Everybody is the same as nobody

Sent by Jonathan Stark on November 6th, 2019

A funny thing happens when I work with someone on niching down from a typical “anything for anyone” position to something more useful.

Within the space of a minute, they go from A. acting as if what they do is valuable to anyone in the whole wide world, to B. not being able to think of a single type of person they can help.

For example, let’s say “Bob” has been a full stack web developer for a decade. By definition, this means he’s a jack of all trades with regard to web development.

He knows Rails, Laravel, Ember, React, Vue, Bootstrap, Tailwind, and node. He knows HTML, CSS, Javascript, and has dabbled with Sass, Less, SCSS, coffescript, Typescript, and of course jQuery. He’s built real-time apps with Ajax, Comet, Parse, and Firebase.

(I could go on, but you get the idea. Just search LinkedIn for “senior full stack web developer” and you’ll find a thousand resumes just like this.)

When I look at Bob’s website, it’s going to have a big huge headline that says something like:

“I build websites to meet your needs”

Or:

“I build beautiful, professional websites that give your business the appeal it needs.”

Or:

“I build websites for clients across the area and nationally; from large corporations to small e-commerce stores.

As you read the preceding “positioning” statements, did you have a Rolodex Moment? Do you think of someone you know who might be an ideal client for Bob?

No, of course not.

Why?

Because none of these statements indicate who might make an ideal client for Bob. In an attempt to rule nobody out, these headlines attempt to appeal to anyone and everyone.

So… you MIGHT think that in a case like this, I could suggest literally any target market to Bob, and he would say, “Sure, I could help them,” BUT the opposite happens. Every time I suggest a target market to Bob, he shoots me down.

Me: “What about building websites for lawyers?”

Bob: “Nah, they’re probably too formal.”

Me: “What about credit unions?”

Bob: “I’ve heard they’re tight with money.”

Me: “Accountants?”

Bob: “I’d get bored.”

Me: “Animal shelters?”

Bob: “They’re all broke.”

Me: “Restaurants?”

Bob: “Too much drama.”

Me: “Environmentalists?”

Bob: “Too far left.”

Me: “Hunters?”

Bob: “Too far right.”

…and on and on and on…

After a while, it starts to seem like Bob has an objection ready to go for anything I might suggest. The irony here is that his website states that he’d work with virtually anybody and yet when I suggest marketing to somebody in particular he rejects the idea.

(And the DOUBLE irony is that if an environmentalist or a lawyer or an restauranteur walked through the door to hire Bob, he’d jump at the chance)

What’s really going on here is that Bob has no idea who would be his ideal client. Which means he has no understanding of his actual value proposition. Which leads to a creeping suspicion that nobody values his assistance and the only reason he has ever gotten hired was dumb luck or a favor or in extreme cases, pity.

Like all decisions, picking someone is scary because it could fail. You could be wrong. You’re not sure it’ll work. There is no guarantee.

But I can guarantee this: if you are currently not getting any leads, niching down in your marketing isn’t going to make things any worse. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, so why not try it?

Yours,

—J