working with your client.  The main things on which to focus:

  • Dress code
  • Body language
  • Speech

You need to dress like your client does.  Ask them simply: “What is your dress code?”  Don’t have time or cannot get an answer?  Pack several changes of clothing if you must.  Don’t wear Armani suits when working for a heavy construction firm, even if you’re dealing with the back office.  Don’t wear a polo shirt and jeans if you are working with a multi-national bank.

Your body language and speech should communicate that you are on par and equal terms with them. Even if you went to Cambridge or Harvard, do not speak above your client, else you risk alienating them. Speak to them using their terminology and their manner of speech.

Step 3: Integration

The Integration step is the most difficult, because it requires you to ‘drink the Kool-Aid’ and embrace your client’s culture and vision for the future.  This is tricky because it requires you to:

  • Create a good first impression (“first impressions are lasting impressions”);
  • Adopt their philosophy of doing business when dealing with them, without going native;
  • Learn about any internal drama’s and power plays that exist in all organizations, but do not be drawn into them;
  • Be empathetic to their problems;
  • Communicate with the client often that you understand their vision and that you are there to help them achieve their goals;
  • Make your interactions with staff memorable;
  • Leave your ego in your suitcase;
  • Learn the names of everyone with whom you work, even the entry-level staff.  These are people who will be the managers and directors of the future, who will bring you back for repeat projects later.
  • Deliver excellence in service and deliverables.

This is both a mental exercise and an act of diplomacy. If you are not sure what to do, start by listening more and talking less.  Process what you see and hear, make notes if you must, and use that information to foster the lasting relationships necessary.  I have seen many highly qualified consultants shown the door because they fail to grasp the concepts of adopting a client’s culture even a little.

The integration step raises some philosophical questions about adopting a culture that might be in conflict with your personal beliefs. A consultant that strongly supports Amnesty International may find themselves internally conflict by adopting the culture of their client, a defense contractor. That is a topic for another article.

Loyalty in the client-consultant relationship is a two-way street. Your clients will become loyal to you, as you become loyal to them.  98% of our work at Matrice Consulting over the past two years has come from repeat customers, and it has been constant, steady work.  The bonds you create with your client representatives will pay huge dividends further down the road, sometimes many years later.

I close this article with two true stories of this concept in practice: the wrong way and the right way.

The Wrong Way

Once upon a time, there was a large retailer known for its frugality and lean operations.  They needed some consulting resources to implement a new ERP module, so they hired a couple of consultants for the job.  These consultants came to this company dressed in their best Hugo Boss and Armani suits, where they found everyone in the office dressed in jeans and polo shirts.  The consultants met with the company’s staff to begin gathering requirements, but treated the staff like they were below them.  After about two weeks, they were asked to leave and never come back.

The Right Way

Once upon a time, there was a small consulting firm that took a contract to implement a new ERP module with a large public-sector client.  The consultant they sent learned everything he could about the organization.  He adopted their dress code, listened to their problems and challenges, and adopted their mission as his mission, and their vision as his vision.  He communicated his dedication to that vision and he delivered on that promise.  After completing his work with this client, the client contracted with the consulting firm to do more work…again, and again, and again, and again.

Free Audio Book: Think and Grow Rich

Several months ago, I read Think and Grow Rich, the classic motivational book by Napoleon Hill.  I have listened to an audio book version, specifically the 21st Century Edition, but I wanted to have the original 1937 edition as an audio book so that I could listen to the book without the additional modern commentary to distract from the original text. I also wanted to provide this as a free download here on my blog.  I initially began recording the book, but a series of winter colds, travel, and other commitments have prevented me from completing this in a timely manner.

As a result, I decided to create the audio book using high quality text-to-speech (TTS) software.  I used TTS software for several reasons:

  • First, it is a more cost-effective method of delivering audio books. This is essential, as it is our intention to offer this for free;
  • Second, text-to-speech software produces much smaller files than traditional audio recordings, thus saving bandwidth, storage space, and download time;
  • Third, we were able to produce this audio recording very quickly.  This entire book, nearly 10 hours of recorded audio, was produced in one hour.  The equivalent amount of audio would take between 40 and 60 hours to produce, by my estimate.

I selected the highest quality voices for this recording to ensure the best listening experience. If you have never listened to text-to-speech reading, it may take you a short while to get used to the cadence and the voice.

Think and Grow Rich Audio BookSo why offer this for free?  I believe this book is hugely important to anyone who reads and applies the principles that Napoleon Hill suggests. Also, I believe this should be free, as in free speech and free beer. There are audio book versions available with updated content, but they come at a cost. I believe that this should free and available to everyone who can access the Internet.

You may download the entire audio book here as a zip file:

Think and Grow Rich Audio Book

You can also download the e-book in EPUB, PDF, and Kindle/Mobi formats here: Think and Grow Rich E-Book

~ + ~
Production and Technical Notes:
The audio file processing, though very quick through the software, was hindered in part by the quality of the text. I worked from the archive.org text file, which was presumably processed like this:
scanned original document > OCR > plain text

There were some OCR errors, that had to be corrected. To manage this, I had to comb through the text and identify where the errors occurred.  I ended up using a dead tree copy of the 1937 version that I procured as a reference, which was immensely useful. Napoleon Hill liked to emphasize with capital letters A LOT. This was generally not a problem, except the software kept reading the word ‘IT’ as ‘I T’, like an abbreviation.  There were a few issues around names, but the software was surprisingly robust.  I also identified two bugs in the TTS software, but I was able to find workarounds, while support works on fixes.

I performed post-processing/post-production work, primarily in updating the ID3 tags, adding cover art, and renaming all of the files.  All in all the audio files are not perfect, but they are close.

Software:

  • TextAloud3: text-to-speech software for creating the audio files, using audio voices from the Acapela Group (Ryan, Will, Heather)
  • Notepad++: text editor for chapter editing and tagging
  • Tag&Rename: for ID3 tag editing
  • Audacity: for recording publisher’s introduction

Hardware:

  • Microphone: Yeti, for recording publisher’s introduction
  • PC’s: Lenovo ThinkPad T410s for producing TTS audio files

Cloud service:

I will definitely use this software again. The trade off between a human voice narrator versus production speed, file size, and time to market with TTS software is completely worth it. I would not use it for audio that I would sell, but I would for free offerings.  If you’re curious to know more, feel free to contact me.

Free E-book: Think and Grow Rich

Think and Grow RichI am pleased to offer the classic book, Think and Grow Rich, by Napolean Hill, as a free download. Thanks to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), this book is in the public domain and can be freely copied and distributed throughout the United States and most of the free world.

I may, at some point in the future, write a detailed review of this book. For now, let me just state that this book is as influential a book as you will find anywhere. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. The fact that it is free does not mean it does not have value. If the concepts within are applied in full, you will find this to be the most valuable book you ever read.

My personal history with the book stretches back to the 1970’s and into my childhood. It was a book on my maternal grandfather’s shelf, and at the time remember thinking that it was an absurd title for a book. I must have looked at the title hundreds of times, as even then I was an avid reader, and maybe I picked it up. Considering that my grandfather was anything but a success and died poor, it seemed ridiculous to me that one could think themselves into wealth. Had I picked that book up then, I wonder how my life might have been different, if at all.  After decades of resistance, I finally picked it up and started reading it this past fall. I realize that I should have read it a long time ago, but I have been known to be stubborn about such and other things.

You can download the book here:

~ + ~

This book is the original 1937 edition. My source document was from the Internet Archive edition, though we have corrected some of the issues with that document, including formatting, layout and OCR inaccuracies.  We formatted this specifically for e-readers.