How to find your niche in an ever-growing peer-to-peer marketplace

The business world as we know it – rigid and hierarchical – is being refashioned into a fluid, collaborative resource network with little to no borders. Today, as professional service providers, we have the option of putting our skills on the international table rather than them being strictly desk-bound or exclusively belonging to one conglomerate. And it doesn’t stop there. The development of online resource platforms accessible to practically anyone and everyone means we could be both providers and consumers, teachers and learners. The opportunity couldn’t be clearer.

But of course, every opportunity poses a challenge. How do we set ourselves apart from our close competitors or those who have already started ahead of us? How can we get a healthy slice of this collaborative pie?

Think Like a Marketer

The word ‘marketing’ can bring some people anxiety. It seems such a big word with complex tasks. The truth is, it is and it isn’t. All that marketing is, is identifying a brand, identifying customers and identifying opportunities. Where it can get discombobulating is what you do with the information once you’ve collected them.

To start, think about these three acronyms: USP, BANT and KPI. Marketers use the term USP – Unique Selling Proposition, to help develop a brand. In this case, you are the brand. Let’s say you want to teach landscape photography. Now landscape photographers are a dime a dozen. Why should students come to you? What do you offer that no one else does? What valuable professional experience could you capitalise on?

BANT is Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline. Use these criteria to help you recognise the right customer. Because targeting the right customers will save you time and resources and will enable you to build a reputation in the right marketplace.

For every potential client you meet, ask yourself, Do they have the budget for my product or service? Do they have the authority make a purchasing decision? What needs of theirs am I fulfilling? How much time are they giving me to fulfill these needs? If you’re stuck, have a conversation with that potential client and find out what it is exactly that they’re looking for.

KPI stands for Key Performance Indicators. You can have as many KPIs as you wish as long as they are helpful in tracking your progress. They need to be well-defined and measurable. Profits, for example, could be one of them. How much profit have you made from your day of launch further into your trading / teaching, say, one month on?

It could be customer loyalty – How many first-time customers have kept using your services? How many of them have come back? Or it could be completion – How many of your students have completed their lessons? How many have dropped out? From these you can have a snapshot of how well you’re doing and identify which areas of your business you can improve on.

Be Accessible

This is a no-brainer. Prospective customers need to be able to find you if you were to have a thriving career in self-employment. In an increasingly digital world, working remotely is key. It would be a missed opportunity to only offer your skills to people in your city when the rest of the world can have access to you.

‘Being accessible’ is both practical and rhetorical.

The practical bit is making it easy for friends and followers to have access to you by providing a link to your professional services. In simpler terms, enable them to get in touch with you. The rhetorical bit is learning how to send the right message, for instance, in social media channels. Speak your customers’ language and set a relatable tone of voice rather than sounding overly corporate or technical. Trying to sound too clever could alienate prospective customers.

Practice Consistency

Building a client base is not an overnighter. It could take weeks for some businesses and months for others. So when the right clients start walking through your door, treat them like guests you want to stay forever and be there when they expect you to.

Consistency is important because it builds your reputation as a reliable service provider. Give your customers the confidence that they are going to get the same quality of service each time they see you. Give them the certainty that you won’t cancel on them at the last hour.

By building a culture of trust and reliability, you are doing yourself a service too. Your working relationship with your clients will be easier, more fun and more rewarding.