December 10, 2017

“What vertical do I pick?!”

IF you currently present yourself to the world as a generalist (e.g., full stack web developer)...

AND you are having a hard time attracting good clients who are willing to pay you what you feel you’re worth...

THEN the quickest path to differentiation is almost certainly to pick a target audience on which to focus your marketing efforts.

The reason this is the quickest path is that you don’t really have to change what you do in your job, you just need to change how you talk about your job.

The reason this works as differentiation is that to your selected target market will recognize that you “speak their language” and therefore, will trust you more easily and value you more highly.

Most people I advise tend to agree that this approach sounds like a good one, but they almost all immediately slam into the same obstacle:

“What vertical do I pick?!”

I’ve tried to help people surmount this obstacle in a variety of ways over the years and to be honest, I think my original approach was at least as effective as anything I’ve tried since:

Pick something you’re passionate about.

This might sound cheesy or naive, but experience tells me that the fundamental logic is sound.

You’re going to be spending a lot of time with these clients and in their world... so why not pick something you dig?


Do you have a hobby? Or a passion? Or a purpose? Or a mission? Or a love?


At this point, most people say something like this to me:

“Sure, I’d LOVE to work with X, BUT...”

When I hear objections like these, it usually means that the student isn’t thinking big enough about the vertical. They’re thinking about a specific size or type of business inside of a larger vertical.

For example:

“I’d love to build mobile friendly websites for karate schools, but... ”

Maybe all these things are true, but you can adjust the focus from “karate schools” to explore adjacent businesses:

“I build mobile friendly websites for...”

Just because the owner of a local karate school isn’t an ideal client, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a closely related type of business that is an ideal client.

Rather than skipping across the surface of a bunch of unrelated verticals (e.g., from “karate schools” to “bitcoin miners” to “cosmetic surgeons"), stick to a vertical you love and go deep.