I find choosing difficult. Committing to a niche, focusing on a product and market, while there are so many other options that sound appealing. How will I know if I'm making the right choice?
I know why it's better (read the 10 reasons why focusing is better here). But I keep running into resistance. I start finding counter-arguments and reasons (ahem, excuses) not to do it. I thought I would share my internal narrative with that resistance in the form of a letter to myself.
When I say you, I mean myself. But maybe it's also true for you. Enjoy.
We've talked about focusing. About making a decision on who you're going to help with what. You keep jumping back to all the other activities.
I get it, focusing is shit. It's letting go of things right now, for potential returns in the future. We've gone over the reasons why picking a niche is good for your business. So let's talk, what's keeping you from doing it?
You brainiac. Of course, you were going to be all up in my face with all the intellectual arguments why it is actually better for you not to focus.
"I get bored doing 1 thing" , you'd say. But there is so much variety in the depth of doing one thing well. Layers below layers. Striving for mastery is so much more intriguing!
Plus, the better you get, the more you'll get to pick and demand the conditions in your projects and make them more fun.
"I like the beginning phases of a project" , you'd say. Aah sure, you're the idea-guy. The strategist. Seeing something through is boring. Perhaps that's possible. More likely though, you're confusing easy with fun! You're simply hiding from the hard, real work.
The learning curve is steepest at the beginning of learning a new skill. Sure, that's true. But it's also true that everybody can learn the beginning part of a skill, an industry or set up the outlines of a business. Precisely because it's more fun and easier. And because it's hard to finish it, to continue through the dip and see it through, is precisely why it's scarce. And thus why people are still waiting for it.
"But it's this variety of things that makes me grow faster. It all blends in together to create a unique mix. If I focus, I become 1-dimensional. Specialisation is for insects!" Bla-bla-blah! Ah come on, shut up!
Yes. True. Being top 20% in 3 different areas, make you top 1% in the combination. But, that's true for any combination of 3 skills. So, show me that there's a demand for that combination. Show me that what's missing for your people is the combination of doing three things ok-ish. Rather than doing 1 thing incredibly well, enriched with some knowledge about other areas. Because we both know that you can learn enough about anything in side-project, through hobbies or simply being awake.
The head vs the heart and gut
We could go back-and-forth with intellectual arguments forever. Remember, I'm your mind, I can do this all day.
But, your problem isn't that you're not intellectually convinced that you should focus. So thinking and arguing about the merits of it more won't help. See! I see you closing off from the conversation as we speak.
That's because, the reason you don't want to pick a niche is because it's scary. And, any conversation towards it is uncomfortable. Because it could result in a realisation that puts you on the hook.
So, let's talk about those fears. It might be uncomfortable. But, no pressure. Relax. You don't have to do anything. Just sit. Allow me to speak. And listen with an open mind.
Your fear of instability
First, of course, you want stability. You want to have enough certainty that you will have enough income. Even if you can handle that pretty well, or you don't need much, it's still a stressor. And keeping your eggs in lots of baskets feels much safer.
So, you ask, how is it possible to make enough when I limit my market to one niche?
I would argue, how can you get enough clients when you try to cater to all? How is your story possibly going to reach someone if it is aimed at no-one?
Plus, what's really the worst that can happen? If it's not death, broke or going to prison, what's really so bad? You've got plenty of life jackets!
Your fear of the unknown
I get it. You want to know how this going to work. You want certainty. You'll wait until the end of time; until you've figured out the perfect path.
But, you can't see how it's going to work yet! There is no path that you can draw out from here that's going to be perfect. You need to move first to get the new information, capabilities and connections. Then you can adjust.
And, remember traveling? Adventures? Spontaneity? Remember how boring predictability is? That's your situation now. You know the end-game of staying put. So leap!
Yes, you will make mistakes. The product or market, or the fit, will be imperfect. You will waste some of your time. But, you're certainly wasting time now when you're waiting without getting new information or making progress.
So, let go of that fear. Embark. Start the journey. Not starting (or rather, staying put) is the only failure.
Your fear of loss, disconnect and insignificance
Picking that niche will mean you'll stop doing the other things you like. You'll stop working with some people. You'll stop having an impact in the other areas. Plus, you won't be recognized for those other sides of yourself as much.
Saying you're the strategist for creative entrepreneurs means you're omitting Art of Hosting practitioner, creativity workshops, education innovator, consultant etc. The less you let people that you can and offer these things, the less they ask you for it. And you like being asked. You like the feeling of significance you get from it.
Yes. Yes. Yes and yes. It's true. And I get it, that sucks, is scary and seems like something you don't want.
But, remember, that you pick your niche for a reason. You're picking that niche because doing it gives you the most joy, allows you to work with the best people, and is the area of work that's most important to you.
The other things are second-best! Like Warren Buffet said, those are on your "avoid at all cost list"
The loss there is real. And boohoo, it sucks. But the gain in the other areas is bigger. You can simply not see the gains yet because you haven't started yet.
So picking your niche allows you to go from having 10 times nearly no impact, to finally creating a dent in something.
In other words: Stop focusing on the little things you'll lose. Instead, think of the waste of time, effort and busyness you'll avoid when you'll pick one thing.
Your fear of rejection
Shit's getting real now. To make picking a niche a success, you must proclaim yourself as the one who does X. You're putting all your 'social credit eggs' in one basket, so to say. And that's scary.
What if someone doesn't like the one thing you do? Or what if someone disapproves of it? Doesn't think you're capable of that?
When you did many things it was easy to shrug off. "You don't like this? Oh, no problem, because I also do this other thing." Now it's all you do. The rejection or attack feels much more personal. That's a much more vulnerable place to be in.
It's scary, but it's also ok. Remember, the rejection is not about you! You are not your work!
If someone doesn't like what you do, it's simply not for them. You need to be ok with that.
Some people (like you) don't like the color pink. Do you think someone who produces pink unicorns cares about that? Of course not!
You just focus on making what you do as good as you can for the people who it's for! The only way to be absolutely remarkable for your small niche is when the mainstream says "I don't like it".
But most importantly: your fear of failure
So all of these are scary. But they dwarf in comparison to the last one. What if you fail when you've really tried?
The waste of time and money won't really matter. It's the hole it would blow in your self-image that would hurt. That you might need to accept that you didn't have the ability to do it. That you weren't smart, resourceful or cunning enough.
When you hold back. When you try it halfheartedly. You can at least fool yourself that you failed because you held back. Of course, you know that if you would really go for it, you could do it. The illusion stays alive.
But, you are the one making the decision not to really try. So, if you believe your self-worth is tied up with your accomplishments, then the failure after trying halfheartedly is also on you. Then, the could-haves don't count.
And, here's the thing. It might be painful to fail at what you really love. But it's even more painful to fail at the compromise made because it seems safer. Failing at the compromise is just as possible. So, there's no choice. Go with what you love.
But really, there is no counter-argument here. Besides that it's a made-up fear. It might feel visceral, but in the end, it's only there in your head.
It's your ego. It's the story in your head. It's made up. And you are the only one who cares that much about it. Try focusing on the others. Try helping them. Focus on doing the right thing.
A mindset for focusing
- You don't have to bring everything back to one thing. You can start with bringing more focus in your product, market or offering.
- Perfect doesn't exist. So, even if you don't know enough, pick based on what you know.
- Neither does permanence. It's not forever, but you got to pick.
- You can still serve other people, unless it becomes a distraction. You simply don't actively market for it.
- You can still do all those things you like. But they'll be side projects to the main project.
- Picture a block full of nails. How can you make one go in fastest? Hint. It's not by tapping all of them a little bit.
- Listen to the voices in your head. They mean well. But take it as advice. Don't allow them to make the decision. Mitigate the risk they speak of and make a plan to circumvent it.
- And, most importantly, enjoy yourself. Don't take yourself so seriously. You speck of dust. And don't worry about the opinion of the other specks of dust either.
Next up in this series: How to decide what that niche should be.
Thanks for reading!
I hope this helps you. If so, clapping along or sharing the article really helps others find it too. Both would be much appreciated!
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