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The Entrepreneurs Dilemma

The big dilemma in actionOn a sunny day last week, I walked through the historic Sydney suburb of Glebe for no other purpose than to enjoy a cafe lunch and browse 2nd hand book stores.

What I was to discover, however, was startling proof of “The Entrepreneur’s Dilemma”.

This is a social-psychological phenomena that plagues innocent business owners – sowing the seeds of self-doubt and financial disaster.

Want to know what it is?

Unisex (isn’t the answer)

On my stroll, I walked past an interesting kind of store.

A sign (you can see it on the left) lured me towards the store’s proudly displayed merchandise.

Unisex is an interesting idea simply because male/female differentiation is one of the more traditional demographic gaps.

Today, more and more businesses are discovering that increasing the gender focus of their products is a valuable move. Coca-Cola, for example, recently made the decision to market Diet-Coke to women, while reserving Coke-Zero for a high octane, testosterone driven campaign for young guys.

However, there are plenty of things in the world that benefit from being unisex.

Wine (luxury or otherwise), travel and real estate seem like great examples of industries where gender is irrelevant and unmeasured. They’re unisex by default.

So what was so unusual about this cheap, “NEW” item of undetermined gender?

The sign was attached to a rack of shirts

This store was the kind of budget clothing outlet that hocks off un-branded beach clothes to passing student travellers.

Shirts (T-shirts especially) have always been potentially unisex, but no one ever advertises them as such.

Here’s why:

The store owner meant well in this scenario and the basic logic is simple: If you advertise shirts to both men and women, you should double the chance of a sale.


When you try to appeal to anyone, you end up alienating everyone.

As you may be able to see from the photo below, the shirts are unusual… but there wasn’t anything wrong with them.

The entrepreneur's dilemma

What is wrong is how full the rack was. Clearly the shirts were not moving out the door.

I can’t help but think that the store owner would have been more successful if he had put a sign up that said:

“Crazy hippy beach shirts – $5”

… because that would grab the attention of every free-thinker headed to the beach!

What does this mean for your business?

I got an email from a client yesterday, asking my advice on a proposed re-brand and new focus for her business.

As a financial advisor, she was considering the one of the following options:

1. Focus entirely on working with female business owners as a specialist advisor

2. Go after women in business, newly graduated students, young professional couples and families

Friends told her that she’d be very brave to go for option one’s niche focus. Others thought she’d be stupid to “limit” herself.

I cant help but wonder if the T-Shirt store guy was afraid of the “limitation” too.

At the heart of it, many entrepreneurs have a powerful fear of “potential loss” tickling the back of their brain. The thought of all those customers outside of your target market, who won’t buy from you, is kind of scary right???

Reality check: Be scared if you’re not in a niche

Internet marketing folks have known this truth for a while – but the lesson is just as relevant for today’s real world, brick-and-mortar entrepreneur:

By trying to target the “Mass Market” you put yourself in competition with the biggest brands in your industry. These are the corporates that have multi-million dollar ad budgets. You will not win.

The world (or even my client’s city) does not want or need another financial advisor – but an expert on helping female entrepreneurs plan their financial life might be useful.

I ended the email dialogue by challenging my client to target only entrepreneur mothers! This would take her niche to a whole other level – and give her an excuse to market to any number of coffee groups and day-care centres.

Besides, if she does a good job and word spreads… I’m positive it wouldn’t be a problem to work with the occasional non-entrepreneurial mum (or even… *gasp*… a dad).

It isn’t so much about the day to day reality of doing business – it’s about the story you are telling and the message it sends.

Let’s face it – occasionally some guys buy girl’s t-shirts (it’s actually a fringe fashion in some parts)… and women often buy small sized men’s clothes.

Let your prospect customers know who they are and why you’re right from them. Success only happens when you overcome the fears that prevent this.

What kind of message is your business sending?

Could you overcome your fear and target a more specific group of customers?

Let me know what you think – by leaving a comment (scroll down)


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  1. Hi everyone…. yes this post is about me. After much research I think Peter may be right. My concerns were that I live in the beautiful city of Christchurch in the South Island of New Zealand, population 500,000. My fear was not having enough people in my niche but in reality when I sit and make a list this is not right. My question to everyone is do you think it is possible for me to work in more than one niche or for focus and simplicity sake should I just stick to the one and get on with it. And another question is if I am going to focus on working mums – what’s a good name for my business that would attract them. Something like ______ Business Risk Solutions – Any thoughts on this??

  2. Hi Lee,

    Interesting & spot on what Peter observes about niches & what I do Internet Marketing is no different. I have embraced IM late yet the potential to make massive money online remains & will continue to of course. When Peter indicates targeting “Mass Market” competing with the big boys, you will not win, I agree.
    For example online, the popular mass markets (niches) like Diet, Health, Relationships, How to make money online, Network Marketing plus many more, are saturated, completed & utterly saturated! Those reaping the rewards from these are anchored in & a newbie attempting to get a foot in will not, simple.
    So what chance do we stand then? Every chance! I have been IM for just over a year now & what a learning curve, best part, I love it.
    So what did I do? Niches! By discovering untapped niches online, by going deeper, going another way, I knew I could not compete in mainstream niches, so I went in search of tiny untapped niches, anything from guitar playing to learning Spanish, people wanted these services, I duplicated & monetized.
    To answer your question, well niches are working for me very well, I love the different areas of learning as a result, but that’s me. I personally don’t think I could ever stick to one, & dare I say it, I think it’s more risky these days as we watch business empires rise & fall in a day by the wind shifting.
    If one of my online campaigns falls overnight, there is instant assurance another is there to take its place while I create a new to replace & move on. An analogy, if I had one website, one product or service niche, put all my energy & money into it & it collapses, it’s all over at great loss. But I don’t I have ten great little niche websites all different from the next & I keep creating more & learning more in the process, but again that’s me.
    I like the niche of “working mums” perhaps go wide & into niches (that word) revolving around working mums like well the obvious you would know exercise, health, personal development & come in with an angle well that’s different but still you. I find too many websites are just the same as the next & there is no point of difference. Boring & uninspiring. What would actually make someone pay attention to what you have just written? Create your brand personality etc, stand out & deliver.
    Opinion on business name? ………….. Business Risk Solutions? I don’t mean to offend but hmmm there are so many businesses in NZ named like that & I find it boring. Different, I would go different.
    “SuperMum Working Solutions” ??? “WorkingMum Inspire Solutions”?? Could be right off but that’s appealing to me & the people behind me now…quick market test.
    I don’t like the word “Risk” today, I believe business language is changing, but again that’s me. I hope you work it out!

    1. Dear Karen…

      Thank you for taking the time to reply and for your wise words. I really appreciate your input. I have identified three niches and advice to date is that it would be too difficult to do all three but what you said makes sense, if one is not performing so well, then I still have two left. I agree with you about all the websites being similar and boring. I do love the idea of three separate sites that specifically target my ideal clients in each niche. Its just a matter of putting the ground work and creating and developing these niches and I don’t mind a bit of hard work. Also your suggestions around the names are interesting. We are probably a bit conservative in NZ but I will play around with some innovative names as you suggest. SuperMum or WorkingMum are good, or as Peter suggested BizMums but not sure about the next part. Do you think it’s important that the name tell them what your product or service is? Maybe the title with a byline underneath, for example SuperMum Solutions – you create your quality lifestyle, we protect it. Or similar. Are there any compaines in Oz that do niche marketing for risk products that you can think of? (Are you in Sydney Karen?)
      Thanks again Karen. You are a star.

  3. Hi folks,

    I’m going to add to the discussion here with a point of view that I think is really important:

    Internet Marketers can afford to be in multiple niches (effectively running different businesses) because the cost of entry into a new market is so low.

    In fact, building an out-of-the-box website takes a few hours and costs $10 to register the .com address.

    In the real world, the cost of entry into a market can be much higher. Plus, there is the added danger of people associating you and your face, so to speak, with the wrong brand or idea (this doesn’t happen online).

    When you’re marketing YOURSELF as an advisor or consultant of any sort, I would definitely recommend sticking to the one niche. It’s just too much time and energy to be in more than one.

    Plus, it can be confuse the customer.

    It’s a lot scarier to be in just one niche… The fear of failing will be tickling your lizard brain.

    However, like most things in life, if it wasn’t scary, it probably wouldn’t be worth doing!

    Here’s what to do: Get started on the one niche. Take immediate action and make it happen fast.

    If that niche fails miserably and entrepreneurial mums don’t care for you…. so what???

    What have you lost?

    A little money and a bit more time.

    Time you’ll also lose while pondering which way to move forward. Money you weren’t earning anyway.

    Best part: IF you fail (it’s unlikely), you’ll learn something so valuable that your next attempt will be twice as likely to succeed.

    Anyway, enough ass kicking from me. Let’s see what others have to say…

  4. Was that ass kicking Peter? When I mentioned niches for Lee’s situation, I meant it would be the collective obvious niches that all connect to her mainstream niche idea of “Working Mums”, so in essence she would really remain with still one! I should have made that more clearer.

    Yes Internet Marketing is at most times faceless & quite polar different from what she proposes for her own biz, but I concluded my explanation around niches with, “but thats me”.

    When I thought about Lee’s niche, I thought about my own experiences 20+ years as a mum & working mum, what didnt we have back then, that we could have now & in what way could Lee reflect this in her biz that would appeal to this era working mum.

  5. I quite agree Karen. The ass kicking was for Lee to get started in one direction (or another), not for you!

    The interactivity on this topic is great – theres no way I could ever offer Lee a perspective from a mum with 20+ years experience. Thanks for speaking up Karen.

    Looking forward to Lee’s (or any other readers) response.

    1. Hey Peter & Karen…

      Thanks very much for your help – much appreciated.
      Okay so the target is entrepreneur mothers. How does this sound:

      Hello, my name is Lee Barber and I am a Risk Adviser. I help women in business (or working mothers) protect the quality lifestyle they are working hard to create. What separates my services from other advisors is that I specialise in working with women (working mothers) in business and I can put a Protection Plan in place which is specifically tailored to your business, even if you are just starting in business or a seasoned entrepreneur and because of this my clients have financial security and peace of mind that in the event of illness, injury or death striking, they know that their business will continue to grow and propser…….. your create, we protect.

      Would you like to know more? Go to ….. to get your free (CD/article) and when you’re ready to put a Protection Plan in place, call my office and we’ll set up a time to talk and see how I can help you.

      How does that sounds to you??


      1. I would like to speak with you regarding a business idea I have that I would like to expand on but not sure of how to take my next approach? Looking forward to hearing from you and I can explain more in detail what it is I’m trying to accomplish.

  6. Ah dont want to hog this post, but Lee asked for return opnion. I like it Lee, but I imagine some editing? is required for a final draft? I like where its going… Didnt realise you were in “risk management” so Peter’s judgement one niche makes total sense.

    The last bit, “would you like to know more, go here..” would that warrant an optin on your website for client email list building?

  7. Hi Karen..

    Thanks for your response. Any tips would be much appreciated! This marketing thing is new to me. Yes you are right, the last bit is to get them onto my web site so I can get their details. I went to a networking group today and I sat there and said my niche market was women in business and described some businesses that would be a good referral. I am hoping to get some results – soon! Will take a bit of practice I think 🙂 Tell me about your business and what you do?


    1. Lee,

      Just another point that I want to throw in: Because you’re more “real world” than Karen’s internet business, you’d do well to ask “in person” for permission to add new folks you meet to your email list.

      Alternatively, follow up by PERSONAL email and suggest they join your list (this is what I do with everyone who I swap business cards with).

      If you’re going to start a website and database, you need to offer value… become a resource for entrepreneurial/working mums.

      1. Thank you Peter. All sounds very sensible. As I work my way through my proposed marketing for my business who would you suggest to take a look at it before I go to the designers. Do you provide this type of service Peter? I am hoping to be ready early March and would like to get on with the website so I can then develop my e-zines and have a good supply of resources for my women in business.
        Thanks heaps for your guidance!

        1. Hi Lee,

          I’d have to get a little more clarity on your requirements for a “review” before I know who to recommend you to. It may be something we could look at working together on.

          Why don’t you email me through what you’ve got so far. I’ll review it and let you know what a few good options are for next steps.

          1. Thanks Peter. I am just finishing off a block of it and should have this done over the weekend. I would appreciate that thanks. You know what, since saying I specialise in looking after women in business, I am suddenly invited to a group tonight called Women who Mean Business which is a mastermind type group, and am being sent emails from different sites I have subscribed to for their ezines realting to insurance (american) who all are giving me the message around niche markets. Apparently “amateurs’ go after “anyone” – I do love what Bonny said, conquer your niche with empathy and style. And like you said, get some articles etc underway. Become an expert/resource centre for them. I am so excited Peter. It has taken away so much clutter. You were the first to suggest this to me and I don’t think I was ready then. I had to experience the “amateur” model to appreciate what a “niche” could do. Thank you so much! You are fantastic!!
            Thanks to everyone else for there words of wisdom also!

    2. Hi again Lee wow you’re well covered it seems. My biz is different to yours, but it is still very much real world to me. When I state a tip or opinion for you I’m coming from my back yard not so much yours I think, its still relevant but transpires differently as Peter cleverly quotes the differences. I admire your courage, zest to be in a biz that faces people (women) physically front on, mine is different it has more anonymity but that is my personality as is yours to do what you will, but I don’t escape accountabiity. Who does? Peter gave us a great book “Crush It” Author Gary ah Van-der-chuck ??…Its fab, to your great success!! Look forward to the website..

  8. Hi there, what an interesting discussion so far, I think Karen and Peter make some valuable points re: niche development.

    I want to comment on how you position yourself to stand out from all the others. For a start when I read that your self description was a ‘Risk Adviser’ I thought – hmmm, someone who can advise how to better at risk. Old school and conservative language is bland and not specifically descriptive enough for what you can offer.

    From what I know of marketing in general, people filter and respond to ‘what’s in it for them’ (WIIFM)! How will they benefit by what you offer? Why should they choose you with their financial security? What makes you stand out as trustworthy?

    So, when thinking about how to position yourself, come from the perspective of what really is the ultimate benefit to your niche – entrepreneurial mums/dads? What is it you actually provide?

    Home Insurance for example, gives you a piece of paper, called the ‘agreement’ or ‘contract’ to file after you agree to pay the insurance company x amount of dollars for x amount of time. This comes with the promise of if you have ‘bad luck’ (or use what ever word works for you here) and you ‘need’ access to that money, the insurance company will give it to you, on proviso it is within the bounds of the contract.
    But actually, we abide by this practise because what we actually get is ‘piece of mind’ or reassurance that if the unforseen happens we know we can begin again with something rather than nothing.

    I get that this is a very simplistic example but my point is we don’t have home insurance so we have the joy of filing a piece of paper, we have it so we can leave our homes daily and know that we will not lose everything.

    Or another way of saying it (because I’m a closet handyman) is we don’t buy a drill because we want a drill per se, we buy a drill because we want a hole! The drill only provides the solution.

    So what solution do you provide to this group? Plan your business and marketing from that perspective and see what emerges…play with it, have fun and conquer your niche with empathy and style.

    Thanks for your time.

    1. Gosh that is all really great advice, thank you so much. And I love your final sentence – conquer your niche with empathy and style. That has been added as one of my new goals. I love it. Thanks so much!!

        1. Hi Lee,

          Thank you for the best compliment – taking on my offering as a goal. I love it – you go girl!

          As for a name, my process is I work on the foundations, concept, final vision and as these pieces emerge so does a name. Let it go for today, get creative about the work over the weekend you will achieve and trust that a name will come out of that.

          I went through this process just Monday evening with a friend as we are starting a new project together that has developed far wider than our ‘narrow’ vision at the beginning. After some general discussion we mind mapped the essence of what we are going to achieve and through that themes emerged. From here we looked at words that reflected the themes. We found a name that we like as it works on many levels however it is close to another company’s so we need to check out copy write and trademarks etc. So long story short – we have not found the name yet but we are very close.

          Have a great week and fun weekend.

  9. This is fantastic news Lee. Sounds like you’re experiencing one of those rare moments, when the universe conspires to let you know: Yes, you’re in the right place!

    Preparing for dominating this niche should be easy. Don’t over-analyse or over-think it. You’ll make a few mistakes no matter how “perfect” you try to be, so just focus on getting out there and soaking up as much mistake-making as possible.

    That way you can learn, adapt and succeed… faster!

    I expect something from you in my inbox this weekend 🙂

    – Pete

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