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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My Dad Held the Keys to an Untapped Niche Market

This guest post is by Ainslie Hunter of CoursesThatMatter.com.

When entrepreneurs start online they usually blog about what they know. For me, that was study skills. It is not the sexiest thing to talk about, and actually a hard niche market to crack, but it my first website and has led to some paid blogging jobs in education.

But I was making no money and very few students are interested in commenting on such a site.

So I had a beer with a ProBlogger!

Have you ever seen a tweet from Darren that says “Come over to Ustream and let’s have a chat”? Well I did and one comment really captured my attention. I’m paraphrasing, but Darren was asked whether he thought he could start a successful blog in any niche market. He thought it was an interesting experiment and believed it could be done.

My dad owned supermarkets. And now he owns cutting horses. Cutting is an amazing horse competition that originated in the US. Here is a short video that explains cutting better than I can (there is no blood involved, just a horse and a rider trying to keep a cow away from a heard).

Dad had spent the last nine months listening to me banging on about blogging and social media, connecting through stories, and making money online.

So one day we sat down and he showed me some very popular websites for people involved in the sport of cutting. And I was shocked! They were truly ugly flash sites, plastered with awful advertisements and outdated content.

But they were all making money.

Cutting Horse Link is the newest cutting horse website online, created by yours truly and her dad. Dad writes the posts, and I edit them. Dad turns up to cutting horse shows on the weekends and hands out our flyers. I hustle online, interact through horse forums, and connect via Facebook.

And together we have created a successful online business. Yes, business! In four months we already have a loyal following of members who are approaching us and asking for us to promote them. We have major advertisers and are paying our first writer.

We’re making money quicker than we expected.

I believe good bloggers can be successful in any niche market. Here’s why.

Blog-based sites look different from others. And that is good. It was obvious as soon as a cutting horse fan clicked on our site that we had something different. Cutting Horse Link focused on personal stories, while the other sites put the Sales Barn right out in front.

Our site also speaks differently than our competitors’ do. We are more personal in our stories. We link to other people (including our competitors). I post photos of professional horse riders playing tennis in their spurs. I have a section called “Gooseneck Gossip” and we shoot videos of ourselves and post audio interviews from key industry personalities.

Bloggers know that community takes time to develop. Within this niche market the most common question I have been asked is “What is in it for me?” Because I wasn’t selling anything, the community didn’t trust the site. But that was okay. I knew that if I kept to our writing schedule that people would come to the site. Surprisingly, they came very quickly.

Straight up, dad and I knew we couldn’t do it all by ourselves. So we developed connections with various groups in cutting—youth, parents, trainers, riders, photographers, and even other websites. We took the time to promote them and then asked if they would do the same. This is really important if you are considered an outsider in the niche market. Connections matter. We were able to convince a pro trainer and one of the largest horse breeders to be interviewed by us, which led to more traffic—and more trust.

From the beginning, I had an editorial schedule for the blog. I made sure I had a newsletter from Day 1. And I took the time to make sure that the posts and titles were SEO-friendly. I am surprised at how much traffic we get just from search engines. If I didn’t know SEO strategies, we would certainly be struggling.

If you are going to attempt to write a blog in a niche market you are unfamiliar with, you mustn’t forget the most important rule: content is king! So you need a partner, someone who knows the audience. There is absolutely no way I could do this site without my father. He knows our audience, and knows what stories will interest them. He can pick the trends before they happen and he knows the correct language to use.

My role in the partnership is more as editor or online strategist. I do the technical stuff and model strategies from other successful online businesses.

And together we are having so much fun. Dad now walks around quoting Crush It, and is a big hit on Facebook. Sure, he doesn’t know how to use WordPress and I can’t get him to consider tweeting yet. But he writes great stories and understands that online connections are just the same as those we make in real life.

So next time you are at a family dinner don’t hide in front of the TV or spend the whole time tweeting on your iPhone. Sit and listen to your aunt as she describes her new patchwork quilt or ask your grandfather about his model train collection. You might just find an untapped online business gold mine!

Ainslie Hunter is a busy blogger of Study Skills and Cutting Horses. You will also find her transforming ecourses and writing about why teaching matters Find her on Twitter @ainsliehunter


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