The Local Niche


Local businesses, organizations, and educators make our communities richer. This is a romantic article about why I choose to serve them and help them reach the communities they operate in.

Most of the world works hard for survival. In contrast, you and I are likely both dissatisfied with solely working for survival. Some want extravagant amounts of money, some want deep, earth-shaking meaning, and some want both. It's worthwhile to talk about why survival isn't enough, but that's not this article. This article is about why I – with my relative abundance of time and money and choices – do what I do.

Finding passion for the niche

The business gurus are right: finding a niche is a great way forward. Be the one who does that one thing for that one market. Be the one who makes tiny hats for big dogs. And do it so well that you become the undisputed choice. Also, start a business to solve your own problem. Also, charge a lot because high price tags mean quality. There's lots of advice out there.

But some of the best advice is to start races you have the passion to finish. There's a lot of stopping, starting, and restarting in our culture. We get itchy around the word "obsession" because it's so often unhealthy, but so many of our heroes are often self-described obsessives. So let's talk about passion, which seems to be obsession with wings. Passion doesn't make everything easy, and we have to work to sustain it. Still, everyone knows more passion is better, even when it's harder.

I don't disagree that a proper niche requires a specific offering for a specific group of people. I don't disagree that people need to make decisions and see those decisions through. My point is that we ought to be keenly aware of what we're passionate about, what we're hopeful for, and what we're afraid of before those decisions make sense... before we can know that we're truly committed to seeing them through.

The niche isn't a niche

Local communities aren't a niche. Local communities are everyone.

Local businesses and organizations feed our communities in complicated and essential ways. I was raised to support that. As an adult, I see how much easier it's becoming to forget them and favor the national and international companies with faster service, better selection, and cheaper prices. With our hectic schedules and growing expenses, it's irresistible. It's sensible. As a marketer, I see a lot of small businesses trying to operate like big businesses with small budgets. There's an endless supply of bad advice and bad ways to spend their marketing budgets. There are beautiful products and delicious restaurants and skilled craftspeople everywhere, but they can't cut through the noise. It's getting easier and easier to disconnect from our community and send our money out into the void, and I can't foresee any good coming from that.

Small businesses and non-profits used to be able to succeed because we walked past them and talked about them. They were good or they were cheap or they were just familiar, sometimes all of the above. Now, there's less walking and less talking, and they're competing for visibility online with enormous companies with deep pockets. To survive, they need to be more visible, more reliable, more convenient, more economical, more active, more comfortable with changing technologies...

My niche is composed of the people and the businesses who contribute to the quality of our communities. I can feel somewhat starry-eyed, but this has my passion. To help local businesses and organizations fight for our attention. To help them them attract people — even when they're not the most convenient or the cheapest. To help them develop solid marketing strategies that allow them to do more with less. I'm very happy to make some money while improving my daughters' community.

It's hard work, and it seems like it will get harder as we go. Some technologies and means of connection are being democratized at a time when meaningful connections are becoming more difficult. Trust is low. Community is changing, gaining some things and losing others. We're all asking questions we didn't ask before, and these are the answers I enjoy looking for. Can earnest advertising improve our community? Can civics be sexy?

This is a race I have the passion to run and keep running.