The most successful memberships are those that cater to a specific niche.
Having a niche makes your offering more targeted, which increases the likelihood of someone identifying with the problem your membership solves.
If you want to stand out from the crowd, you can't just blend in with the crowd. You need to have a specialty.
But how do you figure out your niche?
And what happens once you've become successful in a specific area?
Should you stay put, or expand into other areas?
Let's dive in…
Specialists vs generalists
Imagine you’ve broken your leg, and you go to the hospital to get it sorted.
When you get there, you’re told:
“There’s two surgeons available to see you. One is the world's foremost specialist on treating fractures and breaks in the exact bone you've broken.
The other is a great guy who does a bit of this, does a bit of that – he's treated broken legs a few times, he also dabbles in burn treatment and helps out in A&E now and again; and every so often he even delivers a baby if he's in the mood.”
Who will you choose?
Yeah, I thought so.
You choose the expert.
There’s no doubt that that second surgeon is highly qualified, adept, and experienced… but they aren’t a specialist.
They don’t have that sign around their neck that says: “I am exactly who you are looking for.”
It’s no different when it comes to people looking at your membership.
Should I start niche or broad with my membership?
There is conflicting advice about this and, to be honest, I think you should do whatever feels right for you and your business.
We started broad and eventually niched down to where we are now, and it worked great for us.
It’s probably the way that most people do it and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Starting in your niche is brilliant if you can pull it off.
Kevin Kelly talks about this with his concept of 1,000 True Fans.
He wrote an entire essay on it, which is brilliant and highly recommended reading, but there’s one sentence that sums it up nicely for me.
“A thousand customers are a whole lot more feasible to aim for than a million fans.”
If you can show a small section of people with a common interest that you can solve their problem/improve their experience, you will succeed.
Prove yourself to be a master of your craft, a specialist in your field, from the start or over several years.
Whichever approach you choose, you should be okay… as long as you’re always moving towards, not away from, owning your niche.
How do I find my niche?
If finding and owning your niche sounds like what you want to do, but you don’t know where to start, there are three main ways you can start to find yours:
What you do
There’s a little Ecommerce site called Amazon. You might have heard of it. One of Amazon’s real strengths is their categorization.
If you could find memberships using categories like Amazon has for books (which we’ve got two of, by the way!) you’d find us somewhere like this:
Business > Ecommerce > E-learning > Memberships
Once you’ve gone three or four levels into the specifics of what you do, you’ve hit the sweet spot.
Any more than that and you’re going to be getting too narrow.
Any less than that and you’re going to be trying to speak to too many people.
The beauty of being those three or four levels down is that you can add your expert take on topics that sit above you in those categories.
You can offer fresh content on broad topics that have been done to death.
Let’s stick with The Membership Guys as our example.
There are a million and one articles out there on how to use Facebook ads.
Writing another would be unhelpful for us, our audience, and our business.
But an article explaining how to use Facebook ads for your membership means we’re publishing content that people haven’t seen before and helps us dominate our niche.
Niching down doesn’t limit you – it lets you cut through the noise by putting your unique spin on the tired topics everyone else is trying to talk about.
How you do it
The next way you can find your niche is by focusing on how you service your audience.
You may decide to offer consultancy, sell an online course, offer a done for you service or – of course – a membership.
The “how” could form the basis of your niche – however typically it wouldn't be the only differentiator, as people are generally less bothered about the means of having their problem solved than they are about simply having it solved.
Usually you would combine the “how you do it” element with the “what you do” or “who you do it for” aspects – so you could be the only membership site for bass guitar enthusiasts, or indeed the only membership site for membership sites!
Just keep in mind that the “how” isn't going to be the thing people care about the most. You usually going to want to combine that with something else to create a compelling niche.
Who you do it for
Getting specific about who you serve is helpful for both sides of the membership.
You will know exactly the people you want to target and, in the process of finding them, will learn about the common problems and questions they have.
As a result, the people who occupy your niche will receive a top-quality service that meets all of their wants and needs from your membership.
Your niche could be based on age, location, occupation/interest, or so many more demographics.
Instead of running a videography membership, run a videography membership for millennials in Scotland or digital nomads in Spain.
Does having a niche really make that much difference?
From experience, I can tell you it does.
When I first started in digital marketing and web design, I spent many mornings at networking breakfasts.
I made some useful connections and got several leads as I was starting out. I also ate some nasty food.
One of those leads was an accountant.
He was a bit of a slow burner.
By the time he finally called to ask for help redesigning his website, we’d got to know each other over more cooked breakfasts than I could count.
In that time, he'd referred me to a number of his own clients, so clearly knew that I could deliver the goods. The pitch was a formality, I thought.
Weeks and weeks passed by, emails went unanswered, calls went straight to answerphone. I couldn’t understand it.
When I finally bumped into him about a month later, I asked what happened and he sheepishly told me he’d decided to go with someone else.
“Was it the cost? Was something wrong with the quote? Did I miss something out?”, I asked.
“No, no. It wasn’t that.”
“What was it then?”
“We ended up going with a specialist.”
Tail between my legs, I slinked away and when I got home that night, I looked up the company he'd chosen over me. Do you know how they positioned themselves?
Web design – for accountants.
Those two words that put them in their niche were more powerful than all those hours of face-to-face networking.
Having a niche is a strength, not a weakness
Hopefully you can now see why niching down and staying there is good for your membership.
And hopefully you’re also thinking about your niche and how you can cement your place in it, rather than moving away from it.
Take some time to reflect on where your membership would sit in those imaginary Amazon categories.
Think about the cross sections of your niche and the broader topics that sit above it.
Think about whether you can define your niche better by thinking about the what, how, and who of your membership.
You might be surprised by just how powerful niching down can be.