If you can perform many different kinds of work in your field, is there any reason to specialize? When you have a wide range of professional skills, it’s tempting to market yourself as someone who can do just about anything in the area of computers, writing, interior design, or whatever your area of expertise is. Unfortunately, the most difficult service for a professional to sell is the one called “anything.”

It may seem when clients are scarce that the best way to find more of them is to cast your net more widely. But although this approach can often uncover more opportunities, it rarely results in more sales.

The surest path to landing more clients is building trust and credibility, and offering too many different types of services to too wide an audience builds neither. Rightly or wrongly, the majority of clients prefer specialists in a narrowly defined line of work over generalists with many talents. The less known you are to the client personally, the more this is true.

Having too many options for what you can do and for whom also makes it devilishly hard to create a workable marketing plan. You’re only one person, and there are only so many hours in a day. To be effective at marketing and not spend all your time at it, you need to be very focused.

Before you can figure out how to market yourself better, you need to choose what line of work would be the best one for you to be marketing. An approach to making this decision that I often recommend to my coaching clients is to do a SWOT analysis of the different services you could potentially offer. This structured process will help you find the specialty that best suits your needs and preferences. If you’re unfamiliar with SWOT analysis, you can learn more here.

If you can narrow the field to one professional specialty that includes work you enjoy, seems marketable, can compensate you at the level you desire, and meets your personal needs for working conditions, then you can define a target market in need of that specialty. Armed with a target market and a specialty, you will then have a clearly defined niche you can build a marketing plan for.

Trying to choose the right marketing ideas without a defined niche is kind of like looking for recipes when you don’t know what meal you’re making. You can get lots of ideas just by flipping through the recipe book, but when you have no criteria for choosing which ones to try, you end up pretty much picking at random.

Maybe you’ll get lucky and choose some recipes that work together to produce a decent meal, but it’s darned inefficient as an approach. At best, you end up with a collection of hors d’oeuvres when what you needed was a complete dinner. And at worst, you end up having to throw the whole mess away and start over.

C.J. Hayden, MCC, CPCC, is the author of the bestseller Get Clients Now! A 28-Day Marketing Program for Professionals, Consultants, and Coaches, Since 1992, she's been helping entrepreneurs survive and thrive. C.J. is the author of five other business how-to-books, and has taught marketing at Mills College and John F. Kennedy University. Find out how you can work with C.J. as your business coach or strategic advisor or attend one of her upcoming programs.

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