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TOPIC:  Why small businesses should find a niche

 Why small businesses should find a niche 17 Nov 2011 19:16 #1

The biggest small business rule I wish I'd followed
By Michael Hess

I made things more difficult than they needed to be when I started my current business eleven years ago. I disregarded some key wisdom and experience gained in the successful, 50 year-old business my family sold in 1998. In particular, I discounted the importance and benefits of having a true niche.

Our previous company manufactured and distributed specialized photographic equipment, with few real competitors. Now I make laptop bags and other soft goods, with about a kajillion competitors. By choosing to be a small fish in a big pond, I also chose to make everything more challenging and risky. For every small company that succeeds in my category, there are dozens of others that don't.

Fortunately we do OK. We've been in the industry a long time and have a variety of advantages that carried over from the last business. We live and breathe by a critical and effective set of core values, and I think we do what we do really well (though I say that humbly, in keeping with those values). We enjoy what we do. But in retrospect, I often wish I'd sought a narrower path.

Some think that making the very best widget (even in a huge category), or having the best customer service can alone define a niche business. In a perfect world that would be true, but it's usually not. Obviously great products and service can and do build successful companies in any industry, but a small business without a genuine niche will always be faced with increased challenges in critical areas:
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Growth in women's share of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations declined to 27% in 2011from a high of 34% in 1990. While women make up nearly half of the workforce, they were 26% of the STEM workforce in 2011.

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