Trend: Small Businesses Pick Niches

Business specialization and niche markets will grow in importance as small businesses first identify and then scurry to serve narrower slices of traditional markets. Outsourcing, the Internet, and customer demand, will help shape niche markets and dramatically change the business landscape.

Outsourcing will fuel the drive to specialization. A new PR firm, for example, will be unlikely to start out as a full-service practice. Instead, specialization in a niche such as investor relations will be seen as the way to gain entry to lucrative markets.

The Internet's global reach will enable wider acquisition of customers. Small businesses will find taking their specialized strengths further a field to be a more viable growth strategy than broadening their offerings in a geographic market.

Customers will continue to ask for more as small businesses proliferate. When there is a Mexican restaurant every five miles, outstanding burritos and tacos won't be enough to assure success. Instead, the menu will offer "secret" recipes from a small mountain village where early Mexican food is prepared as it was hundreds of years ago. The center of the restaurant will be a plaza where the dishes are prepared over open fires using authentic cooking stones. Diners will stroll the plaza sampling the dishes of their choice.

New niches will grow out of existing specializations that are sliced and diced into ever finer segments. Few small businesses are the first entrants in their markets. Studies show that the vast majority of small businesses are not started with a new invention or unique idea. They are far more likely to put a different spin on an existing product or service.

Specialization will increasingly be the name of the game in small business, and specialization begets more specialization. Service providers and vendors will need to be able to show how they'll deliver superior results for each niche market into which they are selling.

The effort to reach narrower and narrower targets will make channel partners more important than ever. Cross-referral relationships will become critical in many markets.

For those selling in the small business marketplace, recognizing the impact of greater specialization and narrower niches will be a make-or-break process. The fast changing small business market of tomorrow will require increasingly rapid responses to customer needs and wants.

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