Get free inspiration & strategies
30 Jul 12

The Right (And Wrong) Way To Niche

Having a niche when you go self-employed is generally considered very wise. It makes marketing far easier and gives your business focus.

However, many people resist niching. One of the main objections is, “But I don’t want to leave people out”. (Sound familiar?)

I used to say I worked primarily with women. Earlier this year I decided to drop the gender focus, and I received some interesting comments when I announced this on Facebook:

  • Absolutely, why segregate? Men and women are equally valuable in their difference
  • Yey to everyone
  • No limits…
  • Thats a step forward for equality!
  • Great decision, women have been excluded for so long, we shouldn’t do the same with men

I realized from these comments that “niching” can sometimes be perceived as synonymous with “discriminating” and I want to make a distinction around what niche is and is not.

The red herring

I’m bisexual. I’m married to a woman; my main long-term relationship previously was with a man. Gender is irrelevant to me in terms of my sexuality.

Over time, I realized that gender was also irrelevant in terms of my business. I’d never been able to articulate why women were my market. I now see that I’d focused on gender because my passion is for practitioners working in the helping-healing realm and that the majority of coaches and holistic practitioners just so happen to be women.

So gender was one aspect that characterised my niche, but it wasn’t the significant one. It turns out gender was a red herring.

Being a woman is not the characteristic my ideal clients would most identify with. Sure, they know they’re a woman and they like it, but it’s not their woman-ness that is the shared need.

The shared need is that they want to do good stuff in the world: something they’re trained in, that they love, that they’re ready to share, and they really don’t know where to start with actually getting clients and making money doing this thing.

Men share this need too. When I chose “women going into business” as my niche, it wasn’t because I had some political point to make about self-employed women. Some coaches do; I’ve seen plenty speak about “how to talk with your husband about what you do” and “how to keep your man happy when you run a business”. There’s an assumption of heterosexuality and an interest in how being a self-employed woman fits with that.

I don’t come from a heterosexist perspective. I reckon similar issues face self-employed men and women, whether we’re single or married and whether we’re in same-sex or different-sex relationships. I love sisterhood and I also love brotherhood and I love it when men and women support each other in shared peoplehood.

When I dropped the female focus, I dropped the red herring aspect of my niche. I did not drop the concept of niche. I did not decide to “work with everyone”. I remain a strong advocate of niche. It’s just about getting your niche right.

So, if you’re playing with the concept of niche, make a list of the characteristics that you reckon your ideal clients (or your Tribe as I’d call them) might share. Then, put them in order of importance – from your perspective and from your Tribe’s perspective. What do these people strongly identify with? What do you passionately care about?

Build your niche business around the most significant characteristics; the ones which have your ideal clients saying, “Hell yes, that’s who I am!” and which feel like you pursuing your greatest calling.

And leave a comment below, let us know about your adventures in niching – when it’s felt like an awkward fit, when you’ve pursued red herring characteristics, and when it’s felt just right.

NEW – inspirational business networking events

Launching in October 2012, I’ll be hosting a series of lunch time get-togethers in London for coaches, holistic practitioners and other passion-led service providers (female AND male!) The intention is to connect like-minded community, share practical business tips and support each other’s businesses.

More details to come; for now, please leave a comment below with whether you would prefer these to take place on a WEEKDAY or a SATURDAY. The results of the poll will make my final decision!

UPDATE: These Self-Employed Community Meet-Ups take place regularly in central London. Click here for details and to book your place > >

Found this useful? Then sign up for FREE updates...


  1. Jac McNeil

    This might be my favorite blog post you’ve written Corrina! I love your personal transparency and how it directly relates to your business and the “business of niching”.

    I worked with a client last week who has been struggling to refine her niche for years. What she discovered is that it isn’t men AND women she wants to work with–it’s men. She has been avoiding claiming this niche of Leadership for Men because she didn’t want to “upset” her sisterhood. She didn’t want her female friends to be intimidated or threatened by this. And yet, she has a deep calling to lead a movement for men who want to step into a stronger leadership role through connection & vulnerability.

    It’s such a critical piece to understand how your Right People self-identify and then prioritize the list.

    Big Squishy Hugs–
    Jac xo

    1. Corrina

      Jac – A whoop! And you’ve read a lot of them 🙂 Thanks for underlining that this can work either way: sometimes we feel stuck because we’re staying too broad, sometimes because we’re going too narrow. I see the process of niching like breathing – breathe in, feel expansion; breathe out, feel a focusing. Repeat 😉

  2. Ani

    Another great post Corrina, thank you! Being a part of the ‘Larks’ Passion to Profit goup that you ran earlier this year was such an eye-opener in terms of finding my niche. As you know, I really struggled in the beginning with articulating my tribe/niche. Now that I have a strong tribe (I provide holistic wellness support for women wanting to explore their emotional eating patterns)my business is starting to thrive in beautiful ways. I feel a certain kind of freedom because I am not struggling anymore with deciding who to work with. Now I can just concentrate on providing the best possible service to my niche.

    Your networking events in London sound like a very nourishing idea. I don’t come into London often but if I did it would be a weekday.

    Thank you again for the experience of the Passion to Profit Group Programme, it was a fabulous learning experience!
    Ani x

    1. Corrina

      Ani – So good to hear! And the clarity with which you describe and claim your Tribe – YES!

  3. Neil Ben

    Does that mean your next passion to profit group will include men. If so, please let me know when it is coming up.

    Thank you.

    1. Corrina

      Neil – It most certainly does mean that future offerings won’t have any gender focus. You will be most welcome! I’m still determining details so stay tuned for dates etc.

  4. Sally Branch

    Hi Corrina, this resonated with me as i am (as you know!) still tweaking my niche (people in midlife with lots going on who want more ease, space and wellness)- or rather trying to resist tweaking and stick to researching 🙂 I think it possible that many more women will contact me than men – but it doesn’t feel right to focus exclusively on women, and that’s because I have in the past worked well with male clients, and enjoyed it. It may be that if very different issues emerge i will have to make a choice, but not right now. Like you I have had relationships with both women and men, and I have felt pressure to focus on the ‘specialness of women’ and yet that doesn’t quite do it for me!

    1. Corrina

      Sally – Yes, great reminder: just because most of our ideal clients tend to be something, it doesn’t mean that’s the important characteristic to focus on. For example, most of my clients are white but that doesn’t mean my ideal clients are white people! I’m picturing us all sniffing out red herrings as we define our businesses with more and more clarity.

  5. Karen J

    Thank you, Corrina, for calling out a piece that seems so obvious in hindsight:
    Just because a characteristic (i.e. ‘female’) seems *easy to see*, doesn’t mean that it’s really the *most important* (or even relevant at all)!

    This is a TrueThing that can be applied in all sorts of situations, as well.

    Bright Monday Blessings to you!

    1. Corrina

      Karen – Yes, and as Le Petit Prince would say: L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux (that which is important can’t be seen).

  6. Elinor

    Ooooo love this Corrina- such a reassurance. I am so clear on my mission to help working mothers be the mums they want to be and not sacrifice their dreams or feel guilt by failing to reach some unrealistic perfect image of motherhood. So I’ve been a tad surprised when approached by women who are neither working nor are parents and even more surprised to be contacted by a man! Your post has helped me realise that my people are my people and they want to work with me because of who I am and what I can help them achieve – I can help people grab life by the horns and live the life they want whether they are working mothers or not. Thank you -no longer shall I look like a rabbit in headlights when contacted by a non-working mother. X

    1. Corrina

      Elinor – You’re a beacon, baby!

  7. Justin

    Fab post 😀 thanks Corrina!

    I’m easy going, but a weekend is generally better for me than a week day.


    1. Corrina

      Thanks Justin. I’ll be looking to you to round up your healing community when we launch; some great connections to be made.

  8. David Kaiser

    Very bold, good for you. Also, great way to make connections! Some may be offended or upset by your revelation, they’re not your people, so ‘losing’ them is no loss. Your ‘real people’ will celebrate you for who you are, and your courage to be you, and the connection will be stronger, and that is all about niche. I honor and admire your authenticity.

  9. Jo Bradshaw

    “Build your niche business around the most significant characteristics; the one which have your ideal clients say, “Hell yes, that’s who I am!” and which feel like you pursuing your greatest calling.”

    Love the fresh look, the beautiful piece and stance and, as usual, telepathy.

    I’m playing with niche and I find it hard as an established multipotentiate/scanner (what I call minestrone soul) to identify red herrings not only with voice and the way I write, but also in terms of what I want to do. I have to get really centred to avoid being pulled in all sorts of directions!

    I’m finding I’m naturally drawn to working with people who, like me, get overwhelmed and then need to get a steady footing in order not to be pulled under by the very gifts they want to share. But, funny, I am not drawn to working with them one on one! Perhaps because I’m not a coach myself and I don’t want to be a pseudo-coach.

    So, it feels like a double-ended niche where I want to reach out to these people and help them get witnessed so they can start making progress….then I’m profoundly drawn to working one on one in some way with the coaches and teachers at the other end of the spectrum who are the ones to really make a difference to my people.
    Sounds a little weird, huh?

    1. Karen J

      hmmm….Jo – Sounds like one of your skills is as a “connector” – between people and practitioners (eww – not sure that sounds quite like I mean it…?) You totally “get it” when folks are overwhelmed, and you really ‘hear’ them, and then help them find the ‘right’ next step, with someone else. That’s major!

      and I love “minestrone soul”! 😉

      Bright Blessings ~
      Karen J

      1. Jo Bradshaw

        Thanks for ‘getting me’ so quickly, Karen! It’s ironic that connection and accessibility has always underpinned everything I do, yet until I realised that my own connection practice had slipped so far, I wasn’t able to get far enough out of my own soup to see the big picture…
        Ah, the beauty of support and an outside perspective x

        1. Corrina

          Jo – LOVE that you’ve coined the phrase “minestrone soul” – one that your Tribe will certainly resonate with. And yes, our Tribe is so often ourselves!

  10. Jutta Nedden

    Corrina, – oh, another “Red Herring”… ;)… I love it how you share your insights and your personal development with us. I learn so much from your transparency. You know my opinion on the gender issue. If we get rid of stereotypes and stop “boxing” and labelling individuals, we are a good deal further down the road towards a better world. That’s what I want to do as a coach, I want to see + respect my clients as they are as individuals. But perhaps you needed to concentrate on women in one stage of defining your niche.

    I am also a scanner/platespinner/renaissance-minestrone-soup-cocktail-person. I often feel like a child in a candy-shop: I don’t want to choose, I want to have ’em all. To focus on the creative industry,IT nerds and inventors was such a big step for me – and there is defnitely still room for more “concentration”. I was so impatient at the beginning. Now I can accept it as a process of my own development, of which person I dare/want to be – and what I want to offer my clients. You really convinced me: Having a niche makes many things so much easier and the positive feedback shows me that I am on a good way…

    1. Corrina

      Jutta – I love you! I think labelling can be positive as well as negative. For example, when I label myself as “vegan”, it makes it so much easier for restaurants or friends to provide food I’m going to love. When I label myself as a size 10 dress, it makes it easier for me to find clothes that will fit right. So, we can find a useful reframe of “labelling” when it comes to claiming our Tribe.

  11. Jason

    Hey Cx,

    Great insight as you evolve your niche and your business. And from the responses it looks like your tribe completely agrees.

    I do get curious if those struggling to attract more clients now have not narrowed down the number of significant characteristics in the mix to gain the confidence and momentum to grow. My perspective is less really is more in the beginning. And perhaps narrowing down to just women was very relevant at the time and allowed you to gain the skillfulness to broaden out now. So, you got the right niche then and you’re getting the right niche now.

    1. Karen J

      That makes sense, Jason!
      One starts with a narrow niche, because you “know you know” how to be of service to those people. Then, a few “not-quite-what-you-were-aiming-for” clients come along, and they successfully apply your information to a *slightly* different aspect of life. And you stretch your next offering (and your niche) a little, to address that, too… and so on, and so on.
      The outliers of one’s niche are where much growth comes from.

    2. Corrina

      Jason – Yes, spot on. It WAS useful at the time… and then I outgrew the definition. Just as my earlier niche of teenagers was the right fit back in the early days… until it wasn’t.

  12. Laura

    Beautiful comments, beautiful article!
    My vote goes to Wednesday.

  13. claire

    Great post – really helpful to see how you have realised and redefined your niche. Makes me less worried about specifying my niche when I see how, even this far in, you can happily redefine yours! Totally brill as always, thank you

  14. Catherine Caine

    Hello there, Corrina!

    Thanks for the link to my article, and a beautiful demonstration of the process.

    When I’m working with clients and they tell me that they want to work with women, I always poke at that! 9 times out of 10 they’re using “women” as shorthand for something else, just as you were.

    LOVED this.

    Rock on,

    1. Corrina

      Interesting, Catherine – why do you think that is, that we use “women” as shorthand?!

      I remember from studying sociolinguistics and gender at uni that we use “marked terms” (e.g. “female doctor”, “career woman”, “male nurse” etc.) to mark a concept as different from the norm. I wonder if some are using “women” in this way = other/different/niche?

  15. Ben Marsh

    Hi Corrina,

    As is so often the case with your blog, this post on niche is very useful and interesting. But for once, something else is more important to me than that. Having been a longtime subscriber and appreciator, and also a man, the fact that you marketed towards women was the only thing that didn’t sit right with me. Even though we had spoken about this before and you had assured me that your wording in this respect did not preclude men from being clients but merely reflected your core business, I still felt awkward about it, as if I wasn’t really ‘wanted’ or shouldn’t be there.

    Others may have a different view, but for me, this is the removal of the only thorn in your otherwise wonderful business. I don’t usually post replies but felt compelled to voice how happy this decision has made me.

    All the best,

    1. Corrina

      Thank you so much, Ben. I’m delighted you stuck around 🙂

  16. Lon

    Brilliant post – I’m beginning to get to grips with this niche concept and finding it rather liberating! So it is great to see how it is evolving for you – reassuring for those of us resisting being pigeon-holed!! As an aside, re the Love, Love, Money Tribe concept … it started me thinking about that old adage ‘don’t mix business with pleasure’ … interesting when you are advocating working with people you love and who love you – surely that is a pleasure!!! Could be another blog post…?!!

    Re networking, any day apart from Monday. Looking forward to hearing more.

    1. Corrina

      Delighted you’re feeling liberated, Lon! And I most certainly mix business with pleasure, every single day – it’s the new adage 😉

  17. Karen J

    “… old adage ‘don’t mix business with pleasure’ ”

    I wonder *where* did that adage come from? Who made up that rule??

    Also, most adages and “rules of thumb” are true, to a certain extent, but become absurd when carried to an extreme (in any direction).

    1. Karen J

      I just thought of another way/reason that ‘adages’ may not be accurate: If there’s part of it that gets ‘left out’. I.e. “The love of money is the root of all evil” – we so seldom hear the whole thing, and it makes so much difference in how the phrase is interpreted!

      I wish I could come to your seminars (weekends or weekdays) but trans-atlantic airfare is pretty much out of my reality, for the time being. {{{Corrina}}}

      1. Corrina

        Remind me where you’re located, Karen. You never know how far this inspirational networking idea might travel… 🙂

        1. Karen J

          True dat! Far “stranger” (more unanticipated) things have happened… 🙂
          I’m just outside of Chicago, Illinois – and I love to drive, so pretty much anywhere labelled “Midwest” is within driving distance.

      2. David Kaiser

        Karen, whereabouts near Chicago are you? I’m in Evanston

        1. Karen J

          I’m just south of Woodfield Mall, at the far end of the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway.

  18. Kay Gillard

    Love the post Corrina.
    I agree with Jason though that this red herring was probably one that was perfect in its moment and definitely not a mistake. The sisterhood space you provided was needed, and I loved my P2P ladies. I love male energy though and think this change is going to great a wonderful new vibe on your group calls!
    I think there is something in us gaining clarity in our work that enables us to stretch ourselves beyond that which we really know the best. My classes used to be filled with women only, I now think that as I become more confident in seriously knowing my shit, I felt able to explaining to people from different backgrounds. At that point I saw more men coming in to my classes, and also a wider age range.
    As a healer though I am also noticing many more men doing this work. At the Healing Weekend this year, I realised I was at the first healing event I’ve ever been to where men weren’t under represented. And it felt amazing to me that there was so much empowered male energy there as well as empowered female energy. So perhaps you (and I) are responding to that wider shift.
    Much love, Kay xx

    1. Karen J

      @Kay ~ I’m delighted to hear that more men are willing to be in the same Healing space with women, too.
      Because I can only see from my woman’s POV, I wonder if it’s actually so much “more men doing this work”, or if it’s “more men willing to be *seen alongside women*, doing this work”? Does that make sense? Nothing ‘wrong’ with either one, and maybe it’s not even really important, but it’s a thing that makes me go Hmmmmm. 🙂

  19. Jo Bradshaw

    I forgot to say, not in London more than a couple of times a year, but your networking group sounds amazing. Will definitely try to make it if it ever collides with my dates!

  20. Iona McArdle

    Hi there,

    I would love to take part in your networking group. Weekdays tend to be challenging as would have to find childcare – but not impossible. Saturday would be easier from that perspective. Look forward to being able to participate and connecting with other lovely people on this journey into self employment.

    1. Karen J

      @Iona (and Corrina) I wonder if there’s “occasional childcare” available in the area of these meetings? (A neighbor, or a drop-in center, or like that?) It could be less time-, money- and energy-expensive to bring the kids into London, than to get them situated near home and then have to hurry back…
      Local Resources or Arrangements might be a part of your offer, C?

    2. Corrina Gordon-Barnes

      Iona – Would be so good to finally meet you in person! And I know your work/passion around mothers and childcare actually intersects beautifully with Karen’s interesting suggestion below – thoughts? (Thanks Karen – helping your transatlantic friends!)

  21. Sara

    This is great food for thought. My niche is entrepreneurial women but this has got me thinking of why I chose women – because I do enjoy working with men too! A bit of homework for me I think.

    The lunchtime get-togethers are a great idea. I think I’d prefer a weekday but I could make a Saturday.

  22. Rosie Slosek

    Niche – the subject sparking a thousand lively discussions. I niche in one man bands. I had a spirited debate on LinkedIn with someone who said I couldn’t, as that was the majority of the businesses in the UK. He is right, but a niche is not just about numbers. The point of it is so the people you are helping can remember you and your services are just about them.

    There aren’t so many accountancy services only doing one man bands. Certainly none only doing one man bands and giving clients brownies! (I’ve been baking since I was 3 so including cake feels very right to me).

    A niche is whatever works, and there’s even a niche expert in niching, Rachel Henke.

    1. Corrina Gordon-Barnes

      Rosie – Your niche works. I’ve been following you on Twitter a little while with a general vague interest, and more recently as I think about book-keeping/end of year returns, you’ve popped back into my mind, because of your specific help for one-person ventures. I may just be in touch 😉

      1. Rosie Slosek

        Must be the brownies, or vegan choc chip cookies in your case 🙂

  23. Catherine Scanlon

    I love the idea of these lunches – can’t quite decide which day would be best from my point of view… not Friday when I play tennis…
    cheers, Catherine.

    1. Corrina Gordon-Barnes

      Great to see you Catherine at the launch event! Thanks for bringing a friend too 🙂

  24. Claire Park

    Oh niche, niche, niche….
    I totally understand why this is so great but the more I hanker after defining one the more it escapes me.

    I’m going for the organically founded niche…because the more i think I’ve honed it the more I change my mind.

    Lots of work to do on this…..

    1. Corrina Gordon-Barnes

      Claire – Yes, don’t push it. It emerges. And being in action with research, practice sessions, clients etc. helps it to emerge 🙂

  25. Karen J

    Look what showed up in my Inbox the other day:

    “Self-employment can sometimes feel a little too much like
    Sitting at your computer, plugging away and becoming a screen
    zombie isn’t what you envisaged when you decided to start your
    own business.
    The perfect antidote?
    Getting together with with like-minded others in a warm, friendly,
    welcoming environment, with great food and drink, motivational
    guest speakers and inspirational new friends. A lunchtime meet-up
    that’s nourishing for your body, mind, soul AND business.

    And this is exactly what’ll be happening in London on
    Thursday 4th October, 12 – 2.30pm.

    For full details of the event, take a look here:

    Hooray for making it happen, Corrina! Wish I could make it over there…

  26. Sarra

    Great blog Corrina and great comments, very timely for me too. As you know I am loving being a part of The Hummingbirds and exploring my niche but something just isn’t sitting right…I love working with men too and the main thing I want to help peple with is having lost their mojo and how to regain it through healthy eating! This is the main “thing” not being female….Lots to think about yet again and thanks for the different slant! X

    1. Corrina Gordon-Barnes

      Delighted to feature you, Sarra, and your journey towards self-definition in the most recent blog post (linked to below).

  27. Rosalind Bubb

    Thanks for re-posting this on facebook, Corrina. When I read this blog post the first time round, it didn’t strike chords with me, but this time it really has. I shall do the exercise which you have suggested. Thanks very much, it’s really helpful!

  28. Janet Winter

    This is a difficult one as the breathing method I teach can correct a very long list of hyperventilation-associated symptoms. It is best known for asthma, but my favourite clients are like I was, people (mainly women!) with burnout, usually from stressful jobs, or often losing their health after something as simple as a chest infection. They may become fat folder patients as they get passed from one consultant to another and often get thrown in the dustbin of chronic fatigue. If not depressed at first they may become so with such a poor quality of life. It is extremely rewarding to see them back at work and fully productive again!
    I am a Buteyko Breathing Educator by the way, natural control o fasthma and allegies, anxiety and stress, snoring and sleep apnoea and more.

  29. Sarra Moore

    Yet again Corrina I find myself re reading your words of wisdom and finding clarity 🙂 Launching a new arm to my business I was wondering whether to say that the food was veggie. After much thought I realised that the fact that the food was veggie was not the main “thing” the fact that it is scrumptious, healthy and homecooked (so they don´t have to!) is more to the point! Thank you X

  30. Ariana

    My niche was very obvious to me. It was the reason why I retrained as a massage therapist. Your article resonates because although I want to honour my niche, it is alienating the rest of my market. Also, my ideal client has many characteristics that my niche does not necessarily have. Bottom line: they are not mutually exclusive, and I need to deniche myself to tap into my ideal market. Thank you for your insight into your own experience. PS: I’ve always massaged men because I’m gender-blind, but I can see some people’s reactions, questioning my reasons behind it…A nice reminder that a niche shouldn’t be about being close-minded.

  31. Felicity Newman

    Dear Corrina,
    Thank you for the workshop at the VegFest on Saturday. Being under the same roof as a thousand very ordinary-looking yet uniquely different Vegans from all around the world was a good circumstance to consider who to focus one’s marketing upon. My straight-laced attempts at inclusiveness can all too easily narrow the market right down to an inaccessible target group. Whereas, tribe means just about ‘everybody’ to me, including other species. I am biotopical and I can now see the sense (not just the constraints) of focusing upon local “community”, inclusively, in so far as the community can love me being a female construction-related design service provider. (I am often given incredibly low-level lectures by well-meaning people who think that I must be confused and disorientated in my role, instead of well-qualified and competent – albeit femininely cautious – in my work.). Money is a very useful tool for facilitating complex economic exchanges which make the world a more harmonious and beautiful place. I am afraid that any who think sexual dependency is the only valid criteria for a person’s survival in the 21st century and beyond will be eliminating themselves from my client list. I am now looking for true and relevant characteristics to compose into my customer profile description. Travelling to London for Vegans is possible for an afternoon meet-up, especially if it allows time for potential-client networking and other business and research visits on the same train ticket. Thank you again..

    1. Corrina

      It was great to meet you on Saturday, Felicity – thanks for letting me include your example in my talk 🙂

      It would be fantastic to meet you at one of the You Inspire Me Community Meet-Ups – you’ll find like-minded friends – so if you can combine with other networking/business/research, see you then!


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Notify you of follow-up comments via email? You can also subscribe without commenting.

CommentLuv badge
As featured in:
Join the You Inspire Me email list