Staying in the same lane makes for a boring, behind trip. But the trip might also make you rich and famous. If you’re into that.
Entrepreneur magazine defines a target market as “A specific group of consumers at which a company aims its products and services.” That definition sounds easy enough yet many of us authors and entrepreneurs are finding it incredibly difficult to hone in on just one type of consumer. We just cannot stay in our lanes. Many of us are approaching business and writing like a drunk driver. We swerve in and out of lanes, or worst, some of us are like squirrels, skittishly headed for a dead-end. I had to surrender to this revelation after a thorough examination of my own wandering ways.
The facts prove that a keen focus on a targeted market is the main street to industrial wealth.
Check these figures out: John D. Rockefeller amassed 1.53% of the country’s economy and became the first billionaire by sticking with oil. Cornelia Vanderbilt created a fortune, 1.15% of the United States economy, in transportation, specifically steamboats, and railroads. And John Jacob Astor gained .93% of the economy for his wealth from the fur trade before gravitating into real estate.
These, our wealthiest Americans, found an area of focus, stuck with it, and became rich in a time when there were no social media outlets, robots, or handheld computers.
The world’s greatest authors became successful in much the same way, by sticking with their genre: 1. William Shakespeare’s estimated 4 billion in sales is from plays and poetry. 2. Agatha Christie’s estimated 4 billion in sales is from mystery novels. 3. Danielle Steel’s estimated 800 million in sales is from romance novels. 4. J. K. Rowling’s estimated 500 million and counting in sales is from fantasy novels. 5. Dr. Seuss’ 500 million in estimated sales is from children’s literature. 6. Stephen King’s 350 million and counting in estimated sales is from horror stories.
I could cite others, and you would probably recognize their names, even if they are centuries old because they stayed true to their target audience.
So, I had to ask myself why the rest of us fail to build our businesses with this in mind. We are not dense. This is not the first time we have heard the expression “stay in your lane.” But I can guarantee you that even now many of you are still struggling with the concept because you struggle with defining your market, and I do too.
Why I believe we fail to stick to the facts.
One reason I believe we cannot stick to the facts is a matter of creative makeup. Defining an audience can be arduous for creatives because we are naturally complex. Take me, for instance. As an authorpreneur (someone who knows that my writing is also a business), the one thing that matters most is my creative ability. In order to flesh out novel ideas, I have to chart several courses for characters, play with different endings to a story, and revise random beginnings to a chapter. If you are an author, you agree our minds are always winding and racing. The hardest thing in the written world is not an essay or a book but a tweet. We always have more to share than there is time to read. And although we work hard to edit, we find it, unfortunately, harder to focus on one subject and one audience at one time. It is not in our nature, and yet it is the secret sauce to our success.
The other reason I believe we fail to stick to the facts is our aversion to being boxed in. Creatives by nature are free-flowing, born roamers, stimulated by discovery and satisfied only when sitting quietly, pouring that data onto blank pages or into business models. This behavior is how we roll, exploring our fascinations without any commitment until there is a proven system for success.
The last reason I believe we fail is that our first audience is usually ourselves. We just don’t know it. But in hindsight, it is typically true. Most of that stuff we write early on in our career is for an audience of one—the writer—and should be kept in a private journal or diary. At best, shared with close family and friends. Then if and only if it has legs, one day we bundle it into a memoir, a book of essays, or devotionals. Likewise, the first invention we make is usually created to solve a personal problem. A ponytail holder to create a racerback bra. But don’t rush the time needed to polish your skills and test your product. In time, the opportunity for success will reveal itself. And if not, continue writing and inventing for the mere joy of it. Enjoy this season without worrying about consumers.
Everyone else needs to focus on a target audience, and we (because I am in this group) need to stay there until we do. Because publishers and venture capitalists alike, will inevitably sit across a table from us and ask, “who is your target audience?” And while we think this is a stupid question because we believe everybody would want to read our book or everyone would like to buy what we are selling, it’s just not true. Our books and our products, as great as they may be for someone, are not for everyone, at least not yet.
What can we do to change our selfish mindset?
To see the tree in the forest instead of vice versa, we can employ a simple way of thinking that has helped me recently. Instead of approaching our target market with all that we are as complex creatives, we need to concentrate on the specific type of person who would enjoy what we offer.
Here’s my journey:
As I mentioned before, I am an authorpreneur, like many of you reading right now. Still, unlike many of you, I am also a Black female, of a certain age, diagnosed with a strange disease, currently living with my full-time caregiving entrepreneurial mother, and my special needs sister, in a southern town. That’s complex. It makes me unique, but I still have common problems. You are unique as well, but guess what? Your problems are not.
Our problems make us relatable to others and the broadness of our experiences offers us many avenues for revenue but we create another problem when we try to solve them all. Instead of writing about every problem in my life, I had to choose one. I suggest you do the same.
Initially, I set out to lambast the medical, legal, and government communities for making the disability process harder than necessary. I was writing about myself, but I was only in contact with physicians, nurses, other sick people, and a handful of writers. My market was too broad and my readers too few. I could not imagine a doctor reading a book about how badly I thought the healthcare system operated. So my second thought was to write for sick people and try to encourage them. The experience was cathartic; however, I cried each time I tried to share what I had written. Balling in public was not good for my health or oral presentations.
Then I started writing quirky stories about women, which made me laugh. I enjoyed the writing but felt forced to write only about Black people. Even when my characters were not Black, my readers heard them as Black. Eventually, I relented. I figured, why not. I’m Black and beautiful. I can write about my people. But every time I watched television or took part in a family text thread, it reminded me of how unique we were, and that I did not agree with everything Black people said in media, my family, or even in my home. Again, the market was too broad. I could never speak for all Blacks (and neither should anyone else).
In the end, I settled on writing about the girls like me twenty years ago or so, and all the stuff I wish I knew back then about work, race, love, faith, and health. The female prototype I created is my target market for the contemporary topics we face today. She is my audience—the reason I write, and I get to think about her every time I pull up to my desk. She’s the target for my novels.
I still write for families doing life with their special needs loved ones, and I still cry when I do. So I keep that writing in my diary and share only the sweet parts publicly. More importantly, I learned to write my multi-faceted, unique self out of the target market equation. I cannot solve all of my problems with a pen, so I chose to make people giggle and thrive despite our common problems. All the other routes led me down too many dead-end roads, used too much of my energy, and exhausted my time. And that is what indecision does.
As an entrepreneur, it is essential to find our people, our tribe, or whatever you call them and become a business they can trust. As an author, I want my target audience to value my voice because I write for them with authenticity. But I can only do so if I am single-minded.
Deciding on an audience leads to success.
Now that I have shown you that defining a target market can be done, I hope you will try it for yourself. Use the scale-down approach of thinking big but starting small. The bullets below are examples of how to work through each of the three steps.
First, think big and broad about your market. Refer to your long-term goals. What does your primary audience look like?
Next, think smaller. Where do you see yourself in the next five to ten years? What does your secondary audience look like?
- Caregivers of autistic children
Finally, think of an even smaller, tertiary audience. What does your circle of influence look like? This is likely your target market.
- Caregivers of autistic adult children living at home
The tertiary audience you define is the market the facts suggest you should target. If your product is as good as you believe, you will eventually grow to meet the demands of your secondary and primary audiences. This is the long-term goal but you do not have to be overwhelmed by that group of consumers today.
Begin with a specific smaller audience. Learn all you can about them. Accept their feedback and create a habit of building the right products for those within your circle and niche. Your target audience will also trust you because you cater to them, and you resist whims to satisfy everyone else.
Over time, you will gain name recognition and the market will view you as an authority because you know your audience well. Your diligence will make you a boss in your field. In return, your consumers will share information about your products like a Faberge commercial. They’ll tell someone who will tell someone and so on, and so on, and so on.
Pairing down and getting comfy with a single market may feel too safe for creative phenotypes, like us. However, if you follow the facts, and work consistently with your consumers, the results will look amazing on your balance sheet.
Of course, miracles can happen in order to catapult your progress into the stratosphere. There is no doubt that any of us could become a one-hit-wonder or an overnight success. Anything is possible. But if you want to have the success that lasts until your grandchildren are grandparents, then coast a bit, conserve gas, and remain steady.
Once you have a market of dedicated users, clients, or readers, you can explore side roads and other ventures, much as Jeff Bezos did. Remember how he started as an e-commerce distributorship with Amazon, and now he is the owner of Audible, Zappos, Twitch, Ring, Whole Foods, and The Washington Post? Grow slow and steady to realize significant gains.
I’ll leave you with a final Word of Wisdom from 2 Corinthians 6:11-12 in the Message Bible, which states, “Dear, dear Corinthians, I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way.” As Paul instructed the believers in Corinth, so I impart to you, the world’s future leaders in business and prose—live wide, as the unique person you are, in open places around diverse populations but find your target market for business in small, well-defined spaces.
So, who’s your audience? Have you defined them yet?
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