How Do You Make A Niche Business Succeed?

By February 18, 2016Podcast, With Guests
How Do You Make A Niche Business Succeed?

How Can A Niche Business Survive?

That’s the question we tackle with Kate Ahl today, a Pinterest expert who has built a business around working with bloggers on their Pinterest strategy.

And while we enjoy Kate and find her to be a smart and savvy business person, we can’t help but ask, “Does the world really need another Pinterest expert??”

More on that in a minute.

What We Don’t Talk About Today: Pinterest

We’ve done that and so have a billion people before. How to pin, when to pin, why to pin. Promoted pins, boards, repins, graphics. Snooze!

You can swing a rubber chicken and hit Pinterest advice. But what you can’t do is get the inside scoop on starting a business from nothing, taking it from two clients to 45 in less than a year and doing it all without knowing anything about the business you’re about to be in.

That’s Kate’s story and it’s fascinating, with a lot of insight along the way.

It Started With A Frugal Blog

Kate’s husband was out of work. Her three kids were little and needed things like “shoes” and “lunch.” Kate’s family of five was surviving on a thousand bucks a month. Their unemployment benefits had just run out, they were on food stamps and there didn’t seem to be anywhere to turn.

At the time, Kate was helping a friend with her frugal blog (a blog designed around couponing, deals and living on a super tight budget), doing posts and some Facebook promotion. Unfortunately, her friend didn’t have the budget to pay Kate more, but she did make a suggestion that would turn Kate into a business woman…

From Frugal Blog To Brilliant Niche

Just as things were looking pretty dire, Kate recognized a growing trend. Facebook reach had been steadily dropping and bloggers were becoming frustrated with their ability to reach their audiences.

Her friend Angela of the frugal blog suggested working with these frustrated bloggers to help them find alternative ways to promote themselves, specifically by using Pinterest.

Kate thought the idea was crazy. She wasn’t convinced that Pinterest could be used for business. In fact, she didn’t particularly like or understand Pinterest!

But she was in “do or die” mode so she dove in and threw herself wholeheartedly into learning everything she could about how to use Pinterest to drive traffic. At first she was skeptical, but she kept learning and she asked a few people to come along for the ride so she could practice and learn some more.

She started with two clients, who were so happy with the results that they’re still Kate’s clients today.

Even A New Business Needs To Make Money

One of the mistakes we so commonly hear is when new business owners work for free because they’re “building a portfolio” or because they don’t have the confidence in themselves to charge for their services.

The good news is that Kate didn’t fall into that trap. She charged for her services right out of the gate, even while she was still learning. She was completely up front with her first clients about what she could do and how much she needed to be paid for it. And while she wasn’t charging as much as she can now that she’s a real pro, she was smart enough to figure out ahead of time how long certain tasks would take and what kind of money she needed to make so the endeavor would be worth her time.

Oh, and she was also smart enough to track her time to be sure that she was spending a proportionate amount of time for the money she was making. Go Kate!

So How DO You Make A Niche Business Succeed?

Know your audience. It’s just that simple. Kate understood the bloggers’ world. She knew their frustrations. She knew their challenges and problems. She could relate to them and what they wanted to do and she was able to offer them something that made their lives easier and gave them exactly what they needed.

And then she did it very well. So well, in fact, that even though she was still learning, she was starting to get inquiries from other bloggers asking if she would work with them, too. And she was starting to get referrals from happy clients who were telling other people how well Kate understood and helped them.

Kate didn’t invent a product and try to sell it. She didn’t decide on a path and then look for a niche for her services. She crafted everything she did around a niche that already existed, with a service that solved their precise problem.

That’s about as close to a magic formula as you can get.

And then? She raised her rates!

Recognize Your Own Pro Status

Even though we all continue learning and honing our craft, no matter our industry, there comes a point when we’re no longer apprentices and are pretty darn good at what we do. Sadly, we’ve witnessed far too many people undervalue themselves and charge too little for what their time and effort are worth. It’s tough to go from “I’m new at this” to “Pay me lots of money because I’m good at this.”

But if you want to succeed in business then that’s exactly what you have to do at some point. After the learning curve, once the referrals started coming in, Kate had that “ah-ha” moment where everything seemed to click into place. And though it was still a nerve wracking experience, she raised her rates.

And she also said something very interesting. She said, “I wanted to move from being a VA to being an expert. I knew that the amount I charged was going to change how people saw me.”

To that we say… exactly!

Hindsight Is 20/20

Considering how thoughtful Kate was about starting and running her business, we couldn’t help but ask whether she made any mistakes or had a moment of “wishing she knew then what she knows now.”

One of the things she says that she didn’t have was a good system for onboarding and managing clients. Without a good system, she was actually making more work for herself and doing a lot of the same tasks over and over.

Sounds familiar. We’re no strangers to starting a business by the seat of our pants and learning some things the harder way. Kate was smart enough (again!) to recognize her limitations and hire a business coach to help her. It just goes to underscore the fact that you don’t have to go it alone. And sometimes you can’t. Sometimes, even when the money isn’t exactly rolling in, it would still be worth your while to get professional help.

But Does The World Really Need ANOTHER Pinterest Expert?

It’s not like Kate is the only Pinterest person on the planet, expert or otherwise. Heck, we’ve had at least three on this show alone, including Alisa Meredith (who was kind enough to introduce us to Kate in the first place!) Jeff Sieh and Cynthia Sanchez.

And Pinterest is pretty niche. So really, when it boils down to it, why would we need another Pinterest person, and how did Kate manage to build a loyal following in a space that already has plenty of experts?

For starters, Kate says, it goes back to understanding the bloggers’ world. She isn’t just “a Pinterest expert.” She’s “a Pinterest expert for bloggers.” That’s pretty niche.

Being that person, the one who understands bloggers, the one who knows how to get results for bloggers, has helped her build a loyal customer base.

She is also the voice of reason in their world. She doesn’t make crazy big promises about making six figure incomes or doubling their traffic in a month. She’s realistic. She guides them individually in a way that helps them grow their businesses and doesn’t sell them formulas. She communicates clearly and prides herself on helping people succeed.

We finally conclude that the world does not, in fact, need another Pinterest person.

But the world does need Kate Ahl.

Your Action Item

From Kate: In your Pinterest profile, make sure you include a link to your opt-in or freebie. It’s one extra way that you can get people to join your email list. While you’re at it, add that link to you Facebook and Twitter profile, too!

Links & Resources

Carol Lynn Rivera

Carol Lynn Rivera

I'm a business owner, content creator, podcaster and marketer. In 1999 I founded Rahvalor Interactive, a web and creative services production studio, with my husband and business partner Ralph. In 2011 we created Web.Search.Social, a consulting and marketing service line for small businesses. We also cohost the Web.Search.Social Podcast where we challenge the status quo of marketing and the Carbon Based Business Units podcast where we talk about the human side of being an entrepreneur. On any given day I wear the hat of project manager, consultant, social media manager and content marketer. My true passion is writing and in my spare time I'm busy planning my early retirement to Barcelona as a famous and wealthy novelist.
Carol Lynn Rivera
Carol Lynn Rivera
  • I love a story with a happy ending. This one is loaded with inspiration, heart, and sound advice.

    Kate’s website is beautiful! I’m a big fan of Pinterest and I’m looking forward to connecting with her.

    • Kate is pretty impressive! And you will like her, she is super nice and super smart. Right up our alley with her business ethics and realism!

  • So much of this resonates with me. Having been a biz/life/athletic coach for over 30 years now, so much of what Kate has done – by following her gut and taking a step at a time, building sensibly and strategically (even when she thought she didn’t have a strategy) – is exactly how successful businesses can be built. Know your target market. Provide solutions, not products. Love what you do and love the people you work with and for. Entertaining, educational and fun, as always.

    • Sometimes the simplest stuff is true, right? You don’t really need any secret magical steps to success. You just need to be rooted in reality and pay attention to the people you’re working with. But that doesn’t really sell books, does it?? Loved listening to Kate and her practical approach to business.

  • Very inspiring Carol Lynn, I like stories like this one. I like Kaarina’s comment about providing solutions. That’s what people today need, solutions to their problems and help with things they can’t understand. Thanks for sharing this one with us!

    • Glad you liked it, Lisa! Kate is pretty impressive and I love how her focus always was – and still is – on her PEOPLE!

  • This may be my favorite so far – and not because I came out looking good on the sexy-ometer! I don’t think Kate realizes how amazing she is, but now the rest of the world does! Really great job.

    • The whole world should definitely know! Kate is so practical and no-nonsense that it was hugely refreshing to talk to her. No gimmicks required, just good, solid marketing and business conversation.