In the previous post we discussed the “why” of niching down your creative services. Today, let’s discuss the more practical side of specializing what you do. Let’s look at how you can find your niche and build a successful animation or creative business.
First of all let’s establish one thing about this whole “niche” thing. This isn’t some simple one time decision you make and suddenly your business is on easy street.
No. It’s a process and it takes time. I’m still in this process even after more than 3 years of cutting down my services. I’ll explain later on, but first, let’s discuss the initial steps you should follow.
Your niche is an intersection between your passion, your expertise and a market need. This intersection is your “sweet spot” and is going to take some work to discover.
And here’s another truth: this "niching" process never ends.
To put this into practical form, I’ll outline how I determined my niche.
PassionWhen I started my business, I always knew that I wanted to animate. I wasn’t sure what form that would take or how it would generate an income. But I knew from the start that animation was the thing for me. I had that gut feeling about it.
Now, that sounds straightforward, right? But there were many times I was was doubtful (and honestly, I still do at times!) I flopped around thinking that illustration may be better suited to me. Or going back to video games. Or maybe changing careers completely.
Despite the doubts, I have pushed through to complete a huge variety of client projects. From animation to illustration to web design. What I've discovered is animation remains the most enjoyable part for me.
Even when I’m in the dark valley of a project and I question my commitment to animation, I always find clarity at the end. The frustrating and sticky bits of animation were worth the pain.
But I wouldn't know this if I hadn't got my hands dirty in many different types of projects.I can recognize the feeling of dread when I totally hate working on certain projects. They leave me feeling sucked dry of all inspiration and hope. Obviously I no longer offer these services.
ExpertiseWhen I started freelancing, I didn't have a ton of animation experience under my belt. But, I did have a degree in animation from many moons ago. I had all the foundation training for animation and even created my own student film back in the day.
I knew I was rusty, (read: i couldn’t even remember how to animate the bouncing ball!) but I could build on this foundation over time.
I’m also married to an exceptionally talented writer(andphotographer!). This was a major plus and pushed me on a path towards explainer videos. Story and script are critical parts of explainer videos. With a writer onboard, combined with animation, I knew we had the start of something.
Market NeedMy idea to go into Explainer videos didn’t come out of thin air. It was pretty clear these videos were on the rise. Many online and offline companies were hiring studios to create custom animation. I started researching potential competitors. I wanted to see what they were doing to attract clients and who exactly their clients were.
I also began listening and talking to my current network. I asked them if they had heard of explainer videos and if they knew anyone who was in need of this service.
At the time, I was also a member of the local technology hub, called theGenerator@Oneand this was a huge boost. This network referred some of my earliest clients. I would never have got off the ground without this network.
Eventually I got one client, then 6 months later, another client and another. With each project I asked my client loads of questions. I dug into who these clients were and why they needed my service. How were they struggling and what could I bring to the table to help.
It’s Simple, but not EasyYou may be thinking, well that is all easy for you, Sandra. But I don’t even know what my main passion is or where to start with market need??
And at this point, I need to be completely transparent here. For me, this process was painful, messy and scattered. For a long time I was unsure and resistant to specializing in Explainer videos.
I continued to offer many services while I was searching and sorting out these decisions. I was even considering a career change into web development and design. And applying for jobs in video game development since I was feeling so frustrated. I was stuck and unhappy, to say the least.
Eventually I pulled myself together and stuck it out. Moving forward and working with more clients was the only way to get out of the funk.
But the point is, I had to go through this process on my own. To make the hard decisions and cut out the other services. It was hard. And for a slow learner like me, it took quite awhile.
I’m sharing my experience in the hopes that you won’t feel so alone if you in the midst of finding your niche. You may also feel a pull to focus on one certain area, but are unsure of where to begin or you're afraid to cut down other services. And in an attempt to help further, here are some tips that I wish someone had offered me about the process:
You're OK, take a breath.It’s OK to offer a bunch of services while you are figure this out - don’t feel bad about this part. The trick is to keep your eyes and ears open during each project. Be sure to track the way you feel about each project, Ask yourself:
- on a scale of 1 to 10, how much do I enjoy this type of work?
- what area am I serving this client well? Is this client someone I love working with?
- How is this project/service helping the client?
- Remember to ask for feedback after each project. And gather testimonials whenever you finish a project you deeply enjoyed.
Be bold, make the cut
When you start to see a trend of need (in your market) and enjoyment (in your soul), then it’s time to make the bold step of culling your services.Start by cutting out services on your website. Stop advertising the services that you find soul sucking. This part may not be so difficult if you dread the work.
The harder part is going through your portfolio and demo reel. It’s time to be brutal with your edits. To help focus this process, look at all your work and ask yourself which work you'd like to attract.
For me, I’ve had to cut out a TON of whiteboard animations. Currently I am focused on getting more character and 3D work. As I am updating my demo reel I must be diligent to showcase ONLY those 2 types of projects. Once that reel is ready, then it’s GO time! I’ll be sending it to all my current and potential clients, as well as my full network of peeps.
Don’t have any client projects that showcase what your ideal work? Then it’s time to get going on personal projects. I know this is tough when you’ve got a ton of client and business work on the go. But it is a must if you want to attract better work.
Beware of the Comparison MonsterYou know when you see that polished website of some crazy creative freelancer. They have everything beautifully put together and you feel like a hot mess. Don't let it get you down. Take solace in knowing they are likely working through this hot mess themselves to some degree. They may be a few steps ahead of you, but the process of redefining services and niches never ends.
Keep Moving ForwardDon’t let this ‘niche decision” get you stuck. And don’t let yourself feel the pressure to get this done within a day or a week or even a year. If you are just starting out, the most important focus is to get out there and work with different clients. Focus on getting experiences under your belt.
Listen to your gut and take careful note when you are hating a project. And when you are deeply involved in a project that hours fly by make sure to recognize this is a potential niche.
Also, pay close attention to your clients so you can learn what they need. This will help you adjust and refine your direction and see where you can focus your niche business.
I hope this article has helped you take that first step of specializing your services. You will find more focus and direction once you simplify. I know I feel much lighter and free now that I’ve let go of soul sucking services.
The biggest surprise about a niche business for me is I have attracted higher quality clients. They are seeking what I offer and they know what they want. I have focused on refining my offering and I can articulate exactly how to help them. So it makes for an excellent match! And I wish the same for you!
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