A lot of designers have heard about niching but are hesitant to do it. Stephanie Campanella, who’s built several profitable niched-based businesses, talks about why she niched her business, how she did it, and the benefits of niching.
Stephanie Campanella is a thought leader focused on motivating creatives to pick a niche, so they can step in and become the authority. After building two amazing brands in the property and construction niche, she’s now focused on giving back to the creative industry. Stephanie believes if you niche down, you can amplify your authority. She can be found at StephanieCampanella.com.
Colleen Gratzer: Welcome to the podcast, Stephanie. I’m so excited to talk to you about this topic.
Stephanie Campanella: Thanks for having me.
Colleen: Yeah, I love that “amplify your authority.” That is so true.
Stephanie: It is true. It’s like a beacon of light will go off as soon as you niche.
Colleen: So why did you decide to pick a niche? Was there something that was going on in your business? How did that work out?
Stephanie: Now, when I first started out, you know, I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I was retrenched. I knew I wanted to do the gig. I just wasn’t sure how. I had all these people asking me questions. So, I just kind of started taking on jobs. Then a few years later, I sort of started feeling that you really need to niche to make a bigger impact and to just simplify everything in your business life.
So about two years into business, I niched. The process was: I looked at all the clients that I’d worked with previously, and 35% of those were tradespeople—builders and trainees, like trades, electricians, and plumbers and that kind of stuff. I just built a whole new brand, I just ripped the BandAid off, built a whole new brand, new branding, new logo, new website, new content, YouTube videos, all this sort of stuff, and I just went with it.
Colleen: Wow, that’s amazing. Well, so you were kind of serving everyone and taking on any kind of work that came your way? Is that what it was?
Stephanie: Yeah, I was that typical, full-service agency. I think when you come out of freelancing and you want to be a business kind of thing, I think that you want to achieve that full-service agency, because that’s what all the big guys in town are doing.
Stephanie: But by doing that, you’re spreading yourself really thin, and you’ve got about a thousand things to deliver. Every single day is different, and it’s just really hard to to churn things out really quickly. So then it’s not very profitable. So yeah.
Colleen: Yeah, I totally agree. I had the same experience myself before narrowing our services and creating processes.
Stephanie: Yeah, you can’t systemize anything when you’re doing a full-service agency offering. It’s much simpler if you’re just doing the same old thing every single day.
Colleen: So you said you did that two years into your business?
Stephanie: Yeah, two years. So I kicked this off in 2011. Then in 2013, I started Tradies Get Online, my little niche business, and I was just running that really successfully. Now that’s kind of completely systemized, and I don’t have to do anything. The whole team takes care of it.
So now I just focus on teaching other creatives to niche and to simplify their life and don’t think that you have to be this full-service agency doing all the things because it’s going to get really exhausting. You’re gonna have so many lines in your profit-and-loss chart of the different types of work you’re doing when, really, if you just did one thing, and again, it would just be easier. Yeah. I’m dedicated to amplifying people’s authority.
Colleen: I really love that. So you mentioned that 35% of your clients were tradies?
Colleen: So was that the largest percentage of clients where there was a chunk of them that were the same? Is that why you chose them? Or was it a good bulk of your client base and you also liked working with them? What are other factors were there in choosing?
Stephanie: Yeah, it was really easy to work with them. I really enjoyed their company. The other projects that I did with them were really cool. My dad is a tradie. So it felt local. It felt like I had come from that world.
But, yeah, 35% that was the biggest chunk of clients. I had worked with physios and accountants and dentists and all this other stuff. But there was just a whole stack of builders, electricians, plumbers, again and again, gardeners, like landscape gardeners, all this sort of stuff.
I was just like, yep, I’m done. I’m just going to do this. I’m going to call it Tradies Get Online, and we’re going to do this, we’re going to market websites, marketing.
Originally, I did sort of start with that whole, we’ll do branding, all that kind of stuff as well. But I just like cut it all back. We just do one thing. We build your website, we do your marketing in that too. That’s why you come to us because we’re the best. That’s all we do.
Colleen: Okay, and then you said that you ripped the BandAid off and you redid company name and the logo.
Stephanie: Yeah, so I kept my original brand, Summit Web Design, which is what it was called at the time. It’s now called Summit Digital, because it’s not just web design. It’s more digital work as well. But you know, I just put Summit over there on the left, and then I built Tradies Get Online over there on the right. I put new business cards together and I got a new email address, a new Facebook and all this other stuff. I built a whole new business over Christmas, actually. I think I decided to do this about November. Then that was it. We launched in the new year. It’s been really cool… just grows and grows.
Colleen: So you didn’t totally and completely rename the current business. It’s kind of like you added one on?
Stephanie: I just put the current business to the left. And then I put a business over here on the right. I still serve clients over on Summit Digital. I just wanted a whole new brand. I wanted specific colors to attract those kind of clients. I wanted specific text. I wanted specific images. I wasn’t really sure what to do with Summit Web, so I just kind of left it over there and let it go. Then I fully built out the Tradies Get Online stuff.
Knowing what I know now, I would have just changed all the text on my original website and just gone with it, rather than building a whole new brand. There’s no need to build a whole new brand when you’re niching. Because for 90 days, you basically want to test out a market.
I had someone ask me this question last night. She’s like, “I built my brand to help people and charities and not-for-profit, social workers, business coaches and all sorts of independents. I’m really finding that I’ve worked a lot with business coaches. So I think I want to just niche and I was going to put a little subsection together on my website. What do you think I should do?”
Everyone was like, “Oh, you should do this, you should do this.” I was like, “No. Just change everything on your website to say ‘coaches,’ and just leave it there for 90 days and go hard.”
Her fear was that if it says “coaches” on my website, then everyone else is going to turn away and go somewhere else. That’s not going to happen.
Stephanie: So even on now, almost 10 years later, Summit Digital’s got construction, and we work with construction and real estate and all this kind of stuff. I still get travel clients and homeopathic clients and all sorts of stuff. Because they just want to work with me. Then when someone comes to me, and they are actually in that niche, then they fall hard.
It just makes the clients that I really want to work with fall hard with me, and it makes the clients that really want to work with me really want to work with me, no matter what the story is.
Colleen: So 90 days?
Stephanie: Yeah, I would say 90 days. I would give your niche 90 days just to have a good hard crack at it. Go all in, change everything and be that superhero for your niche for 90 full days only talk about that for 90 days. See what happens and see if you like it and see if you like the conversations you have and the type of clients that you pick up.
Colleen: Now, like you said, there’re a lot of designers who say they’re afraid to niche because then if they are targeting that audience, then they’re going to be alienating another audience. But it’s really your targeting has to do with your marketing. It doesn’t mean that you can’t take on those clients.
But there’re a lot of designers that say they don’t want to niche also because it’s going to mean they’re doing the same type of work, or they have the same type of client over and over again, and they’ll get bored. What do you say to that?
Stephanie: I mean, we’re in business to generate an income. You go into business in the first place so that you can be free, you can have time and you can have money.
Stephanie: Like they’re the three big things that most people take on a business for. I mean, I’m a creative myself too. For me, I just go and do art classes, like canvas classes, and I create massive pieces of art. That’s how I let my creative juices out. I don’t do it in the business because I turn up to work, and I’m here to do business, and I will go home and that’s it.
So the thing with getting bored and not loving that gig and stuff, well, at some point, you need to do work to get paid really well. If you’re doing the same thing again and again and again, you become a cheeseburger factory. You’re basically getting the bun and the bun and the beef and the beef goes in and and the tomatoes and the pickles—however you make a cheeseburger… The cheeseburger just gets finished and boom, it’s out on the line and then another cheeseburger, boom, it’s out on the line.
When someone asks you for a pineapple, mayo, chili, bacon, lettuce burger, you’re gonna go, “Okay, burger first, okay, chicken, chili, mayo, lettuce… Anyone got any tomatoes?” And then you’re building that burger, and then it gets out on the pass. That’s just taken you so much longer. And did you really enjoy that so much that you’re willing to lose an extra 20 minutes or 20 hours or whatever the gig is, just so that that work was really custom and really cool?
I urge everyone to just “cheeseburger their business” and do the same darn thing again and again, because that’s how you’re going to actually scale up the business and really become profitable.
Because you’re gonna have templates and things are going to be done before. Everything’s just going to get so much simpler, because you’re like right, gigs in, right. There goes the sales doc signed, boom, we get paid. Okay, great. Now I’m going to do this. Now I’m going to do this. Okay, now the work is done. I’m out the door.
Colleen: Well, even if you start as a freelancer by yourself, if you ever want to add team members, it makes it so much easier.
Stephanie: Yeah, absolutely. Because you’ve actually got a system and a process sitting behind you. You’re not just taking things on willy nilly and dreaming up these things. This is your offering, and this is what you’re really good at. Now I’m going to go ahead and do this thing now.
Colleen: There’s an excellent book out there, called Built to Sell, about this guy with a full-service design agency. He wants to sell the business, but he’s told it’s not going to be as profitable as he thought. So he gets this advice from a businessman who’s a friend of his, and he’s like, you gotta focus on one thing and just do it really, really well.
Then he decides they will focus on logo design and he has all their processes documented. So they become known as the company for logo design. It not only put the company out there in the market better, but it made the company more profitable when it was sold.
Stephanie: Of course. Yeah. Even as an illustrator, right… I’ve got a few coaching clients that are illustrators. An illustrator is a super creative gig. You’ve actually gotta draw the thing. And then you’ve got to present it, and it’s very creative. Yes, it’s not exactly drawing cheeseburgers every day, and then giving people cheeseburgers…
But, again, you know, it simplified so much so that she does illustrations for websites that want to look alive, and it’s specifically for the nonprofit or a kids niche. She’s niched her illustration to just go and serve those people. Then she’s processed out the whole thing about the onboarding piece, and where it’s going to go. Everything is pretty much just stock standard, following a process.
The most creative part is actually doing the work. But, again, even that gets dropped into systems, because she’ll do one section, and then she’ll hand it over. Then she’ll do one section, and she makes sure that she gets feedback nice and quickly, to make sure she’s moving in the right direction.
Again, you could do that by going, “Oh, I’m just going to spend like seven hours doing this thing. I’m going to go into this like haze of drawing and my mind is going to get bent and I’m going to be super creative, and then I’m going to present my work.”
Seven hours… I thought I was being super creative and I was on like a jam. But my client has no freakin’ idea what I need.
Again, you can still be creative. But I just think being in business, you want time back, you want freedom to make the choices that you want to make and live and do and get up and go to bed whenever you want to do it. And you want an income. Yeah?
So if you’re going to really build a business and build a team behind you, then the quicker you get out of actually doing the work…
Stephanie: You build the process and this is exactly what we deliver. This is how we deliver it. Of course, everyone draws or designs or whatever differently. But this is the process that we’re going to do. Now this process can be handed down to someone that I’m going to hire, and then they’re going to be able to follow this process. I’m going to be able to focus on generating sales, communicating to clients following people up and pitching for new work.
Colleen: Now, how do you feel about niching by type of client or industry versus the type of work but not industry specific?
Stephanie: You can totally not be industry specific. You can just have a kind of work. You could just work with business owners that are in a certain area. They are all obviously trying to grow their business and they need x. So that’s exactly who you work with.
Yeah, you could you could do it that way. It doesn’t have to be you know that you work with dentists who are doing root canals. That’s very specific. Obviously, the more specific you are, the more attractive it is for somebody, and the more that they will just look through… Imagine you’re in the middle of tall grass, if your niched, someone will just run at you from miles away and just want to be with you. Whereas when you’re serving everybody, you’re just one other person standing in the tall grass waiting for someone to come.
Colleen: Right. And it simplifies your marketing. What has your experience been with that?
Stephanie: Yeah, yeah. So basically, like for Tradies, we just have one offer. It’s the one offer. Sorry, I lied. We have two offers. We’ve got one big offer and we’ve got one downsell. We’ve got one thing that we talk about day in, day out. It’s our signature system. It’s the thing that you have to have if you’re a tradesman. We’re going to take care of you, rah rah rah. We’re going to deliver this, deliver that, etc.
We’ve got a downsell, so that if you’re not quite ready for our signature program, then you can, of course, have this and it will set you up. So then come next year, you’re ready for rushing into our signature program. And that is it.
Honestly, simplifying the entire business so that’s the only thing that we do has been the best thing ever.
Because, again, going back to 2011, I was doing brochures, branding, logos, websites, booklets, company profiles, like I’m talking 60-page documents.
Colleen: I love those. The bigger, the better.
Stephanie: Yeah, seriously. I mean, we were doing social media… We were doing everything.
Colleen: So you really niched down. You niched down by type of work and the type of client?
Stephanie: Yes, yes. We simplified the offering completely. We stopped doing everything else. We just do one thing. Then we just serve one type of client.
Colleen: Now some designers would say, okay, yeah, but then what happens if my client wants x, and I only offer y? But it’s not like you can’t do that too.
Stephanie: Yeah. If you’re a creative and you’re doing branding, and then someone asks you for a quick business card mockup, you can choose to take that on or not. Once you’ve got that client, you can choose to go, “You know what, yes, we do do business cards. I’ll get that organized for you.” Or you could just be like, “No, I don’t, and here’s my partner for it.”
When you say, “No, I don’t, and here’s my partner for it,” you’re handing over that work to someone else whom you trust. That’s going to take care of your client that passed you on because you’re gonna have a relationship there, right? So that’s the first thing that happens.
The second thing that happens is that you don’t get sidetracked from your signature offering, your signature gig, because, obviously, if you’re doing illustrations—well, branding, I should say—and they also wanted business cards, well, now you’ve got to take off your branding hat and put your business card hat on. Although it’s very similar—you could argue that—but it is a different task.
Colleen: Right. And especially switching between something creative and technical, like going from print design to web development.
Stephanie: I guess the other thing too is that you want to go to market with your signature offer. So if you’re going to market like you’re VistaPrint: “Hey, we can do pull-up banners, business cards, brochures, a deal brochure, a kitchen menu…
Stephanie: T-shirts, yeah, exactly. People are like, “Oh, I don’t really need a t-shirt right now.”
They’re almost on the edge of buying business cards somewhere else because you just don’t talk about that enough. I mean, there’re so many exciting ways to be niched.
If you’re doing business cards, you can talk about how you’re doing a velvet touch or that we’ve got the best gold foil for business cards, or if you want to make a real impact, we make really thick business cards that feel really weighty in your hand.
You can really hero your product. When you’re so busy trying to do all the things and sell all the things, you kind of forget all those little details.
“Yeah, we do a pull-up banner. Yeah, it pulls up. Yes, we can also do your flyer. It feels really nice and glossy.”
The more simple that you can make this, the better. The biggest thing is hiring people underneath you. I know that I’m creative, and I can only do this thing. In 2014, that was exactly my attitude. I was the best web designer in the world. That’s just what I thought of myself. I had already had a team for doing the web dev, because I just knew that that was going to be a massive time suck, so I immediately hired for that. But web design, I was the specialist. I was the bomb.com. I knew exactly how to take a brief and make it the most beautiful thing ever.
I just looked at myself, and I was like, if I’m ever going to get away from this desk and actually out there and generate some business, I need to drop design, because it’s epic. I was doing homepage designs and internal designs, and it was all beautiful and the clients were having a great experience. But I wasn’t making any money because I was sitting down and doing the work. Then I’d poke my head up and go, “Oh, my gosh. I’ve got no work next week.”
Stephanie: Yeah, so I pretty much had to go, “You know what? You are not the best designer. There is someone else out there who can help you.”
Stephanie: Then I hired my full-time designer, and he’s still with me today. It’s like six or seven years he’s been with me.
Stephanie: He’s incredible, and, oh, my gosh. He is so much better than me. But I think your ego kind of gets in the way.
Colleen: Yeah, absolutely.
Stephanie: You just think, “I have to do it all,” you know?
Colleen: Right. It’s going to take it more time to explain it than it is just to do it. I totally get that.
Stephanie: Yeah, and that’s the lie that we tell ourselves.
Stephanie: It’s going to take more time for me to explain this than to just do it, so I’m just going to do it. You are just trapping yourself into the work, and you are going to be a slave to your business.
Stephanie: Your business is going to be on your back pressuring you, whereas when you’re the CEO of your business, you are at the top, calling the shots, delegating the work and talking to customers the way you want to talk to them, or spending your time in your business the way you want to spend your time because it’s going to be best for profit.
Colleen: You were talking about you were designing and then you had your developer helping you with the sites. Well, a lot of designers that I hear from feel that clients are expecting them to be the print designer and the web designer, and, oh, by the way, you’ve got to know a little bit of code.
I feel they should go the opposite direction—own what you’re really great at and just outsource the development stuff. I keep seeing so many print designers trying to get into web design thinking that’s actually going to help them. I used to feel that way. I mean, I’ve been doing print and web for 22 years. But I don’t feel that way anymore. I feel like there’re too many web developers. You can always outsource that. If you want to focus on design, then focus on design.
Stephanie: Yeah, 100%. I think if you’re a frickin’ hot shot at design, just focus on design. Don’t feel like you have to go and do a whole web thing. Just because an uneducated customer comes to you wanting a full-on wall mural, a website and a phone app, and they want you to do it all, you cannot say yes.
Stephanie: “Honey, a mural wall painter is not someone who typically would also know how to build a mobile app.”
Stephanie: So why would you say yes?
Stephanie: You should just be like, “Girl, that is not how the world works. You need to back up.”
Colleen: You could even put a positive light on that. Instead of saying, “Well, I don’t do that,” or “I don’t know how to do that” or “I don’t want to do that,” you could even say, “You know what, I know the best app designer. I know the best developer.”
Colleen: Then you’re actually doing your client a favor, you’re getting the work that you don’t know how to do or don’t want to do off your back. You’re actually doing the client a favor.
Stephanie: I mean, let’s talk secret squirrel right here, secretly. How many jobs have you got? The listeners? How many jobs have you screwed up because you weren’t really sure what you’re doing and you said yes because you needed the money?
Stephanie: Just stop that whole thing. Stick to what you’re good at, build strategic partnerships, pass the work on. Get a bit of a football going. Pass the football, pass the work. Call in some help and call in some favors.
Colleen: Phone a friend.
Stephanie: Yeah, phone a friend, my gosh.
It’s funny. I used to use a developer here in Sydney. Years ago, before I had my own full team. He came to me the other day, and he’s like, “Hey, Steph. I’ve got a massive job that I need developed. Could you guys actually do this?”
We had such a great experience working together all those years ago that he reconnected with me. “Ah, you know what? I know that Steph does good work. I know her team does good work. I want to see if you guys could do the gig.” Because we took care of that strategic partnership all that time ago, we can now work together on another capacity
Stephanie: It’s really important to build really good strategic partnerships.
Colleen: Oh, I totally agree. I’ve gotten a ton of work from other designers and developers over the years, and I’ve turned around and given them work that I didn’t want to do, or didn’t know about or just didn’t want to take on.
I just want to make a point here, because some of the listeners probably don’t know that you built your business based on having no prior WordPress knowledge. Isn’t that right?
Colleen: So, I mean, look, you have built a business on building websites that are in WordPress.
Colleen: But you weren’t even doing any WordPress code. Somebody could actually be a web designer and be profitable and not have to do the work and spend all that time learning it and then troubleshooting it and then dealing with the aftermath.
Stephanie: Yeah, Colleen, you could have the business of your dreams, and never ever learn how to use WordPress. I don’t even know how to unpack or put a plug in. I don’t know how to update a plugin. I have no idea about anything when it comes to that tech stuff.
Stephanie: I know the general idea. It’s based on a core foundation. Then plugins help the scaffolding and there’s a design that can be implemented, and this kind of thing.
But that’s not my job to know. I’m the boss. I need to make sure that the higher end of stuff is getting done: We’ve got enough work that’s coming in. We’ve got our marketing that’s going out. We’ve got communication going out to all the clients.
My girls, I’ve got three, what I call them—junior lady bosses. I’ve got three junior lady bosses that basically do the things that need to be done. They give the client a weekly update, they communicate, they respond back in e-mails. That’s just what they’re trained to do because that’s the things that I used to do, which gives me the freedom to be able to think bigger scope and to think about where our niche is going, and how is that going and to really focus on it rather than me just doing any work.
So, yeah, you can totally run a web agency without ever knowing anything about how to build websites.
Colleen: So do you have any regrets about picking a niche? I don’t think you do. But I just wanted to ask.
Stephanie: No, no, definitely not. I mean, I’ve done it before. I always think about doing it again. I always think about building out a new niche, like a dental niche or a physio niche or a coach niche or a café niche, because you just build the brand, you put the marketing out there, you build the signature system and then people just come.
They’re great businesses to sell because it’s all one big client. It’s like a big package, and it’s really super sexy. When an agency’s got all this different kind of work and no recurring, it’s very difficult to put a price on it.
So, yes, I’m very tempted by starting and rebuilding another niche, but I just always think, “Steph, you’re already doing way too much. Just simplify your life…”
Colleen: You’re addicted.
Stephanie: … and stick to the three core offerings that you’re doing. Yeah, yeah. It is addicting. I mean, you just hire a great team. All my team is in the Philippines. They’re absolutely phenomenal. Once you know how to hire really good people, it’s really easy to duplicate that. Before you know it, you’ve got 10 people, and everything’s just getting done, and you’re just enjoying the business that you’ve built for yourself. So, yeah, it’s very addictive to re-niche.
Colleen: “Re-niche?” Okay, cool. I like that term.
Okay, so you have a course coming out soon, very soon, right? To help creatives find their niche and nail it.
Stephanie: Yeah. So it’s called Nail the Niche, and it it basically walks through the steps that I would take to literally niche a business. So every key point that you need to be able to go to market and make this thing work and attract clients/customers in. It’s all the parts that make up that piece. It’s StephanieCampanella.com.
I do a little one-on-one coaching or group coaching. Everyone follows a system, so that we can get super clear on what we offer and then we can amplify our impact. I built out my 12-month coaching program into a shorter six-to-eight-week program. So that if someone just wants to jump in and do this thing at a lower cost and not work with me one on one and have some consulting, then they can basically take the course, they can understand why they need to niche, how they need to niche and what are the steps to actually do it. Then they can just go ahead and follow all the videos and grab all the downloads and the audios and stuff. Basically, at the end of it, they’ll have a niche. They’ll have all the the confidence to be able to go into the marketplace and absolutely nail it.
Colleen: That’s awesome.
Stephanie: Yeah, it’s cool.
Colleen: Thanks so much for coming on the podcast, Stephanie! It’s been great.
Stephanie: Oh, legend. Thank you so much for having me.