“Wouldn’t I be lying if I said I had that kind of expertise?”

I get this question about positioning sometimes:

“If I focus on a market vertical where I don’t have much or any experience, am I lying?”

Usually the actual question isn’t stated quite so bluntly, but that’s really what’s being asked.

The actual question might look more like one of the following:

    • “How can I focus on a specific market vertical if I don’t have prior experience in that vertical?”
    • “The imposter syndrome kicks in real hard when I think about narrowing down my focus to a market vertical I don’t have previous experience in.”

If you say something that’s not true, then yes, you are lying. 🙂 But focusing on a market vertical where you have little or no experience is not lying. It’s choosing, and it’s the beginning of a process. Let me explain…

In my 20’s I visited Mexico several times. Despite my Spanish being at about the same level as a 2-year old native speaker, the locals always appreciated that I at least tried to communicate in Spanish.

That’s what it’s like when you focus on a market vertical. You are visiting a “foreign country” and learning their native language. At first it is awkward.

However, it does not take very long to learn the basics of their “native language”. And the people in this “foreign country” (the market vertical you are focused on) really appreciate that you have taken an interest in them, and are attempting to learn their “language” (the specifics of their business, how their business works, and the problems that can be solved with software or technology).

So at first, that’s all you’re doing when you focus on a specific market vertical. You are choosing to visit their world and learn a little of their language.

You are not claiming to be a lifelong resident, or to know everything there is to know about their world. The process goes a little like this:

    1. You decide on a market vertical to focus on. For this example, let’s say you are a Rails developer and you’ve chosen to focus on logistics companies.
    2. At first, your positioning statement is: “Custom Rails apps for logistics companies”. When asked why you chose to focus on logistics companies, you might say something like this: “I find the challenge of creating custom software to minimize cost a very interesting one, and logistics companies usually seem to need help with that problem.” No potential client is going to interrogate you for 30 minutes about why you chose your focus. A simple answer like this is all you’ll usually need.
    3. After you build up a bit of a track record with logistics companies, you can start to narrow your positioning statement a bit. It might become: “I help logistics companies reduce lost freight insurance claims by up to 38% with custom software”. If someone is still curious why you chose logistic companies, you can provide any number of compelling reasons why. You might say, “At first it was kind of random, but after doing a few projects I saw that building just the right amount of custom software can dramatically reduce lost freight claims, so I decided to really specialize in this kind of work.” Or you might say, “Each time I did a project for a logistics company the results were better, so naturally I decided to focus 100% on logistics companies.”
    4. At some point, you may start declining or referring away projects that fall outside your area of expertise. You do this when you are ready. Before that point, you do whatever makes sense for your cashflow needs and available bandwidth. You resist the temptation to dilute your positioning or messaging during this “chasm crossing” period, which can last for 6 to 18 months in some cases.

Want more information on navigating this kind of transition in your business?: https://philipmorganconsulting.com/positioning-course/

Talk to you soon,
-P

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