I am writing from the perspective of my own business, which is rather unique. I feel, however, that specific examples should inspire any entrepreneur to find out how to better explore his or her own market niche.
When our consumer confidence level is high, people are acquiring things more often, and they are more willing to spend money on services. It was under these conditions that a partner and I began a home organizing business a few years ago.
Most of our clients were upper-middle class families who wanted to tame the clutter that made their homes less functional so they could easily get to all the tools and toys they purchased, which in an unorganized state tended to hide behind one another. But in the current economic state, I instead focus my new sole-proprietorship organizing service in a different direction.
I see two areas where spending money for my service can save people money in the longer term: helping to incorporate items from storage units back into people’s homes; and helping families who are moving into smaller (and more affordable) homes get off on the right foot, be it in packing and/or unpacking. I believe that one of the greatest strengths I offer to my clients is objectivity: humans become attached to the things we own, and I can help them step back and look at what they do and don’t need, and subsequently help them systematize what they keep in the space they have to work with. Thus, even though my business doesn’t offer a service that is technically necessary, I do believe there is a productive place for it - regardless of the larger economic picture.
I also face the challenge of attracting new business. I am creating brochures emphasizing consolidation to be left at storage unit rental facilities. While at first I wondered if my services might be seen as conflicting with these facilities’ interests, I struck up conversations with people who worked at a few, and to my surprise they were strongly in favor of it. It turns out that many facilities have waiting lists. While some people will move their things out of storage to save costs … others are needing new storage, due to moving into smaller homes. Furthermore, these facilities saw a positive outcome in being able to recommend such a service to their clients, because it made them appear more “full-service.” Several facilities already had partnered with moving companies for this very purpose.
I also am in the process of updating brochures tailored to the real estate market. Realtors are a great source of leads because they not only know that a family is looking to buy a new home, but they also know why. Another way that I have brainstormed finding new leads is to attend Chamber of Commerce networking events, where other small business owners and employees congregate. It turns out that many people who perform other types of work in people’s homes have been challenged by cluttered, disorganized houses; my only concern is that I won’t have any control over how tactfully my business card is offered to such a homeowner, but even in light of that lack of control, I’m still getting the word out. In return, I can also hand their business cards out if, in the course of a consultation or job, my client mentions a need for a plumber or electrician or to have new windows installed (for example).
I hope that my examples above can help others get creative in branching out to new niches, or even just maximizing existing ones. Also, whether you’re a startup or well-established, you can always get advice from SCORE. These ex-executives have volunteered their time and expertise, and I have had more than one occasion to be grateful for them. And, as our government reacts to our economic downturn, small businesses may benefit from changes in tax and other laws. So, it’s a good idea to check the Small Business Adminstration and local government websites on a regular basis. Keep your spirits up, and your eyes open!