Painting Yourself Into A Corner

Before we get into this post, I need you to answer a quick question. What sort of work do you think I do? Whatever it is, we’ll come back to that in just a moment.

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“Carve yourself a niche”, they said. “Focus on and become known for one thing”, they said. It seemed like good advice at the time. And it is, generally speaking, good advice.

But what if by carving out that niche you create an impression that you’re not interested in anything BUT that niche?

This post is intended to act as cautionary tale for individuals, agencies and brands to be careful what you wish for…

About 12 months ago I decided to pivot my business. During the Autumn of 2017 I ran a series of social media marketing workshops up and down the country. They were extremely well-received and, what’s more, I loved doing them. I enjoyed meeting 70+ bright and curious people and I loved the enthusiasm in their eyes at the end of the day when they went away having genuinely learned stuff they could use.

And I loved even more the glowing reviews that followed and the stories I heard of people who’d got fantastic results or won new business as a direct result of what I’d taught them. One person told me they won a new business project as a result of what I taught her about SEO. Another told me about a 45:1 ROI she’d achieved with Facebook marketing.

It was enjoyable and rewarding work, and in combination with the consultative training I already carried out in-house and within agencies, I made a decision to focus more and more on training in 2018. I even built a brand new website dedicated specifically to learning, and launched the Digital Download Podcast and Membership Scheme to support this, both of which are going down a storm.

To all intents and purposes, it worked. Throughout the year I was booked for more workshops and agency training sessions. I successfully ‘carved out my niche’.

When Is a Niche Not Beneficial?

But a few months back I started to feel very uneasy about the impression people had of me. I started to get the creeping feeling that I was becoming pigeon-holed.

On more than one occasion I had people approach me to ask me if I knew anyone who’d be interested in a social media marketing project, when a year before they’d have asked me if it was me who was interested in that project! Or say to me things like “you wouldn’t be interested in this…” or “you’re too senior for this work…”.

Maybe this has happened to you too? Maybe your brand or agency has become known for something at the expense of something else?

Going back to the question I asked you up top, what is it that you think I do? It could be‘ the guy who does the workshops’. Or perhaps ‘the podcast guy’. Or maybe ‘that digital strategist bloke’. Or maybe even ‘that flowery shirt wearing idiot’.

Whatever it is, that’s fine. But would it surprise you therefore to know that, prior to the last few months at least, the bulk of the work I do for brands or with agencies is hands-on, tactical stuff like social media audits, devising digital strategies and content plans, content generation and publishing, community management and managing paid social media campaigns?

A lot of people I’ve spoken to recently have been very surprised to hear that. They think of me purely as a top level strategist and trainer. Which is far, far from the truth. Sure, I do that stuff. But it’s maybe 25% of my overall work.

Or rather, was. A recent analysis revealed to me that I’m getting fewer and fewer hands-on projects. And that’s not something I’m particularly comfortable with.

Here’s why: I am a consultant who also trains people. I’m not ‘a trainer’. And there’s a huge difference between the two.

I don’t believe you can be a good trainer unless you’re actually doing the stuff you’re training people on. I believe you have to continuously hone your skill and adapt to new developments, and that the only way to do that is to produce consistently great results for clients.

I take pride in the fact that when I train people I’m passing on experience and hands-on knowledge rather than theory. Some of what I teach people goes against the theoretical grain, purely because I don’t believe the theory works. I tell them as such, I explain why and I present an alternative. How many ‘trainers’ do you know who teach what they’ve learned and continuously adapt that, rather than teach what they ‘know’?

The Issue with a Niche

So here’s the big question of the day that I’d dearly love to hear your ideas on: what are you supposed to do when everyone thinks they know what you do, but in reality, no-one knows what you do?!

How do you get yourself out of the corner you’ve blindly painted yourself into?

It’s a challenge I’m currently facing. I knew what I was doing when I started painting. I just didn’t realise that I’d blocked off my route to the door.

Like I say, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this if you have time. Have you faced a similar problem? Have you got ideas on how to overcome it? You can email me, message me on Facebook, tweet me or leave a comment below.

And JUST FOR THE AVOIDANCE OF DOUBT, I am a social and digital media consultant who helps brands and agencies with everything from strategies and training right through to actually running Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. And I’m currently looking for new projects to get stuck into. If you need advice or help, either short or long-term, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Photo by Karol Smoczynski on Unsplash

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