Multi-Niching Your Career Through A Downturn

I went to Birmingham this weekend to visit my parents, family and friends. It’s my ‘home town’ where I grew up and lived until my late teens – I usually go back and visit every 6 – 8 weeks or so.

Whilst in Birmingham, I met a number of family friends – many of whom were owners of small and mid-sized businesses. As you can well imagine, the topic of conversation was very much around the mess in the financial markets and the impact on the economy and their businesses. Most of the people I spoke with had not felt a significant slow-down in business, but they were certainly wary of what may lie ahead in the coming weeks and months as the wider economy slows down.

But regardless of what happens, many of these business owners are conditioned to weather the storm because they are programmed for change.

The Entrepreneurial Mindset 

You see, most of them are serial entrepreneurs – they have had a number of businesses in different areas, have developed multiple income streams, have reinvented their businesses and started in new markets. Many of them had been in business all their lives and, like most entrepreneurs, they are always on the look-out for opportunities.

Multi-Niching

What these businesses have done is what my first manager at Marks & Spencer talked to me about when I joined the UK retailer in 1993 as a graduate trainee. I remember a conversation we were having in my first few weeks about how small retailers could survive in the face of large retail brands.

His view was that “Small businesses can survive by finding niches with opportunities – and fulfilling a customer need quickly. They can react much faster than the big firms and so beat us to that market and earn good margins. By the time we large firms enter that niche, margins are squeezed and so the small retailers should be looking to move on as they won’t be able to compete with us. It’s a strategy of ‘multi-niching’ – and it’s the only way small businesses can profit and do well in the long term.”

Multi-niching is the way small businesses in some sectors of the economy will manage to survive during the downturn – by finding new niches, serving them well and then moving on before the herd of competition enters.

Multi-Niching With Your Career

Multi-niching is also the way you manage your career during a downturn.

Like a small business, you know what capabilities and resources you can bring to the market. And then be aware of what is happening in the market so that you can seize opportunities. Once the ‘herd’ enters that niche, it may be time to move on to another area. That may mean you will be in a different role in 2 years’ time and maybe in a new career in 4 years’ time. 

But what you are doing is what every small business needs to do to survive – multi-niching; finding a need in the market, fulfilling that need – and then having the awareness to know when its time to move on and find the next opportunity. 

What about loyalty?

‘Loyalty’ in the corporate world (particularly financial services) is as outdated as the term ‘job security.’

Like the business owners I met in Birmingham, your loyalty needs to be yourself and your business – You Plc / You Inc. If you ever needed a reminder of that then you saw it in the huge falls in stock markets across the world over the last couple of days.

The financial instability is far from over. But whatever happens, stay focused on searching out opportunities, meeting the needs in the market (be it your own firm or elsewhere) and multi-niche your way through the tough times.

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