If you’re like me, you loved Breaking Bad and were stoked to find out that AMC would air a spin-off called Better Call Saul featuring the comical criminal lawyer, Saul Goodman, AKA Jimmy McGill, played by Bob Odenkirk. The show kicks off it’s second season tonight and with a 100% rotten tomatoes rating for it’s first season, the series has not disappointed.
The fifth episode of season one, entitled Alpine Shepherd Boy, has a pre-criminal Jimmy deciding to specialize in elder law on the advice of his friend, Kim. There are some surprising lessons to be found in this episode that can help you find a niche market for your own service business.
Note: Spoilers follow, but nothing major.
Some local press coverage brought Jimmy the attention he craved, but it still didn’t get him the right clients. As Jimmy tries desperately to build his initial client base, he meets with one promising lead after another only to walk away bitterly disappointed.
One of the leads Jimmy meets with is Mrs. Strauss, an elderly woman, who needs a will. At first he is skeptical, thinking she won’t be able to pay his fee, but he’s pleasantly surprised when she whips cash out of her purse, counts it, and places it in his trembling hands.
Later Jimmy is talking with his lawyer friend, Kim, who encourages him to pursue elder law:
“I’ve thought about getting into elder law myself. I watched my grandmother at the end. It’s awful what people have to deal with; insurance companies, my scumbag cousin stealing her savings, and her payments. Getting old sucks. Seniors need someone on their side.”
Jimmy never would have thought to specialize in elder law until this conversation with Kim. But once she said it, he realized the potential of this market:
- Senior citizens are a large, underserved market with a distinct pain point.
- They may not be rich, but they are willing to pay to protect their assets.
- Jimmy now has an existing client base to build on.
Once Jimmy realizes this, he makes the decision to pursue elder law as a specialty.
What were his next steps?
- First, he got inside his target customers heads. What do they think of when they think of good lawyers? Matlock.
- Then, he literally tailored his look to attract seniors by dressing like Andy Griffith from Matlock.
- Next, he went where his customers are — seniors homes. Jimmy distributed free Jello to everyone. When they got to the end of the Jello cup there was a message waiting for them.
There are three big lessons we can all take away from this when it comes to specializing your freelance or agency business:
1. Sales is really tough without a target
This Better Call Saul episode highlights a brutal truth about marketing:
If you’re trying to attract everyone, you’ll actually attract no one.
Getting interviewed by a major media outlet might make your mother proud, but most of the time it doesn’t directly translate into sales. If you don’t know who your audience is, you’re going to spend the majority of your time getting coffee with anyone and everyone who shows interest.
Instead, you should know who your target customer is, and focus all your marketing resources on attracting them, and them alone. Specializing in a niche may seem scary because it means you’ll need to turn down work, but in actual fact, it opens you up to a bigger market and reduces your competition.
But what if you don’t know who your ideal client should be?
2. A great niche may be hiding in plain sight
It can be tough to find your niche when running an agency or freelance business. What if there’s no industry niche that you feel confident specializing in?
Finding a specialty isn’t simply a matter of researching a handful of industries and picking one out of a hat. Sometimes the niche finds you. Remember, Jimmy/Saul didn’t initially seek out elder law.
Very few specialists know their niche starting out, they just gradually work for similar clients until they build a portfolio and choose to only focus on clients in that market.
Here’s a good process to follow:
Do quantitative research
First, list all your past client projects in a spreadsheet. Have columns for each category like project type, industry, whether you got paid on time, whether the client was happy, and any other factors you want to include.
Take a look at your best projects: which ones did you enjoy working on, which clients were happy with your work, and who paid you on time? Do you notice any common patterns or similarities? Maybe they are all in a similar industry, or perhaps there’s a recurring subject matter across the board.
Whatever the industry, research it. Find out how big the market is. Are there other players in the space? It’s not a problem if there are, you just need to learn how you’ll stand out. It’s better to compete with a handful of specialists than a sea of other generalists.
Do qualitative research
Once you have an idea of the market you’re going to target you need to talk to them one-on-one. Attend events, use social media, and leverage your existing network to find target customers and ask to buy them a coffee. Make it clear you’re not trying to sell them, you’re trying to learn about their industry.
Let’s say you’re a marketer who wants to specialize in marketing health products. Line up roughly 20 interviews and ask your subjects about their biggest problems with marketing to-date:
- What’s working?
- What’s not working?
- Do they currently use external contractors?
- If not, why?
- If so, are their needs being met?
- What does the hiring process look like?
- Who is the decision maker at their company?
Take good notes and compare them all after you’re finished with the interviews. You’ve just performed customer development and it will go a long way in forming your sales process.
Creating buyer personas will help guide you in your sales efforts by knowing exactly who to target with your marketing and if a lead calls who doesn’t match your persona closely enough, you’ll know to turn them away.
OK, so now you know your niche. What’s next? Start generating leads, of course!
3. Tailor your marketing to your audience
Jimmy/Saul tailored his message and presentation to suit his audience. You should do the same.
When conducting your interviews you likely jotted down quotes with key phrases. Keep those handy when crafting your marketing materials — you always want to talk like your customers talk and never above their heads with technical jargon.
- Find out where your target customer hangs out, both online and offline.
- Attend industry events and trade shows.
- Offer to write articles for trade publications or industry blogs.
- Join forums or LinkedIn groups and request accounts.
Don’t go in guns ablazing. Start by listening to them and learning from them. Then offer something for free, no strings attached. A gelatin dessert may not work in your case, but what about some free advice or an e-book?
Build relationships with people, make sure they know how to contact you, and within a short time you’ll have built a system for lead generation in your specialty of choice. Just like Saul.
*photos courtesy of AMC*