Are You Making The Most Common Niche Picking Mistake?
14 years ago

This is an email exchange between myself and someone who tracked me down after hearing me speak at Burning Man (Entheon Lecture Series). He’s making some common mistakes when thinking about his new business and picking a niche, and I thought you might get some value out of understanding how he and I think about his situation a little bid differently. (I got his permission before posting this – and I’ve removed references to his location and his name)

I’ve put a “BF:” to indicated my responses…

Hello Bryan,
I attended a discussion at Entheon Village about City and the Self and I was very inspired by your philosophies and insights. My partner and I have a dream of starting a business that encompasses many parts of your own philosophies. We want to open a healing center of sorts that revolves around finding that balance between “suit” and “hippie” as you discussed at Burning Man.

BF: Love it!

It would be a three part program that incorporates sustainable living and building practices, sustainable farming, and leave-no-trace guided wilderness experiences. We want our program to appeal to both “suits” and “hippies” and to hopefully demonstrate how one can live his/her life within the balance.

BF: I find it MUCH easier to speak to hippies and turn them into suits (or) speak to suits and turn them into hippies. Appealing to both is unlikely to work, because it will force you to transform their minds using only your marketing material. Given what you’re talking about – I may recommend marketing to suits and have them find more of their hippy thru the experiences you describe. Hippies are not likely to find their inner ‘suit’ by practicing sustainable farming 🙂

I went to drug rehabilitation when I was younger for a year of residential treatment. The first three months were spent in the desert learning survival skills, re-rooting, and bringing my awareness back to the Mother that sustains us all. My intentions are coming from a space of healing, yet I don’t want my program to be just for people with addictions or physical ailments, I want my doors to be open to anyone who feels they could benefit from learning these practices and needs a little refocusing of their lens.

Did You Spot The Common Niche Picking Mistake?

BF: This smells like a very common entrepreneurial mistake – wanting to appeal to everyone. No one likes to be pigeon-holed, but if you don’t have a laser focus, then your program will appeal to no-one. Imagine a workshop that promises, “Get everything that you want regardless if you are an oil tycoon, a crack-dealing prostitute, or an out-of-work teacher. Good for Tea Party members, too!”. Vs. a workshop that promises, “Learn how to use local search engine marketing to promote your brick and mortar business!” The broader topic always has less appeal.

We will teach balance in all aspects of our ever complex lives. I am a very spiritual person yet I feel the only preaching that needs to be done is by the wilderness. My goal is not to change people because people can only change themselves,

BF: With respect, this is only one part of the paradox of change. The other side is that you CAN and in fact MUST change people … its the essence of leadership. –  just a nit 🙂

I only want to show people a way of life that has brought balance to my life and hope that they can apply parts of it to their lives to lead a more fulfilling and accomplished life. Amy is in the process of getting her degree in community health and fitness with a minor in business and I am working on my degree in wilderness leadership and a degree in business as well. We are beginning to write our formal business plan,

Warning!  I Just Heard Two Words That Mean “You Are Wasting Your Time.”

BF: A formal business plan is the biggest waste of time I could possibly imagine. You will not get money from a bank for this project, and “formal business plans” are ONLY useful when trying to get money out of a bank.

we are always on the look out for the perfect land,

BF: Can’t this be done on public land? I remember that “outward bound” and “mountain people school” as well as “california community partners for youth” are all doing transformative outdoor programs on public land…

and we are trying to get experience with others that have success in business and finding their own balance. I was having a discussion with a friend on the playa who is a successful “green” business owner, web designer, and marketer and he got me thinking about the legistics of how I am going to market this business.

BF: This business will live or die on three factors:

1) your marketing efficacy (including who you choose to market to)
2) your salesmanship
3) your pricing model

I was hoping you might have some insights on how to go about doing this and any other advice would be greatly appreciated.

BF: Read Dan Kennedy’s “NO BS GUIDE TO MARKETING TO THE AFFLUENT”. Its a good start. If you sell this to people who can afford a high-end experience, your business will be sustainable. If you do not, it will not be. If your vision is a bit more egalitarian than that – then take your profits and give scholarships to people who can’t afford it. But succeed first. Then give. The wildly successful have WAY more capacity to give then those that are desperate to just get by.

Also, I was going to ask you how I might be able to help you or any one you know in my area. I live in Portland, OR and I genuinely want to help any one I can with their business or anything for that matter.

BF: Love it!!! The ‘gift economy’ is alive and well OFF the playa for me and for most successful people…

I took what you said about the more you help the more you do for yourself to heart and I am truly trying to embrace that philosophy and put it into action in my community. I learn quickly, and I work well independently or cooperatively in groups. I appreciate what you had to say, I feel a great transformation occurring in my life and you are a large contributing factor to that change. I hope to hear from you soon, be well brother!

BF: Thank you. That talk at Burning Man was an experiment for me about how much ACTION I could inspire in a context that is more accustomed to just talk. Your writing to me is a small sign that we’re on the right track.

Best of luck!

“But Where Will I Get The Funding?”

I appreciate your advice and I am taking it all into consideration. I especially liked what you had to say about appealing to a focused group of patients. We will most likely focus on child obesity and at risk youth……not sure on this one though, because I want to appeal to adults as well. I guess we will have to decide what age group we want to work with most. If we don’t make an official business plan for investors, how do you suppose we will get funding for a project like this? We would want our actual facility to be on privately owned land but all other activities can be on public land for sure. I am going to be changing people by showing them an example of a balanced life style….I will not, however, try to force people into a mold that I have sculpted because I have been pushed into molds before and it is not the way to create lasting change in people….it has to come from them. Thank you again for your time and your wise words.

How To Get Started With The Funding Process (Great Homework Assignment):

BF: You’ll get the funding through friends and family, and perhaps 2nd degree of separation friends.

Homework:  find three people who have gotten projects funded with a similar business model.  Interview them and ask them what the most important factors of getting funded were.

Then ask the for advice on finding funding. (some advice will be better than others)

Thanks!  Great homework assignment.

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