To Niche or Not to Niche?

word.pngThat is the question…

I spent the weekend with my cousin in San Antonio, TX.  He’s as close to a Godfather a Jewish kid can get.  After all, he held me during my bris.  My cousin is the typical Gen-X’er.  He lived through the tech boom, but like many other Gen X’ers, didn’t ride the wave. 

My cousin is a very successful employment lawyer.  In fact, you can say he’s one of the best in the State of Texas.  As a subscriber to my blog and a natural mentor of mine, he had some thoughts on branding himself.  His point of view was that you must find a niche, and become the foremost expert on that subject.  He had done it in employment law, but mentioned that the people who get recognized in this world are known for one thing, and are the best at it.  Seth Godin’s Squidoo is a perfect example of this.

It’s funny though.  As simple as finding a niche sounds, I think a lot of people in my generation are scared of this.  We don’t want to be pigeon holed.  While one offers security, the other offers freedom.  There are definitely examples of both in my generation.  Take two Gen Y leaders who are polar extremes of this notion.  Dan Schawbel has taken the lead on Personal Branding.  He’s found his niche in Personal Branding and he’s perfectly comfortable there.  Rebecca Thorman, on the other-hand, is a Gen Y leader who discusses a whole slew of issues that Generation Y faces, yet makes no effort to find a niche.  

While both are successful, finding a niche IS the easiest way to find success. (Depending on how you define success) 

Everywhere we look, we’re taught to find our niche.  Our teachers and professors teach ONE subject in which they are the foremost experts.  Our bosses are usually really good at one thing, and they make careers out of them.  There are few places to find great personal brands that don’t have a niche.  It will be interesting to see how our generation responds as we enter the workforce, but I don’t see things changing much.  Experts will be noticed, and those who don’t have expertise will have sit on the sidelines

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10 thoughts on “To Niche or Not to Niche?

  1. I can hear the echo of my father’s advice in your post, “become an expert son and the world will seek you out.” But I’ve also always been enamored of the idea of the renaissance man. I like to put my own twist on an old phrase and say “Jack of all trades, and master of SOME.” The word niche in this context seems to imply a focus on skills, but I would throw in the idea of finding your voice, your point of view. These may transcend the boundaries of traditional expertise, yet assist in elevating your personal brand – the niche you thereby define is on your own terms. I also believe that there are many unsung and unknown experts in just about every discipline who (perhaps because of the very drive and focus that has led to their mastery of a field) have not worked to develop their voice or grow their community. Find your niche, but also find who cares about your niche. 🙂

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  2. Oh, I think I have a niche. You said it in your post. I give advice to navigate beyond the line of work and play for the next generation. While I might talk about networking and who I’ve dated in the same breath, I feel (I hope!) I’ve branded myself as a someone who is an expert in my generation. And more specifically, Gen-Y leadership and engagement. If I haven’t done that, please let me know what I can do, because I strongly believe you have to niche yourself to succeed.

    Enjoyed your post, nonetheless 🙂

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  3. @Rebecca: I admire the way you’ve branded yourself and think you’ve done so wonderfully. It’s actually a place I’m trying to be where you have a topic of expertise (Gen-Y), but have also given yourself room to navigate.

    David is correct by saying that you create your own niche and create a following. Gen-Y is a broad topic that has given you the ability to transcend many subjects that other niches don’t afford.

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  4. Rebecca’s response is hilarious. I must point out that we may have a niche inside our heads, BUT if we don’t demonstrate that niche through our writing or even our “about page” then we have failed.

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  5. Hmmm…

    Makes we wonder what my niche is, since I write about almost literally anything in my newspaper columns! haha…

    I remember talking to my editor when I was starting out, and he said that he wanted the perspective of the youth. I think I gave him that, but also handed him a lot more than he expected (i.e. politics, law, China, etc.)

    For now, I position myself as a Current Events Opinion Columnist. But like David says: “jack of all trades, master of SOME!”

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  6. I read this and this came to mind…..when I want a Chinese meal I go to a Chinese restaurant, when I want Italian I go to an Italian and so on. I hate going into restaurants that have 72 main dishes to choose from, ranging from French to Indian to English. The chef cannot possibly be expect in all those different cuisines.

    The best restaurants have found their niche!

    On an individual note, find your niche by using your strengths and from your passion.

    As long as your niche has a large enough following, you have a great chance of being successful.

    Andrew

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  7. @ Andrew: Great metaphor, although some of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to are fusion restaurants. You can say the same thing about music. Some of the best music out there doesn’t necessarily have a classification, rather it’s more a mix of several styles.

    I agree with you that it’s easier to succeed when you niche, although I think a lot of people would rather have the freedom to do fusion type work as it gives you the ability to be more fluid.

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