Swim in a smaller pond

Hubby and I recently attended the local chili cook-off, an annual event that brings out the crowds as well as the businesses and politicians hoping to appeal to them. Local architect, business owner and former city councilman Terry Miller was one of the folks manning the ticket table, and familiar chit-chat ensued as we bought our tickets. He knew me, but didn’t know how. He thought perhaps we were friends on Facebook (we weren’t), but really it’s that the area we live in is just a small-town kind of place.


Yes, there are some 30K+ people in the city – Douglasville – and 100K more in the surrounding county, and yes, we are included in a metro area (Atlanta) that’s supposed to be the ninth largest in the country. But if the rest of the country can be connected in the posited Six Degrees of Separation (or, of Kevin Bacon – if you prefer), here there would probably be one person separating you and any other random inhabitant.

Douglasville Famous

Miller is a friend of a friend, and that may be how he was acquainted with me. I’ve also had a good bit of publicity recently (thanks, Chamber of Commerce!) so that may have helped. It’s not hard to figure out how I was familiar with him.

I’ve peeked through the windows of some of the buildings in the historic downtown area that his firm restored (nice work, BTW). He ran for Mayor of Douglasville. He spoke at hearings in favor of a ballot initiative I worked on. So, no surprise that I was fairly well acquainted with him. I told him that I knew him because he was “Douglasville Famous.” He reacted with mock indignation. At least, I thought it was mock…

More recently, I ran into him at a Chamber event. He mentioned telling a couple of other people about being labeled “Douglasville Famous.” Then I felt a little bad, and compelled to explain myself.

I asked him what happens when he Googles “Terry Miller.” He said basically everybody comes up except him.  “What about when you search ‘Terry Miller Douglasville architect’?” His eyes lit up a bit.

See, it’s not that Miller shouldn’t be well known beyond Douglasville for his accomplishments. It’s that when he competes for attention with the masses – instead of people that care the most about what he does – his accomplishments drown in a sea of nationally-known Terry Millers.

How to be kind of a big deal

Owl Jones Art - First Worm paintingThe principles behind being discovered and appreciated by prospective customers apply to something even more important than Google searches, going straight to the heart of your business.

If you’re competing in a broad market, think about what narrower aspect of it you do really, really well. The smaller this niche, the more likely you are to be able to dominate it and excel in it. Competing in a broad market – whether it’s a huge geographic area or a service or product provided by many others – can be deadly when you have a small-town marketing budget.

My husband’s business is in a highly specialized niche. One that, done wrong, can be at best costly and at worst deadly. He worked a lot harder to market himself in the beginning, but once word got out he really didn’t need to do much except keep satisfying customers. The rest of us should be so lucky.

Everyone’s a “web designer”

Personally, I struggle to define what I do. The term “web designer” is the one with which people are most familiar. But using that term lumps me in with a whole lot of people whose qualifications and services vary wildly from mine. Until I can figure out what words and phrases make sense to the small but growing businesses I want to serve, I’m not going to worry about acquiring Internet status. But I will need to continue meeting and talking to people so that eventually they might understand how I can help.

John Jantsch nailed this dilemma when he wrote:

…here’s the real problem. Your prospects don’t know what you have to offer that is unique so they perceive that your business is pretty much like everyone else that says they do what you do. And that’s your real competitor.

I’m at my best when working closely with a business to figure out how I can help them be their best online. Website design is at the core, but it’s also about what systems I can put in place that might streamline their processes and save them time or money. That can’t even fit in the dreaded “elevator speech,” let alone Google search keywords. But it’s my niche. And I’m going to keep working at refining how I explain myself until I’m speaking the same language as the people who need me.

Now this you can do

Another passage from that same post linked above:

Here’s my belief. I don’t think that any two businesses, regardless of the products or services they offer, are the same. In that regard no one can offer what you offer, not exactly. No one can compete with what you do, not exactly.

If he’s right – and I believe he is – success is less about dominating the competition than it is about finding and communicating that small, sweet spot in your market – the one where you shine.

The painting shown in the image accompanying this post is entitled “First Wurm,” and was created by American artist Owl Jones. Jones is a fine art painter and mixed media artist. A native Georgian, Jones lives and paints in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. To see more of Owl Jones’ work or get in touch with him, visit and Like his Facebook page.