“You specialize in something until one day you find it is specializing in you.” – Arthur Miller

In his reality TV show Kitchen Nightmares , celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey rescues a different failing restaurant each week from the incompetence of its owner and staff. One of his techniques is to help the restaurant create a “signature dish.”

Of course, he does lots of other things too – from revamping the menu and teaching the chef how to cook better to training inept managers and cleaning up filthy kitchens. But the signature dish – a dish the place becomes known for – is one of his favorite ploys for reviving a floundering restaurant.

The signature dish, more often than not, is something simple. For one restaurant, it was a salad. For another, a burger. For a third, meatballs. In each case, the restaurant not only got back on its feet, but became known in the neighborhood for the dish.

So what does this have to do with your business?

In most industries, there is more competition now than ever – more companies competing with each other for business. And in an age of choice, it’s difficult to compete by being all things to all people.

A much better strategy is to specialize – in an industry, a product, a service, a method, a system, a task. In other words, to have a “signature dish.”

My colleague MS is a good example.

A very successful copywriter, MS can – and does – write many different kinds of copy for his clients. But his specialty… his signature dish… is writing white papers.

Early on, he saw an opportunity created by the huge volume of white papers being published. He cleverly moved in to position himself as the preeminent white paper guru. He did this by creating a separate website on white papers. He also published and gave away a free white paper on how to write white papers.

These days, MS has almost more business than he can handle – writing white papers and other marketing materials for his clients.

Now many other copywriters… including yours truly… can write good white papers. But all else being equal, wouldn’t you rather go to the copywriter who is known as “the white paper guy”?

Of course.

Your prospects, too, want to deal with experts – people who are perceived as knowing what they are doing. Since you can’t know everything… nor is it realistic to claim you do… the only way to be a credible expert is to specialize.

If you are a lawyer, you can specialize in forming offshore corporations. If you are a dentist, you can specialize in pediatric dentistry. If you are a contractor, you can specialize in building decks and sun porches.

How do you choose your specialty? Here are some of the deciding factors:

  • What’s in demand? What does the market need? What will they pay a premium price for?
  • What market niches are underserved? In what specialties is there a crying need for more vendors?
  • What education and knowledge do you possess or can you acquire in a short time with reasonable cost and effort?
  • What niches do you already have experience in?
  • What do you enjoy doing? What do you have an aptitude for? What skills do you possess? What are you best at?

One word of warning: Don’t pick a specialty you loathe or have no talent for simply because it looks lucrative or has little competition. Remember the words of Aristotle, who said: “Where your talents and the needs of the marketplace intersect, therein lies your vocation.”

[Ed Note: Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter, the author of more than 70 books, and co-creator of ETR’s Direct Marketing Masters Edition program.

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Bob Bly

Bob Bly is an independent copywriter and consultant specializing in business-to-business and direct marketing. He has been hired as a consultant by such companies as Sony, Chemical Bank, J. Walter Thompson, Westinghouse, and Prentice-Hall. Bob is also the author of more than 50 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books), Targeted Public Relations, Selling Your Services, How to Promote Your Own Business, and Keeping Clients Satisfied. A phenomenal public speaker, Bob will share with you how easy it is to start your own business. Whether you’re ready to quit your job or are just looking to make a little money on the side, you’ll want to hear Bob’s advice.