Wandering through “The Grove”, a new shopping mall in Los
Angeles, I was struck of some similarities between retail sales and
your high-tech career. Long gone are the days of the “do everything” department
store, hardware store, grocery store. Today, we have reached the logical,
if not somewhat absurd, pinnacle of shopping…not just the niche
market, but the ultra-niche market.
Find your niche(es)
In the past, I have always preached a generalist approach to a high-tech
career…know a little bit about a lot. I am not telling you to
abandon that approach, nor will I abandon it myself, but there is a
niche component that can be included. While they might sound like 2
different ends of the spectrum, combining your overall knowledge with
a focus on particular niches could lead to a better career.
First, unlike a niche retail store, you can be something different
to each one of your clients. You don’t just have to sell sunglasses
to everyone. One client might see you as an expert in Final Cut Pro
editing software. Another might call on you for high-level assistance
with script formatting software. Still another might see you as the
wizard of databases. Focusing on niches is less a change in what you
do and more of change in how you do it.
As you go about your career you will naturally find yourself collecting
specialized skills. It is here that your niches lie. When you see yourself
developing these skills, start to look for a way to market them. You
can even think about this as a different business from your general
technology work. Perhaps you can market yourself as the Digital Recording
Expert to people in that particular market. They need not know of your
more general work, although that will certainly be a component in your
work for anyone. Again, you are not trying to sell only one particular
service. You are trying to focus your selling to a particular market.
Think of yourself more like the developer who owns a mall, instead
of retailer renting space. You are trying to fill your mall with the
best and most popular niche stores in order to create a “whole” that
is better than its separate parts. In this case, though, you own all
the stores (or all the skills) and can easily and rapidly switch from
one to another to meet changing needs.
A finer focus
You may find, over time, that you are focusing more and more of your
energy on one particular specialty. This can be both good and bad.
A specialty can allow you to command a higher price for your services
and bring you more prestige among your clients. I would still encourage
you, though, to continue developing your general technology skills.
There are several important reasons for this. First, your specialty
skills could become obsolete almost overnight. The pace of technology
innovation is rapid and unrelenting. Software manufacturers fail. New
technological developments make your skills unnecessary. Someone makes
it easier/faster/cheaper to do things in a new way. Whatever the reason,
you could find your “cash cow” suddenly left for dead along
the side of some back road.
Take heart in the money and prestige your specialties can bring you,
but always be aware that they won’t go on forever. You have to
constantly be developing new specialties to match the changing technology
climate. I can guarantee you that just when you are thinking you are
set for life, someone, or something, will arrive on the scene to show
you just how fragile your career can be.
This is why is it important to develop multiple specialties so that
you have other areas to support you while you develop the “next
big thing” in your career. Don’t be afraid to follow your
interests down new and strange roads. If you are interested in digital
audio recording, but don’t have any clients that need it today,
that’s ok. Put your toes in the water and try it out. The truth
is, you can never be sure exactly where your next specialty is going
to arise. It is very possible that a personal interest in something
could lead to an entirely new area of business. You won’t know
unless you are constantly investigating those things that intrigue
Niche markets can help you to expand your business and your career
as long as you don’t lose sight of the big picture. Hone your
specific skills and advertise them to target markets, but don’t
forget that a good general underpinning is what will keep your career
moving forward even as technology, and the world, changes around you.
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