The World is Big Enough


Last week I wrote about passion – and my absolute belief that your passion is what will ultimately make your business successful.

And that’s fine, assuming your passion is working with owners of SMEs, building websites or manufacturing car seats for small children – there are plenty of customers out there, just as there are for a million other businesses.

But supposing your passion is a real niche business? Is passion enough then – or do you have to accept that however much you care, there simply aren’t enough people that care as much as you do to make it a viable business?

I was having a drink in the pub the other Friday night when I was introduced to a young woman, probably in her mid-thirties. She told me that she ran her own business…

“What do you do?” was the obvious question.

“I make cloth dolls,” she said.

I was dimly aware of what a cloth doll was – but only just. “Right,” I said. “I’ve two boys. I don’t know much about cloth dolls…”

“You wouldn’t have come across mine,” she said. “I specialise in Goths and Steampunk. But I don’t know,” she added, “The market just doesn’t seem to be there…”

We were interrupted at that point – luckily for me before I made a fool of myself trying to hold a conversation about Steampunk.

But I kept coming back to the conversation and I ended up doing ten minutes’ research with those two indispensable members of everyone’s team, Google and Wiki. I learned about Steampunk and I saw how many people went to Whitby for the Goth Weekend.

And I started thinking about passion again – and niche businesses.

Because no, there are nowhere near enough potential customers for the lady I met in the pub if she limits her horizons to South Milford – or even Leeds. But Yorkshire? The UK? The rest of the world? Now we’re talking.

She makes Steampunk and Goth cloth dolls. She sells them for anything up to £200. Number of people needing one in South Milford in a year? One if she’s lucky. In Leeds and the surrounding area? Maybe ten. But in the world? Enough to have a very successful small business.

Just imagine Dav and I are thirty again – and at the weekend we’re Goths. But all that is about to change. Dav is pregnant and weekends in Whitby will shortly give way to the mother and toddler group. But I want to give Dav a present – something absolutely unique: something to remind her of our time as young, carefree Goths…

What better than a cloth doll of Dav the Goth? How utterly brilliant would that be? Would £200 be too much for a custom-made, absolutely unique memento? No, it wouldn’t.

(I have to tell you that my wife peered over my shoulder at that point and read what I’d been writing. I may have some explaining to do…)

But I’m making a serious point. If your passion directs you to a niche business, so be it. Today the internet – and the worldwide market it offers – makes all sorts of businesses possible, from Steampunk cloth dolls upwards. But there are three crucial points you need to bear in mind which will ultimately contribute to your success:

  • You have to be brave: many of us came face to face with some quizzical looks and some indrawn breath when we announced that we were going to start our businesses. If it’s Steampunk cloth dolls then the heads are going to be shaking even more vigorously. There’ll be plenty of days when you doubt your decision – but as I wrote last week, your passion will carry you through.
  • You have to be committed. That means being committed to your niche and being prepared to turn some customers away. You all know my old pal the fitness coach for pregnant women in Knightsbridge. You have to be prepared to say, “I’m very sorry, you’re in Islington…”
  • Lastly, you emphatically must not be afraid to charge what you’re worth. If you’re one of only three people in the country who do what you do that potential customer has not just rung to haggle over the price. And we’re not talking about the price someone would pay in South Milford either: pitch your prices in SW1X and go from there…
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3 comments

  1. Dick Jennings · June 13, 2014

    The thing about this lady is that she probably doesn’t have any competitor. Great niche – potentially.

    But most people impelled into business by their “passion” go into a market which is already full of people already driven by the same passion. My sister is one. She makes craft pottery. There are many brilliant people who make such pottery and they don’t make it to get rich, they make it because (due to their passion) they feel they have to.

    That means a market which competitors will be driven from only if their commercial performance is so bad that they are pretty well starving. Which in turn guarantees that (save for a small number of particularly celebrated potters) my sister will only ever scrape the barest living from pottery, if that.

    The same goes for many walks of life – artists, actors, for example.

    Passion can be the making of a successful entrepreneur. And of many great artists and creators. But passion can be the most un-business-like driver imaginable.

    Look at van Gogh, who barely sold a single painting in his life!

    • edreidyork · June 13, 2014

      Morning Dick; great to hear from you. As ever, very salient points. I agree that passion doesn’t automatically lead to business success, and it can indeed mean the opposite. Thanks as ever for contributing!

  2. simonjhudson · June 16, 2014

    The trouble with passion is you want to do it, but not everyone wants to pay for it. As a semi-pro musician I could never make a living from my passion for music – fortunately I have other things to be passionate about.
    However if you have the Goth Doll niche, etc., with almost no competition there are two things to look at before investing your life savings in building the business:
    1. Is there a means to promote and sell what you do worldwide, not just in Milford.
    2. Are there sufficient barriers to entry to others that might attempt to steal your success once you have created a global business – global means visible, so you need to be ready for others to try to eat your lunch after you have set the table.

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