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Draw More Customers Without Expanding Your Niche

By Bob McElwain
Posted Monday, March 31, 2003

When starting a business offline, the two things that matter most are 1) Location and 2) Location. You want to be as close as possible to a place your potential customers visit. Or on a path they frequently travel.

This Doesn't Work Online

Location does not apply, for two online businesses are but a click apart. And the notion of opening up next door to http//Amazon.Com has no meaning at all.

While convenient guidelines such as are implied in location offline seem to have no value on the Web, there is an equivalent. In fact a small business person absolutely must discover ...

The Perfect Niche

Niche marketing means first defining a niche as narrow as possible in an area of interest to you. Then finding appropriate products within your niche of interest to potential customers. Further, the goal is to become the top dog or guru within your niche, in order to dominate, and thus eliminate serious competition.

It is impossible to fault this model, for it works. It works extremely well. Those who are able to really grab this idea and run with it will succeed.

Will This Model Hold Up?

Absolutely. Niche marketing will remain the only viable option for small businesses into the foreseeable future. For one thing, it's the only approach that diminishes the risk of your business being swallowed whole by a major player with bucks to burn who wants your customers.

What Will Change?

Nearly everything else. And rapidly. What worked yesterday may not work today. This is particularly true of the challenge in drawing targeted traffic.

Not long ago, a good site could expect considerable traffic from submission of pages to search engines and directories. Today, even a top notch site may draw little such traffic.

Freebie classified ads no longer draw. Banner exchanges appear to be a losing proposition. Many of the tools that worked previously are no longer working well, if at all.

With advertising becoming increasingly expensive, what are the alternatives?

Expand Your Niche To Appeal To A Larger Audience?

This is always a bad idea. A big mistake, actually. For several reasons. All mean expanding your product line in some manner.

First, your guru status does not carry over to off-target products. You will have to dig in and master information related to each new product. Then you must establish your guru status in this new area as well.

As an example, suppose you have a lock on stereo speakers. You're asking for big trouble if you add the hardware that drives the speakers you already know so well.

Second, the broader your product line, the greater the chance of a competitor picking off at least some of your customers. In speakers, a hardware site might beat you in this, and also sell the speakers before you get the chance to do so.

If you have a clearly defined niche in hand, it may make good sense to seek ways to narrow it even further. But any thought of expanding breadth should be discarded immediately.

Link Swaps And Beyond

Suppose you've carved a niche and established a top position in quality mountain climbing gear. If you're wise, you will firmly refuse to expand into even a closely related area, such as rock climbing. However, you can consider exchanging links with a top rock climbing site. Such exchanges with non-competitive sites are a powerful tool for drawing targeted traffic. However, consider going much further. Take a giant step into a ...

Strategic Alliance

Introduce yourself to the guru you found in rock climbing. It often works better if this meeting takes place on the phone. For it allows each of you to come to know a good deal about the other much more quickly than is possible in email.

However, email is likely all that's required to wrap things up. Work together until you discover a way to send each other targeted traffic. Don't mess with link and ad swaps. Find ways in which each site can be interrelated with the other in a significant way. Essentially, you offer something he can not. And he offers something you can not.

In such an arrangement, do not be concerned about "equality." If he gets more traffic from you than you get from him, forget it. You have a two-way bridge between his site and yours. Cherish it. Then ...

Build Even More Bridges

Other niches to be considered might include those featuring camping gear, appropriate outdoor supplies, guide and travel services, and so forth.

Have Your Cake And Eat It

Following the above procedure will not in any way diminish the dominance you hold within your niche. You have not increased your product line. You have not increased the breadth of the area in which you claim expertise.

All you have done is offer additional options to those of your customers who can benefit from them. And you have increased targeted traffic to your site.

Since there's a lot to all this, few will take the time to work things out effectively. And someone must, or it won't fly.

If you accept this challenge, and make it super easy for others to interrelate with your site, you will be the major beneficiary of the traffic sharing program.

More About Location

While this term does not translate directly into cyberspace, elements of the concept can be utilized on the Web.

A narrow niche does create something of a "location." When you invite others to interrelate with you, your location is expanded by the greater extent of products. Each business draws it's own customer base. Yet by sharing, the individual base is enhanced.

Doing Old-Time Things In New Ways

Actually, this is not a lot different than what often happens in your home town. You can buy paint in your local hardware store, but they may not stock wallpaper. If not, ask. You'll be directed to another shop nearby that does.

Savvy small business owners have known for years that there is simply no better way to build a loyal customer base than to support each one in every possible way. They also know there is only gain in recommending a reputable firm that has the product they lack that a customer needs.

I do not see much of this on the Web. I'm not sure why. It might come down to just the work involved. Whatever, such arrangements can be extremely effective. Try it, and see for yourself.


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