Today’s Biz Ladies post comes from Biz Ladies regular Andrea Baxter, owner of Bratface Marketing and co-founder of Smart Cookies. (Check out more of Andrea’s Biz Ladies posts here!) Today she offers some valuable advice on finding your niche through networking, analysis and — sometimes — learning from failures. Thanks, Andrea, for this great advice! — Stephanie
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If I had a dollar for every time my father told me I’d have a career in the creative industry, I’d be a millionaire by now. As a kid growing up, I didn’t think I had to “find my niche.” I already knew what I was destined to be, where I was going to live and what I was going to do as a profession. But life didn’t turn out that way, and boy, was I headed in a direction that didn’t at all match my “plans.”
What I didn’t realize when I was young was that finding your niche really means finding your way — finding what you’re good at and succeeding at that skill. Life always has other plans for you, but if you can learn a few pointers that will help you out, you’ll be well on your way to finding your niche.
Here are some of my key tips on how to find your niche, which I really developed as I become a business owner. These have helped me tremendously, not only in finding my niche but also in growing as a person and mastering some skills I never thought I had.
Network & Connect
This is #1 in my book. Networking and connecting with the right crowd is key no matter what type of business you are in or the type of position you hold. In fact, one of my past Design*Sponge posts was all about Trendsetters, Influencers and Connectors because I know that if you arm yourself with the right networking ammunition, you can conquer anything and anyone. Connecting and networking with business folks doesn’t have to be invasive, nor does it have to seem like a sales pitch. It’s all in the art of how you approach them, knowing what you want to take out of the conversation and how you remain connected with them after the initial handshake. Business people “get” that networking and connecting are a natural part of any entrepreneur’s growth in the business world, but when you do them right, you will see the positive changes they can truly make.
Do Your Own SWOT Analysis
If companies believe in creating a SWOT analysis to understand what their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats are, you should do the same for your own personal brand. Consider this making the most of your talents and opportunities. In the words of the famous French chemist Louis Pasteur, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” Chances are, you are most likely to succeed in life if you use your talents to their fullest extent. Similarly, you’ll suffer fewer problems if you know what your weaknesses are and you manage these weaknesses so they don’t affect the work you do. If you look at yourself using the SWOT framework, you can start to separate yourself from your peers and further develop the specialized talents and abilities you need to advance your career. SWOT analysis is great for new business owners because it can often change over time as you develop a better sense of what your business and its goals are, but arming yourself with this foundational element from the get-go will prepare you for the long haul.
Your Personal Brand
That’s right — you are your own personal brand. A personal brand is a great second step after you determine your SWOT analysis. Remember, branding is more that just your visual identity. Branding reflects your personality, your traits, the way you dress, the way you shake someone’s hand, the way you communicate with others and the list goes on. An article in Fast Company states, “Everyone has a chance to stand out. Everyone has a chance to learn, improve, and build up their skills. Everyone has a chance to be a brand worthy of remark.” Personal branding is one of the most powerful assets you have as a business person; whether you are self-employed or a full-time employee at a company, it really does define what you are all about and how you come across to others.
Listen + Learn
No matter how experienced someone is at business, listening is still a challenge for most people, and not everyone does it right. “Listen 90% of the time and talk 10% of the time,” is a quote I heard that I believe is very true. People love to hear themselves talk, but are they really listening? Making eye contact? Both of these are very important when you are (a) networking and (b) listening to clients and what their needs are. If you listen carefully, you ask the right questions and you always learn.
Don’t Be in a Rush
If there was one thing that I was always guilty of doing growing up it was rushing everything. I was always in a rush to grow up, to get to the next step, make money, own a place and get to the top of the food chain. You name it, I was in a rush to get there. Here’s what I’ve learned through my experiences: Rushing. Doesn’t. Get. You. Anywhere. Ambition, on the other hand, is entirely different. Ambition, drive and tenacity are awesome traits because with those, you often find that you get to your final destination much quicker, and you do it all without rushing but taking the time, effort and skills to get there. Small-business owners who master this do it well and often get what they want. Don’t ever mistake ambition for ego.
Don’t Be Afraid to Fail
The word “fail” often scares people because it is seen as a sign of defeat and well . . . failure. Everyone fails at something in his or her life. It’s what you take away and learn from that failure that makes you a stronger person and allows you to grow. Keep in mind that what you see as a failure is not necessarily what others see in us. We are our own worst critics, and we are always the hardest on ourselves, but what if we looked at ourselves as others see us? Would you consider something you did a failure or a success? If you asked me, I have failed at a lot of things in my life, but I wouldn’t consider myself a success if I didn’t look at those so-called failures, learn from them and move onward and upward. Now I look at them as the best things that could have happened to me.
My first company, The Smart Cookies, was founded because of what I considered a failure: I was bad at managing my money, racked up thousands of dollars of debt and considered myself a lost cause when it came to my finances. But because of my situation, I started a money group, got smart with my finances, was a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show, wrote two best-selling books, hosted a TV show and much more — all because I took something I thought I was failing at and turned it into a success. It’s possible; you just have to be willing to see the positive in failures and learn from them.
I would love your thoughts on how you found your niche because I adore hearing stories of how others did it. Email me at email@example.com. You can also sign up for my quarterly newsletter for all the goods at www.bratfacemarketing.com. Follow me @BratfaceMrktg & @andreabaxter or “Like” us on Facebook.