Warning: Tangent Ahead
A few months ago ‘V’ and I took a some time off to go on a weekend road trip to a country town in the North East of our state called Beechworth.
One of the interesting things about the lead up to the trip was the well over half the people we told where we were heading immediately would tell us about the Beechworth Bakery (in fact it was probably closer to 80-90% of people).
I wasn’t surprised by this as I’d come across the bakery a number of times over the past couple of decades. Firstly as a child visiting Beechworth but then in more recent years as someone interested in business and coming across the name of the owner of the bakery (Tom O’Toole) many times as an entrepreneur who does a lot of public speaking and who has written a number of popular books on the topic of how he’s built his business. Tom has a reputation of being a pretty zany kind of guy who has built a multi-million dollar business.
When we got to Beechworth the Bakery was even bigger than I remember it as a child – business has been good for Tom. The Bakery now occupies two levels and is a dominant feature of the main street of what is a reasonably small country town with a big focus on Tourism for it’s Gold Mining History.
We enjoyed a number of good lunches and coffees at the bakery over the weekend (as well as some other very fine restaurants which the town has) but I didn’t think much more about Tom and his bakery until this past weekend when we were traveling through two other rural towns/cities in another part of the state (Echuca and Bendigo) and came across two more ‘Beechworth Bakeries’.
It seems that Tom has gotten into the Franchise business and that there are now 7 ‘Beechworth Bakeries’ across the country.
As I sat having lunch in one of them last Friday I began to ponder what Tom had done.
His original business is now over 20 years old and as far as I can tell it’s only been in the last 4 or so years that he’s gone the franchise route. Over the proceeding years he’s built up a strong business in Beechworth and has built it’s (and his own) profile around the state. He’s done such a good job of building this profile that my recent experience shows that most people think of his bakery before anything else when the town of Beechworth is mentioned.
In many ways starting a bakery in Beechworth might not seem like the smartest business move to make (it has a population of 3500 – 4000 from memory) but Tom’s made it work.
There are many reasons for his success (his books have many principles that he set his business up by) but one of the powerful ones that I can see is that Tom dominated his niche – the niche of bread and cakes in Beechworth. Rather than starting up a bakery in the heart of Melbourne (a city of millions) where he would have been a small fish in a big pond and probably would have gone largely unnoticed – he picked a place where he could be the biggest fish.
It’s out of this domination that he’s been able to branch out into other locations via the franchise. Now when people are driving through Echuca, Bendigo or one of the other rural centers that Beechworth Bakeries are located in people are familiar with the name (and quality of his service) and are likely to pull in for a cake or two. By the numbers of people I saw in the two bakeries we visited this past weekend the strategy is working.
So what does this have to do with blogging as a business?
The Beechworth Bakery story (or the little bits of it that I know) reminded me of a number of conversations that I’d had with bloggers recently. One of the questions I’m being asked more and more is around how to become established as a blogger when you’re just starting out. With millions of other blogs being started every month or so on virtually every topic how does one get established when they don’t have a profile already or when they are not in a position to be able to afford a big advertising campaign?
This is a good question – and one that to be honest I don’t have ‘THE’ answer for. But one of the things I’ve been challenging people who ask the question to ponder recently is this idea of tackling a niche topic and dominating it. This isn’t new advice – but I’ve been wondering lately whether instead of tackling a niche topic whether it might be useful to break things down even more and target sub-niches.
Yaro and I talked about this in our recent podcast and I’ve found myself coming back to it ever since.
The example we used in the podcast was ‘digital cameras’ which is a topic I have done well with having started my digital camera blog a couple of years ago (I was at the right place at the right time). Of course these days it’s a lot harder to succeed with that topic because there are literally hundreds of sites (many of them blogs) on it. So if that’s an area you want to blog in a smarter way forward might be to find a niche within the niche that others are not dominating and to make yourself a name there. This is, in effect, what Chris Garrett (of performancing fame) is doing with DSLRBlog. I’m not sure if his choice of topic is strategic (he and those he’s writing with seem to be doing it out of passion more so than anything else from what I can see) but it’s a smarter move than starting a mega digicam blog. Of course the DSLR space is getting crowded now too (I know of at least 5 other sites on the topic) but it’s an example of a sub-niche blog.
Once you’ve established a name for yourself in a sub-niche it then becomes a little easier to expand into other neighboring areas of the niche (just as Tom is now leveraging his profile and is launching bakeries in other rural centers around my state).
I don’t believe that Sub-Niche blogging is the answer in all situations – but with the vast numbers of bloggers getting into entrepreneurial blogging I suspect it’ll be a direction many bloggers take – and one which a smaller number will have real success with.