Interview with Ms Rory Kelly Connor, Peak Potential Coach and Brand Strategy Expert

To Niche or not to Niche, that is the Question ?
(Personal Branding & Career Issues)

1.  Rory, as an MBA student I was always told to become a specialist but one needs to become a generalist to reach the top (become a CEO). In fact some top management institutes in India like IIMs offer specialization in general management. What is your opinion? 
There is a certain wisdom in choosing to specialize in one thing, working toward being able to claim you are an “expert.” Expertise is a beautiful aspect of one’s capabilities on a resume. Yet, in today’s marketplace, it does not differentiate as it once did as so many others can also claim “expert” or “expertise” in the same area. Only in exceptional cases, usually with people who are the unique innovators of a new product, service or idea does this stand alone as a differentiator (e.g., Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook).
 Therefore, having several developed areas of strength and expertise, as well as skill sets, can be more valuable to bring to potential employers or clients. It also makes you more marketable when branded/positioned appropriately. I can’t tell you how often my career coaching clients tell me that potential employers won’t hire them because the job opening doesn’t EXACTLY meet their work history (because they specialized), even though they bring superior strategic thinking and planning skills that would make them a perfect fit from a skill set perspective.
 So, my response is, “Develop all areas of strength you possess and learn to re-position yourself/brand specific areas for specific targeted audiences.” I also encourage my coaching clients to explore creativity, to nurture and grow other personal passions, as these exercises allow the mind to problem-solve, discover, explore, create, and imagine. These escapes can lead to invaluable insights and new thinking that can be used in professional situations and challenges.
 Regarding CEO aspirations… Truly effective and powerful CEOs do need to understand and carry an expertise in their industries’ products and services, regulations and related issues. Yet, more important are the skill sets they bring to the table: leadership, decisiveness, confidence, effective communication skills, strategic thinking, problem solving, interpersonal people skills…To truly stand out and shine in today’s world, a blend of both expertise and business/people skills are what separates the great from the good.
 As an added note, don’t necessarily believe any advice you get from an academic institution or program which insists you need some training or education or certification that they can “sell” you to be marketable. This direction can be often self-serving. Instead, speak to working professionals in your field about what is needed to get where you want to go. Many times, you don’t necessarily need advanced training or degrees that simply feed ego-based arrogance. That said, sometimes you do…(smile)…that’s why I became a Certified Life and Career Coach through an International Coach Federation-accredited program. The training was invaluable to me and my ability to coach effectively. Wouldn’t have wanted my obstetrician delivering my son if he hadn’t received appropriate training!

2.  We have moved from specialist to super-specialist. Is it ruining our holistic vision? After all, no department can work in isolation. What is your take? 
Answer above covers this. One addition/exception…
 If you are a super-specialist in a new area that is “brand new” and evolving, is marketable and lucrative, aligns with your passion and career aspirations, then my advice is to go for it. Super-specialize. Immerse yourself. Ride the wave. The important things to ask yourself are:
1)    If I super-specialize, is this the ONLY thing I want to do professionally for the next X number of years, the only thing I want to talk about, be known for, explore?
2)    At this point in time, where do I believe I want my career to go, what direction am I headed, what do I want to be doing in 10 years time? If the answer is “I want to be working as a super-specialist in exactly the same area for the next 10 years, then it may be the choice for you to super-specialize. If not, well….you only get where you take yourself.

3.  Is it the right time to develop multiple specialties in the beginning of one’s career or at the peak of one’s career? 
I can’t tell you how many career coaching clients have come to me at the end of their rope because they hate their jobs, hate the work, hate going into the office every day doing what they do not want to do anymore. When I ask them how they got where they are, they state that the area seemed like a good idea at the time they started their careers. Then the HR establishment kept them stuck in one lane on the highway of growth as they moved up and from one company to another. After a few years, they couldn’t get off that same highway. And they are tired of the same old road that’s heading north when they want to go south. Quite a conundrum.
 My recommendation for anyone is to develop your strengths and passions, at all stages of your career. You can do this both within and outside of your career. Being focused can be crucial to success in those areas. Give them the time they need to become valuable. Yes, sometimes this means focusing on one thing at a time to master it. Yet, don’t forget to go back and attend to those other areas. Bottom line, being a multi-faceted, flexible person with several areas of strength makes you a more valuable team player, leader, friend, mate and personality. And work on developing the interpersonal communication skills that interest you and you will need to succeed (writing, speaking, negotiating, planning, project management, etc.). Accept and develop what you are good at and get help with anything else you need but do not do well (or learn to delegate to others who are good at those activities).

4.  To niche or not to niche has become the dilemma for building your personal brand. What would be your advice? 
We are all the CEOs of our own lives and careers. So, we get to choose, to be anything we want. Our “personal brand” ultimately is the sum of who we are. That said, I don’t like the question. I feel that the question begs an “either or” answer for all human beings on the planet. Therefore, the question is flawed.
 To niche or not to niche? The true and most intelligent, strategic answer is…it depends on the person. For instance, it depends on career focus, goals (short AND long-term), industry, a personal SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats), mission statement and core values. To niche or not to niche is much more easily and effectively determined at the personal brand level if this process is thoughtfully tackled first. It also helps get you clear on who you are and what you care about. Knowing this is often crucial not only to personal success but also personal happiness.
 Once you have delved deeply into a personal branding exercise (which is made more powerful and accurate by working with someone that understands the process, for instance me), you know what you are working with from a branding perspective. Choices need to be made on what to focus on, whether to niche or generalize or focus on several complimentary areas. These choices may be determined by the goals. Goals could be anything from getting a specific job in a specific industry or work/life balance or doing a job you love or owning your own business….or any number of other goals subjective to the individual’s desires.
 For instance, maybe the goal is making money and there is an audience that is hungry for a specific set of services right now. Or maybe the goal is foreign travel and the jobs that would allow you that opportunity fall in one area where you have a strength. Yet, only certain industries or companies align with your core values or mission statement. All of these questions should be explored and answered before we limit ourselves, before we define ourselves, before we publicly “brand” ourselves and who we are, what we offer, what we are capable of doing.
 Once we know what we are working with and make those decisions on where we will focus time and energy, what we think will work or not work from a career/business perspective, we begin to build a brand plan to support our personal brand identity (who we are/what we offer/where we are). This includes development of a tailored mission statement, core values, key messages, and targeted audiences. The key is that you are crystal clear on each area of expertise (niche), know who your potential market or audience is for each, and know how to get their attention and motivate them to “buy” those products or services.
 If you want to pursue a multi-dimensional brand identity with various offerings or areas of expertise, the important thing is to choose an integrated identity that makes sense, where the parts work together to bolster the whole. Again, this is where strategic thinking and decisions come into play. Sometimes, some passions and competencies need to be sacrificed for the time being because they don’t “fit” the overall brand theme.
 So my answer is determine who you are, what is right for you and your lifestyle, aligns with your integrity and life goals, maximizes your talents and makes you happy. Be smart by doing the work to find out what those answers really are for you. And feel free to change your mind or direction, to refine and re-define as you learn more or grow.

5.  Every management guru talks of focus. Focus in case of Personal Brand means specializing in a niche and general belief is it helps a person in traveling the quick road to success. What is your opinion? 
I agree that focus is key to any success, no matter what the challenge. My opinion is simply that you should focus on something until you master it. Practice makes perfect.
 If you are going to position yourself as a specialist, an expert, you had better have the skills and know-how to back it up. Yet, in an ever-evolving, ever-changing marketplace, the expert today could be the novice tomorrow as new innovations are discovered and launched, making old ways of doing and thinking obsolete. So, my advice is don’t assume that specializing is enough to stand out or catapult you to success and clients, offers spilling in the door for an unlimited time. Truly innovative companies and clients are already thinking about what’s coming 5 and 10 years down the line, working to hire people who understand the bigger picture, the long-term scenario. Smart people who get that and are flexible to change are positioned for great things.


6.Do you think specializing in a niche is a high risk, high gain strategy from Personal Branding point of view? 
Think this is answered above.

7.Any other advice you would like to give to a person who has just begun his/her Personal Branding process. 
Yes. Ask for guidance from people working in the field you want to be working in and do your research. Know your market(s). Do the work to create a strategic brand plan before you go out and start selling and promoting who you are. Get good counsel to make sure it makes sense and is powerful. Change it whenever it needs it. And, most importantly, listen to yourself more than others. Only you know what makes you happy and offers fulfillment.

Thank you Rory for enlightening us. It was really a pleasure intereacting with you.
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A Brief Profile
Rory Kelly Connor is a Peak Potential Coach, Certified Life & Career Coach & Brand/PR Strategy Expert
She is also the CEO, Founder & President at Can You Imagine Life Coaching LLC, USA.

Her company's punchline is, "If you can imagine, you can make it real"

Connect with Rory on Linkedin
Company Website

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