Think Small Not Big: How to Identify Your Startup’s Niche Market

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Three little words: Know your audience. Here’s how to identify your intended customers and market to them specifically.

By Judy Hume (Co-founder, Fresh Canteen)

One of the biggest hurdles to successfully launching a new business is deciding who you'll market your efforts towards. You may have a swoon-worthy business concept that very well could appeal to varied demographics en masse – but you can't launch a biz and attract everyone you want all at once.

I'm the co-founder of a company called Fresh Canteen – a health-minded meal kit delivery service based in Toronto. When we were launching just over a year ago, we had before us the daunting task of defining our desired target demographic: Everyone loves food; everyone's busy; everyone suffers from a menu rut from time to time.

But we couldn't appeal to everyone.

There simply weren't enough marketing dollars as a startup to send out messaging across a broad spectrum. We had to define our primary, secondary and tertiary niche markets and work towards attracting them one at a time.

How did we do this? It wasn't easy, but by following a few simple principles we were able to set ourselves up for sustainable growth.

Here's how you can follow in our professionally prosperous footsteps:

Ask Yourself: Who Needs My Product or Service?

But, really... who does?

It's so easy to simply say, “Everyone!” and then call it a day. But you'll be doing a disservice not only your intended consumer but to yourself as well.

One of the first things you'll have to do once your business is up and operational is start marketing it – but you can't successfully market your message without a target demographic. A wide-cast net actually works against small businesses in this respect.

Make a list of the types of people that would benefit from your product or service. Then, prioritize your demographics. For us at Fresh Canteen, our service in theory is one that could benefit countless walks of life. But we identified two key demographics -- busy parents and busy young professionals -- and led with the former while being aware that we'd want to attract the latter.

A few months after launch, we were successful in targeting our primary consumer and then were able to start marketing more towards our secondary.

Focus Your Offering

You need to hone in on a very clear message for your product or service – and specificities matter! You need to be able to communicate your unique selling point clearly and concisely, and it needs to resonate with your intended consumer.

For instance, saying you're launching a “Canadian-made clothing line” is much too broad. But a “Canadian-made clothing line for businesswomen that uses only premium, fair trade materials” begins to tell a story. It speaks to the audience you're intending to attract.

For us, we're not simply a “meal kit delivery service.” Fresh Canteen is a “meal kit delivery service focusing on quality ingredients and easy, quick-to-prepare, healthful recipes.” That shapes a narrative that is very attractive to our desired clientele.

Evaluate Your Demographic for Your Business

So you've got a great product or service ready to bust out of the gate, and you've identified who you'd like to market it towards. You're all set to go, right? Wrong!

Now you need to really analyze if you've hit the nail on the head with your target niche, or if you'll be stunted in the long run. You need to answer a variety of questions before moving forward and tailoring your brand messaging towards your primary demo: Will your intended niche be enough to sustain your business over time? Is it known for brand loyalty or is it quick to hop on “the next big thing”? Most importantly, will your niche demographic evolve with your business?

At Fresh Canteen, we're focused on evolving our service offerings over time, at very strategic stages. If we had identified a narrow, unchanging consumer-base, it would limit our ability to grow as a company. Our evolution needs to go hand in hand with the needs of our intended consumer. How else can you ensure continued growth?

Get Testing

Let's say you've been able to successfully complete the first three stages and have identified a niche demo that will be able to grow and evolve with your business's offerings. Now you have to test it. Market testing is imperative to a company's survival beyond the first year.

Are you providing a service? Offer free trials. Is it a product you're selling? Get it into the hands of your demographic by way of free samples. Once your desired customer has had a chance to interact with your company's offering, ask them for feedback. Was the product/service beneficial to their lives? Did it make their day-to-day more convenient? Did it fulfill an underserved need? Would they fork up their hard-earned cash for it in the future?

If you aren't met with positive reviews and constructive feedback, then it's time to go back to the drawing board and reassess what you're trying to accomplish. Rome wasn't built in a day... your business won't be either!

Let the Races Begin!

If you've successfully navigated your way through the first few steps then you're ready and raring to go full steam ahead. Be sure to invest in both traditional and non-traditional marketing avenues, as well as dedicate attention to public relations efforts and social media.

You need to have a well-rounded marketing portfolio in place to ensure successful entry into the market. Focusing too heavily on one area might result in great initial launch numbers, but you'll likely reach a point of stagnation – and no new business can survive plateauing too early on! Be diligent. Weather the storm. Be patient. And, most importantly, be proactive and not reactive.

Good luck!

Find out more about launching your startup at our upcoming How To Conference in San Francisco on Sept 30th and Oct 1st.


About the guest blogger: Judy Hume is passionate about all things food. She is the co-founder of Fresh Canteen, a health-conscious meal kit delivery subscription servicing the Toronto area – it’s guilt-free gourmet for busy families and professionals.