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How I Became Focused By Focusing (On A Niche)

Earlier today, I was interviewed for a virtual event on copywriting in the health space. One of the questions was about my ADHD, how it influenced me, and what others can learn, especially if they’re new and just starting out.

The interviewer’s reasoning was that many people in the copywriting business have a hard time getting traction. They not only have a hard time finding clients, they also struggle, make excuses, procrastinate, and so on.

As he said: “You have ADHD. How did you overcome it when so many aspiring copywriters without ADHD are struggling?”

My answer delved into my start as a young marketer, where I told him that I decided to focus on two things: copywriting and doctors (specifically, plastic surgeons). This was my “secret sauce,” if you will — one that can get you a lot of traction super-fast. And it solved so many issues for me as it can for others.

What I did was called “hyper-specialization.”

Some people object to niching down as they’re afraid of either losing out on opportunities or narrowing their markets so much that they have virtually no market at all. Not necessarily. But the converse is eve more true: the more generic you are, the tougher it will be.

Now, a caveat: there should be enough people in your chosen market or specialty to justify this form of hyper-specialization, which is a combination of both vertical and horizontal specializations.

Start by zooming in. Check to see how many potential clients are there at that zoom level. Then zoom in some more. Once you've hit a sweet spot, stay there. If it's too narrow, zoom out a little more.

Let's take a quick look at each one to understand what I mean.

Vertical Specialization

By focusing on a vertical specialization, you are targeting a specific market. It’s who you serve, sell to, and solve problems for.

These typically fall into one of two categories: industry (e.g., cars) or vertical (an industry category, e.g., manufacturing). A vertical is a little broader whereas industry is more specific. It can also be even narrower by combining both (an industry vertical, e.g., car manufacturers).

This is the most common type of positioning that most professionals follow. It makes it so much easier to find your prospects because you know where they are, where they hang out, and how to target them.

Horizontal Specialization

While vertical specialization targets the market you’re going after, horizontal specialization targets the problem you’re solving, and therefore the people (or the type of businesses) who specifically have that problem. It can stretch across many verticals, hence it's horizontal.

Horizontal markets are markets that need what you’re offering, which may be a specific service, solution, or type of service, such as “migraine sufferers” or “firms with high staff turnover.”

A horizontal can be a specific demographic (e.g., CEOs, work-at-home parents, accounting departments, etc) or psychographic (e.g., hobby farmers, vegans, pet owners, etc). Of course, like vertical above, they can include both. 

But horizontal is a lot trickier as it is more difficult to find and target this market. Possible, yes. But tougher. That's why it's better for segmentation, not specialization, for most professionals and firms.

Platform Specialization

Platform specialization is a third but distinct category because it’s tied to the platform on which the service is delivered, mostly linked to technology, and there are many of them and different levels, too.

Platforms include infrastructures (usually cloud networks, e.g., Azure or AWS), systems (usually software, e.g., WordPress or Slack), frameworks (e.g., REACT or Angular), or languages (e.g., Javascript or Python).

The problem with this third one is that it’s either trendy or tied to a third party, and therefore contingent on its availability, adoption, and use. If, for example, the platform goes out of business or the market has shifted to a different platform, your chances of finding new customers will disappear, too.

Hyper-Specialization

David C. Baker, author of The Business of Expertise, calls this the most powerful form of positioning. It's the perfect storm, if you will, and ideal for creating an incredible amount of traction in any profession.

Like a rifle’s crosshairs, by having a vertical and horizontal specialization, your target comes into clearer focus, and are thus easier to find, reach, and serve.

Now, whether you choose to specialize vertically, horizontally, or both, there are four key advantages to positioning yourself this way. There are more, but for the sake of brevity, these are the topmost four.

Greater Authority

As a specialist, you communicate instant credibility and greater perceived expertise. Your value proposition is seen as superior over your competitors whose propositions might seem a little more diluted by their generalist stance.

Greater Attractability

You attract your market like bees to honey. Reason is, you are seen as the perfect answer, service, or solution to their unique problem or situation. You also create a greater networking effect, as people will spread the word about you far more readily than otherwise. You become the “go-to professional.”

Greater Profitability

Being a specialist allows you to raise your prices, charge more, be more highly compensated, and work a lot less since you will accept fewer clients — and those you do accept will be far more inclined to pay your prices, value your expertise, and be less demanding.

Less Interchangeability

Ultimately, being a specialist makes you less interchangeable. You reduce your competition pool considerably, both with direct and indirect competitors (including software and tools). Conversely, the more people you target by not specializing, the more competitors you will have to contend with.

Now, what does this have to do with my ADHD?

One thing about ADHD is that we are typically easily distracted. But also, we struggle to get aroused, particularly by working on something that doesn’t interest us. We can get easily bored, distracted, and demotivated.

But we do get hyperfocused on things that do interest us.

I know when I wrote worked for clients and on projects that really interested me, I could work and write for hours and hours on end (and sometimes even days), without eating, sleeping, bathing, etc. 

Now, that’s not healthy to a degree, I admit. And I don’t recommend ignoring your health. But what’s important here is that, when I found a project, a client, or an industry I loved and was passionate for, I never had any issues. I never procrastinated, I never had writer’s block, and I always met deadlines.

By hyper-specializing, it helped me to hyperfocus. 

That’s why, when I first started out as a marketing consultant, I focused on copywriting (horizontal) for doctors (vertical). It’s also the reason my business became successful, and the reason yours will, too, if you decide to specialize.

As I’ve said before, narrow your focus and you will broaden your sales.

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