Positioning: What You Need to Know to Run an Access Business

The clearer you are about who you don't work with, the more likely you are to attract those you do.

Positioning: What You Need to Know to Run an Access Business

Let's talk about marketing today. And, more specifically, positioning.

If you are an Access consultant–and, especially if you run an Access consultancy–marketing and positioning are probably not terms that get you excited.  More likely, you (like me) consider them to be a necessary evil.  Or, you simply avoid them altogether.

The simple fact is, though, if you want to do what you love (build amazing Access solutions for your clients to supercharge their businesses), you have to let your prospective clients know "what it is...ya do here."

That's what positioning is all about.

Positioning and the Concept of "Niching Down"

The paradox of great positioning is this:

The clearer you are about who you don't work with, the more likely you are to attract those you do.

Consider the following example.

Let's say you're a partner in a small family law firm.  You followed your father into the family business.  His one-man practice became a partnership when you passed the bar and joined him on his letterhead.  Despite the sometimes-challenging family dynamics, the practice has thrived. In fact, you recently hired a paralegal and a junior attorney.

Suddenly, the "systems" (such as they were) that your dad relied on when it was just him are straining under the weight of multiple employees.  

The case load has increased.  That's good!  But you're starting to leave money on the table because you can't efficiently manage everything.  You need a good case management system.  Ideally, something that would be integrated with your appointment scheduling software.  You also need to make sure you're not missing important deadlines with so many cases progressing simultaneously, often in fits and starts.

If you're like most professional Access developers I know, you've already started building the database schema in your head as you read the problem description.  You–as an Access developer–know that you can build a perfect, fully custom solution to solve this problem using Access.  But this prospective client does not.

Instead, the prospective client only knows that they need a solution to their problem.

They go searching for a solution.  They start by Googling packaged software solutions but grow increasingly frustrated that nothing seems to fit their situation quite right.  They decide to explore custom software.

They search their network on LinkedIn for a "software developer."  They get four hits:

  1. Sam Hudson: I am an Access developer with 30 years of experience with VBA, SQL Server, and MS Excel.  I have certifications in Azure SQL and Sharepoint.  I have successfully completed over 120 major projects.  I can build anything you need.
  2. Lex Roscoe: Do you want to make your business more efficient?  Do you want to reduce paperwork and streamline your processes.  I build software solutions for small and medium businesses in every industry that can make that dream a reality.
  3. Shannon Combs: I build custom software for service-oriented businesses.  If you are a doctor, dentist, or attorney, I can help you keep your appointment calendar full, reduce no-shows, and automate scheduling of routine follow-ups.
  4. Ayedoan Messarowned: I build custom software solutions for law firms.

Put yourself in the shoes of the prospective client.

Who would you pick?

From 1 through 4, the positioning statements go from broadest to narrowest.  Or, to put it another way, from least to most effective:

  • Number 1 is too "me-focused."  This is who I am.  This is what I do.
  • Number 2 is way too broad.  "Are you an SMB?  Do you specialize in doing 'small business' things?  Do you serve 'medium business' types of customers?"  No small or medium business owner thinks of their company that way.
  • Number 3 is very good, though it doesn't sound like they specialize in custom solutions.  Probably not a perfect fit for this customer, but likely a great fit for many others.
  • Number 4 says absolutely nothing about their credentials or qualifications.  And yet, they somehow sound like they are the most qualified.  Why is that? Their hyper-specific positioning is its own form of credibility.

Niching Down Sounds Too Limiting

As business owners, our intuition tells us not to exclude anyone from our target market.  As consumers, though, we want the option that's best suited to our situation.

If you try to appeal to everyone, you will stand out to no one.

"But wait," you ask, "if I say I only build software for law firms, then I'm shrinking my target market to just law firms, right?"

To which I have two answers:

  1. No, positioning is about marketing, not executing.  A pub with a sandwich board on the sidewalk that says, "Cold Guinness On Tap!" will still happily sell you any of their other half-dozen or more draft beers.
  2. Yes, you will primarily be appealing to law firms.  And if you were based in the United States in 2023, that would have limited your target market to...[checks notes]...450,000 potential customers.  If you could only "corner" 0.01% of that market, you would still have 45 customers:

This brings up two points:

  1. In reality, a niched-down positioning statement is not as limiting to potential clients as it feels to you, the business owner.
  2. Assuming you work remotely, even relatively narrow niches can be quite large in terms of raw numbers.

"Eating Cheetos Naked in a Bean Bag Chair"

While Jonathan Stark's writing is the inspiration for most of this post, my favorite example of the power of niching down actually comes from comedian Ron White:

Yesterday, I was sitting in a beanbag chair naked eating Cheetos and ... I saw ... a televangelist. ...  

He said this, "Are you lonely?"  ... ("Yeah.")

He said, "Have you wasted half your life in bars pursuing sins of the flesh?" ... ("This guy's good.")

He said, "Are you sitting in a beanbag chair naked eating Cheetos?" ... ("Yessss, sir!")

He said, "Do you feel the urge to get up and send me a thousand dollars?" ... ("Close... I thought he was talking about me there for a second.")

Which I guess just goes to show that while positioning is important...it's not everything 😂.

All original code samples by Mike Wolfe are licensed under CC BY 4.0