Niched or Generalist: How should I brand my work?

by | Jul 28, 2023 | Career Planning, Personal Brand, Selling

This week I asked a friend and inspiring business leader: Should I focus on a niche or should I be more general with my personal brand?

As a leadership brand advisor and working with business teams, I give advice on this all the time, and my baseline advice is always, “If you’re talking to everyone, you’re talking to no-one.”

But the answer to the question, ‘Niche or Generalist?’ is more nuanced than you might think. It’s not as simple as the common advice, ‘Pick an industry to serve!’ – sure, focusing on one industry can make a lot of sense if you come from that industry yourself or you have a passion for the industry – it means you’ll know your client so deeply and be so fully focused on them, that you will have a razor-sharp edge over your competition. Certainly, focusing on building my knowledge in a few areas of professional services (accounting and audit, then law, then banking and finance) has helped me carve out my professional services brand quickly, and become helpful to people in those industries. I love working with people in professional services, in these particular sectors and more broadly, because I love the way these people think about their work, and I know I can truly help them.

Having focused on my ‘personal branding for professional services’ niche, I have built success in this area, AND I have found my work has quickly expanded into so much more. I now focus on strategy consulting and facilitations with boards and leadership teams that focus on the Brand-Culture connection, and from there hang all my ‘tools in the toolkit’, like personal branding. Not only have my services changed, but the types of clients coming to me has become much broader – both in terms of industry (transport, logistics, construction, farming, education, resources, medical…) but also in terms of location – I’m now travelling a lot more around the country to serve clients, and my network is beginning to reflect that.

Hence the question to my friend, ‘Should I stay focused on my niche or should I be more general in my brand?’

Niche or Generalist Brand? - Infographic by NWC

I’m a big fan of a laser-focused approach. Like a laser beam, a clear and narrow focus gets results much faster. I don’t want to lose the wisdom of this approach, and its importance to good brand messaging, while I decide what is now relevant to my brand.

“Like a laser beam, a clear and narrow focus gets results much faster. I don’t want to lose the wisdom of this approach… while I decide what is now relevant to my brand.”

My friend’s advice was sound: Go with what you love and where you add most value – and that doesn’t have to be one industry. She used her own example as a leader in banking – she can’t be too niched because the business clients her team serves come from all different industries and are spread out all over the state. What’s more, the nature of her work means she sometimes needs to shift her focus at short notice. Yet she needs to be able to connect deeply with clients and team members who represent very different goals and needs. For her, tapping into her ‘internal niche’ – that she brings the energy, the fun, the human connection, the deep care for others – and that she excels at leading and nurturing a team to grow – is all the niching she needs to do.

The variety and the learning challenge that having a range of clients represents appeals to my friend – it suits her adventurous, passionate personality – and it suits me too:

I love that my work looks different every day…

that every new client represents a fresh version of some core challenges businesses and professionals face…

that new surprises turn up by way of new industries to learn about and work with, or new places to travel to and explore.

At the same time, like my friend, I have my ‘niche’ I bring to all of this work too. My area of expertise applies in all business contexts where people are focused on working with people! In addition, ‘professional services’ represents a much broader group than I was originally focused on, and remains a great niche with a bigger reach.

Some of the best leaders I know understand the need for a generalist scope but a niched value-adding focus. After all, any CEO needs to connect with multiple audiences and be across an entire business landscape! In leadership branding, it’s still about crystalising clear points of expertise, passion and value that makes that CEO unique.