How to Own Your Startup’s Niche

There are a lot of consumer-facing Web startups out there - maybe too many. Now that it’s easier, faster and cheaper to launch a Web business than ever before, entrepreneurs are under increasing pressure to differentiate. Great design and even great service just aren’t enough anymore. The key is to establish a niche that’s narrow enough to own - but broad enough to support a successful business.

To find out how startups today are leveraging their niches to stand out from the competition, we asked a panel of seven successful young entrepreneurs from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) for their take:

1. Create a Blue Ocean Strategy

The best way to find the market and product offering that hasn’t been done to death is to analyze the existing products that are out there already. This means looking at the competition and cataloging what all of the existing Web startups have in common, so you can find ways to differentiate. The book Blue Ocean Strategy details how you can create a Strategy Canvas that allows you to map out the competition and find ways to differentiate in ways that make sense for your business. Don’t try to be different just for the sake of standing out. Really think through what you can eliminate, what you can add and how you can create a truly creative offer that helps more people. - Nathalie Lussier, Nathalie Lussier Media

2. Put Your Branding to Work

Establishing a competitive niche is getting harder and harder every day, and consumers are paying less attention to comparisons between companies that do the same thing. They expect your product to work, and they expect your product to have all of the features and functions the next product does. What can help your startup stand out is spending time working on your branding. If you can connect with your audience on more levels than your competitors, you’ll ultimately be able to make it about consumers choosing your brand, not your niche. - Caitlin McCabe, Real Bullets Branding

3. Mind the Gap!

When you describe your business to someone, they need to "get" it immediately. Beyond that, if your concept brings up a recent situation in which they could have used your service, you’ve really got something! In London, when you ride the tube, a recorded message comes on cautioning riders to "mind the gap." This is because the gap is big enough to fall into! When you’re developing your offering, the solution needs to be in a space with a gap wide enough to fall into - and stay there. It’s almost impossible to base a business on doing exactly what the other established players are doing. Sure, a niche product isn’t going to be proven, but the opportunity to cause a splash is much greater. - Joe Cassara, You Need My Guy

4. Choose to Serve a Niche Audience

Given the proliferation of companies and the easy cross-comparison on the Web, it’s very difficult to create an entirely new product or service. Therefore, I think it’s best to focus on making yourself the go-to person for a certain audience. That niche could be a profession like dentists, or a region like the Pacific Northwest, or a certain type of person, such as young professionals taking on greater responsibilities at home and at work. Whomever you decide to target, you want to become the No. 1 company in your market, and not lose focus by worrying too much about startups that target other audiences. - Elizabeth Saunders, Real Life E

5. Rebrand Your Customer, Not Your Product

Your startup and business may start off as a niche. Over time, you can bet that competitors will enter, or may already be present. Therefore, startups should constantly analyze and frequently change their marketing campaign to maintain their niches. Bring about new ways to create the comparison. Some ideas include offering a free trial period, creating viral campaigns that allow users to engage with your product, and constantly building a niche market. The question is, “How do you maintain and build another niche market from your already existing one?” I don’t recommend changing your product. I suggest relabeling your customers; this may make users want to become more involved. Take airlines, for example; they created status levels to allow their users to compete and engage further. - George Mavromaras, Mavro Inc. | Praetor Global LLC

6. The Power of Information

Finding a laser-focused niche is a main component to success online. To stand out from your competition, you need to become the authority in your market. There is no easier way to do that then to niche down to the most basic service or product offering. The easiest way to win over a client is for your site to show a level of expertise above and beyond that of the competition. However, if you offer too much your customer will seek other avenues of education (in the buying process). Offer just the right amount and they will commit to your offering. It is much easier to upsell a current customer then it is to gain a new one. - Roger Bryan, RCBryan & Associates

7. Let the Community Speak

A major way you can stand out from your competition is by allowing your customers to become a part of your organization. Give them a voice. Ask for their input. Engage with them as much as possible to make them feel special. If they’re comfortable with your brand, they’ll know who to keep coming back to in the future. - Logan Lenz, Endagon

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprising the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC recently published #FixYoungAmerica: How to Rebuild Our Economy and Put Young Americans Back to Work (for Good), a book of 30+ proven solutions to help end youth unemployment.