What Pixar (and squirrels) taught me about niching

“I’ve always resisted niching”.

I hear this so often. And actually, I was in the same camp some years back.

 Photo credit: ©Adrian Scottow

Photo credit: ©Adrian Scottow

Until I started my coaching certification, we (as a company) hadn’t considered narrowing our offerings to meet the needs of a specific customer group.

Or rather, we’d considered it, but resisted. Like you, perhaps? There were some sectors we didn’t want to work in, sure; and there were some sectors we liked; but that was more about foundational values and past experience than anything else.

Back then, the closest we got to niching was to define the job title our typical buyers held. Niching felt faddy, and limiting, and time consuming, so we carried on reaching out to the mass market.

Then I started Coaching Certification. The process required me to log a massive number of coaching hours as part of my training and I found myself coaching people from a wide and colourful range of backgrounds, all facing challenges of a hugely diverse nature. I coached them wholeheartedly – hungrily even - and loved the breadth of experience I was gaining. I got great feedback, too. But I knew that I was truly ‘meant’ to coach only a very select few of the people on my roster at that time.

What fires you up?

Does that feel true for you, too? That there are some clients, or opportunities, or projects, or teams that just feel right. Make you smile and feel bouncy. Others, not so much?

The ones that fit are the ones that you pour your heart and soul into without being asked. With them, you do your best, most courageous work. You’re passionate about them. They give you energy, rev you up.

What if you were to dig into the fine detail of those projects, or job roles, or clients? And then, armed with a tight definition, choose to focus yourself only on those opportunities? What would it give you? Would you still resist? Because that’s niching. 

Whether you’re mapping your next career move, honing the marketing strategy for your own business, or planning how to stand out from the crowd in your current senior role, defining the circumstances where you’re at your most passionate – and do your best work – is not something you need to resist.

Delete niche, insert passion

It’s incredibly common for senior business people to resist niching. My theory is that the years of knowledge you’ve gained tell you it’s unnecessary. You’re already successful, and you’re getting good results, so why limit yourself; why narrow your focus?

From my experience, working as a generalist will get you so far; it’s already worked well for you. But to take your success to the next level, you need to focus and be specific about what lights you up. That simple shift allows you to do your very best work, and get big results. 

If you’re resistant to niching, consider this: are you up for working with clients, in roles, or on projects that you’ve defined really clearly and are passionate about? A simple reframe can help.

So what have I learned from Pixar (and squirrels)?

If you’ve seen the Pixar movie UP! then you’ll get the reference. Squirrels constantly distract Dug the dog and his compatriots from their mission.

My ‘squirrels’, pre-certification, were the interesting and valuable clients that nonetheless distracted me from doing my best coaching because some of them weren't the people I was meant to work with.

For example, once you know you’re meant to work with one-legged pirates, who need more gold, and struggle to find the right crew / parrots, then you know exactly where to start looking for new opportunities, and you also know what they’re hungry for from you! (Vitamin C and a talent-management strategy, I’d imagine…)

Rather than excluding opportunities, niching allows you to identify the ones that are the right fit for you, and get intentional about grabbing them.

Over to you

Who or what are your 'squirrels'? What distracts you from your passion, or stops you from working with people and on projects that light you up? Tweet and let us know.

Find your spark

Want to get strategic support and guidance on identifying – and pursuing – the work that fires you up? If you run your own business, or lead a team that you know could do with some focus, a clarity session could be just what you’re after.

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