Today is a big day for Paper + Oats! Today is the day I scrap all my previous design services and packages, and shift focus to a new, more specific niche. If you follow me on Instagram, you saw some sneak peeks of the new design services all last week, but today is the official “switch over,” with a couple new pages on my site. This decision came with lots of thought, research, advice from other entrepreneurs, and just a gut feeling that I needed to pivot. In this post, I’ll share more about why I’m making this switch, how I’ve navigated the transition, and how you can apply the same principles to your own business if you’re itching to stand out from the crowd.
What I do now, and why I’m scrapping it for something else
I officially went full-time with my business in February of this year. I had been working for a local agency for the last 5 years (and absolutely loved it!), but I always knew I would work for myself someday. That someday came much sooner than I expected, and I was able to make the leap just a few months ago. I had consistent passive income coming in from my shop of printables, but I knew I would need to put more of an emphasis on my freelance work and build up my clientele to maintain the steady stream of income. Without much thought, I went with the flow of the other designers (both big players and newbies in the industry), and marketed myself as a “brand designer for creative entrepreneurs.” If you’re a designer and reading this right now, take a minute and ask yourself, is that my line too? If the answer is yes, I really hope you’ll keep reading, because this post is for you...
So I dove into that niche head-first, and landed some wonderful clients in need of fresh, new brands for their businesses. I still have some clients that I’m working on projects like this for, and I can’t wait to provide that type of design work for some really passionate entrepreneurs and businesses in a variety of industries. A lot of my clients were coming from discussions and calls for work in a few Facebook groups that I’m in. The groups are full of passionate creative entrepreneurs, and occasionally one would post about needing a designer for their new business branding and website. I was quick to jump on these posts and share Paper + Oats as an option to design their branding.
I’ve earned most of my recent design clients this way, so why scrap it? Here’s my reasoning:
1. It’s too saturated.
Though I was earning clients from Facebook groups, one thing was bugging me. When someone would post asking for a branding designer, I was one of about 30+ other designers vying for the same opportunity. Most of the time, it was the same roundup of designers – all very talented and qualified – but there were just a lot of us. If you’re in those groups, I’m sure you notice it too :) The market of “branding designers for creative entrepreneurs” was way too saturated for me. When I first started marketing myself as that, it felt like a narrow niche. But I quickly realized it wasn’t narrow at all.
2. I don’t like to blend in.
Personally, I DO like to blend in. I’m so not one to be the center of attention. I’d rather watch from the sidelines, than actively participate in something. But when it comes to my business, I’m the opposite. I don’t want Paper + Oats to blend in. I want my business to stand out in the crowd, and be known for something specific. These Facebook group encounters sparked my business motto to chant over and over in my head – look at what everyone else is doing, and do it differently. I didn’t know what that “do it differently” looked like just yet, so I kept on designing brands, and I kept on replying to those posts to get clients. Don’t get me wrong, branding projects are enjoyable and exciting — you get to see a new business come to life with your designs, and be a part of bringing a fellow entrepreneur’s dreams to fruition. That’s a good feeling, no doubt! But it never felt like 100% me. I always had a gut feeling that I was doing that type of design work just because everyone else was. And as you’ve probably already noticed – I hate following the crowd :)
3. My portfolio didn’t fit my services.
Fast forward a few months, and I decided I should probably put some portfolio items up on my site to show my previous branding work. Potential clients would typically ask for samples when they emailed me about a project, so I knew I needed to be showing that upfront on my site. Why it took me so long actually start doing that, who knows :) So I started going through my client files and picking out work to show on my site. I quickly realized something: I hardly had any examples of full branding suites for actual businesses — the exact type of work I was advertising. Whaaat?! Here's the kicker: I realized I was trying to mold my portfolio to fit in with my services.
Then I had an epiphany. What if I flipped that around? What if I tried to make my services fit my portfolio instead of forcing my portfolio to fit my services? What if I started marketing myself based on the work I was already doing? Talk about a lightbulb moment!
So I quickly started doing what I do best . . . planning! I went back through my client files again, but this time I took notes on three things: 1) what types of projects were most common, 2) what types of projects were my best work, and 3) what types of projects were my personal favorites. And guess what they were? E-courses. Sales pages. Books. Printables. E-books. PDF guides. Workbooks. Helloooo, my entire shop is printable planners!
Bingo! Digital products.
4. There was a gap in the market for something else.
Digital products are what I had the most experience with, and honestly, they're what I truly enjoy doing. I’ve always loved laying out information on a page that was logical, easy to follow, and engaging. So, I started paying more attention to those Facebook groups, as well as Instagram and blog posts – and I definitely noticed a trend. Lots of creatives are adding passive income streams to their businesses. Whether it was e-courses, e-books or printed books, digital guides, printables, and other digital product ideas, there was clearly a need for this type of design. I see an opening, so I'm going for it.
So that brings me to today. Today I’m relaunching my services as this:
Branding and design for digital products,
e-books, and e-courses from creative entrepreneurs.
Sharing your knowledge and skills online is the new wave of education. Maybe you have a digital product in you that you're ready to produce and share with your audience, but you don't have the resources to create a professionally branded product that customers will actually pay money for. That's where I come in. Whether you're a DIYer that needs the bones to get you started with your design, or you need a pro to do the creative work for you, I'm here to offer some alternative solutions for getting your product out there. I'm not one to mess with plug-ins and complicated systems, so I’ll be using simple methods that allow you to run your course or sell your product without the technology headache. Integrating services like Squarespace, MailChimp, and free-standing membership platforms, we'll work together to bring your content to life with professional, high-end branding and design. I'll make the outside of digital products and courses look as good as the inside.
How do you know if you should niche down?
To be completely honest, making this switch has been nerve-wracking for me. My gut tells me this is the right direction for my business, but there are still moments of doubt when I think, “What the heck am I doing?!” Niching down is scary. It can feel like you’re leaving money on the table, cutting out opportunities, and losing potential clients. In the beginning, I think it will be like that, but in the long run, narrowing your focus can be the best decision you make for your business. But it has to be done with intention and research to back it up. For me, I already had a portfolio full of digital products to prove that 1) I was good at it, 2) there was a need for it, and 3) clients would pay for it. To add to that, I consulted with a few entrepreneurs and former clients in different industries that had created digital products themselves. I talked with them about pricing, packages, and what types of clients I could attract. This was vital for me, and one conversation even drastically changed how I was planning to market my new services.
How can you make your business stand out from the crowd?
I’m learning more and more recently about the importance of niching down your products, services, and even entire focus of your brand or business. Finding a very specific niche can make you stand out in a saturated market. Do you tend to serve the same types of clients in a specific industry? Do you tend to work on specific types of projects or in a specific style? Take a look at your last 12 months of work – what trends do you notice? Picking out these similarities and trends within your existing portfolio can help you narrow down your niche and in turn, grow your business. It seems counterintuitive, but I promise it’s not! Any successful entrepreneur will tell you – the more specific you can be the better. Whether it’s in the clients you serve, the products you produce, the industry you cater to, or the style in which you present your business, find a way to narrow down so you can level up.
NOTE: As of early 2016, I'm no longer offering 1-on-1 design services, but this post is still a great reminder for always staying ahead of the curve + making your brand stand out from the rest.
What are some ways you can narrow down your business to be more focused on a specific niche? Are there trends you see in your existing work that could help you restructure your offerings to better serve your clients and leverage your strengths?