Episode 90

Episode 90: Ignite Your Brand With A Niche with Mallika Malhotra


What you’ll learn in this episode:

For entrepreneurs, embracing a niche for achieving success is crucial in a competitive landscape that demands differentiation, making it crucial for entrepreneurs to specialize. By having a niche, entrepreneurs can focus their efforts, connect with their target audience on a deeper level, and tailor their products or services to specific customer needs.

Embracing a niche not only positions entrepreneurs as industry experts but also unlocks growth opportunities and long-term success.

In today’s episode I’m joined by Mallika Malhotra, The Brand CEO, where she shares her expertise and experience on why having a niche is a game-changer for entrepreneurial endeavors. As one of my clients, I have watched Mallika embrace this in her own business, and to coach dozens of clients on how to do this too, resulting is differentiation, credibility, and thought leadership in their industries.

Here’s a glance at this episode:

  • Understand the entrepreneurial landscape, and why it’s important to have a niche in saturated markets
  • Explore the benefits of a niche, and how it allows you to focus your efforts and resources in a powerful and economical way
  • Uncover how having a niche enables you as an entrepreneur to connect to your audience and tailor your products or services to specific customer needs
  • Learn how having a niche positions entrepreneurs as experts in their field
  • Discuss niching drastically increases your potential for higher profit margins and reduced competition (setting you up to become a category of ONE – what is better than that? Answer: nothing!)

Mentioned in this episode:

Mallika Malhotra – Main Website

Mallika Malhotra – Instagram

Mallika Malhotra – Facebook

Mallika Malhotra – LinkedIn

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About Mallika Malhotra

Mallika Malhotra is an award winning brand strategist, mentor, and speaker. After years of working in corporate advertising on brands like L’Oreal and Oil of Olay, Mallika now helps women entrepreneurs get clear on their brand message, find their power niche and become the sought-after expert. Her friends and clients call her the brand energizer because she is a strong believer in getting out of your comfort zone, taking action and implementing ideas. When she’s not building brands, Mallika is drinking coffee or red wine, reading a stack of books and dreaming about their next global adventure. She lives in beautiful Maine with her husband, 3 sons and mini Bernedoodle, Jax. To learn more about working with Mallika or to invite her to speak at your event or podcast, visit www.mallikamalhotra.co

[0:01] Hello Malika, welcome to the show. We are so excited to have you here.

[0:06] Oh, I am so excited to be here with you, Jess.

[0:09] This is going to be one of those episodes people are talking about, Malika. We are so excited to talk about branding, niching. You are The Brand CEO, it’s so great. And one of the things that I love about you is how much you brand yourself as The Brand CEO, and how you’re so incredible at showing your clients, and anyone who follows you, how this is done. And so I know that you didn’t always start as The Brand CEO, although I believe it was in your DNA, even before you started this part of your business, and that you had started in another business. So tell us a little bit about, you know, you and where you started and all the things especially for the listeners.

[0:49] Yeah, so thank you. So I’ve been an entrepreneur for 20 years, which is hard to believe. I’ve had like multiple different businesses under my belt from a handbag business to a t- shirt applique children’s business. And then of course, I was a brand photographer for a long time, but prior to that was a Family and Children’s photographer. So I’ve kind of had that roller coaster ride of redefining myself and trying to, you know, step into my skills and my strengths in a way that I could really be working at my, you know, highest excellent form. And I feel like it’s been quite the journey. So most of my entrepreneurial career has been as a photographer. And you know, I started when I had young kids trying to capture their stories, because I live pretty far from my family. And I wanted everyone to know, you know who these boys were, how they laughed what they were interested in. And it was at a time where Facebook was just starting. So I’d be able to share photos. And the next thing I knew I was the kindergarten class photographer. And then people were asking me to take photos of their families for holidays. And I had this little business that was really based on me and the way that I saw the world. And that creativity was like a lifeline for me.

[2:07] And then over time, as my children started to get older, I was less interested in chasing after other people’s children. And I got into more of business photography, so doing headshots. And then in 2015, I actually made the decision to go all in on brand photography, because I saw there was a gap in the marketplace. And I saw that there was a way to kind of leverage some of my corporate advertising marketing background into photography and merge those two worlds. And I cut out everything else, even though these families were like, ‘What how can you not take our holiday photo?’ And my husband was like, ‘How can you say no to people who are willing to pay you?’ But I kind of just had this, you know, gut intuition that said, focus on one thing, and really go all in so that you can become the expert.

[3:01] And what happened was just that people started tagging me whenever the words “brand photography” showed up in a Facebook group, I was the first person who, you know, came up, people were trying to pick my brain about different things, I started to get a lot of clients, women who wanted to, you know, next-level their headshot, and actually include storytelling. And then in 2017, I wrote a book about brand photography, so that actually opened up a lot of doors for me. And what I found, though, with that brand photography offer, which was like a one-to-one offer, right? Was I was always worried what if something happened to my eyes? What if something happened to my hands? Then I would be out of business. I also knew that the photography that I did, was so good, most not because of really my skills as a photographer, but because I was very good at strategy was because I knew how to pull out from my clients, you know, their vision, their mission, you know, who their ideal client was, and matching stories that really would resonate and put them in this, you know, expert status.

[4:08] So I found myself doing just as much strategy as the actual photography. And that’s where my business started to pivot a little bit because I decided I would create a new offer that would position me not just as a photographer, but also as a strategist. So I created this group program called Brand Confidential where I had like 10 brand building blocks to build a standout brand. And that went very much in hand with really good photography. So I was starting to do both for a long time. So of course, you know, fast forward a few years, I took that group program, and I actually made it into a membership. Because I felt like membership was a good model because branding is ongoing. And we also had a pandemic that happened. Brand photography was not an option anymore. And I had a lot of people who were struggling with how to pivot their brands online. So I went from one-to-one to group to now membership. But then, of course, I had another pivot, where people in my membership as it was getting bigger, they wanted more time with me. So I decided to launch a mastermind with the membership, so I had this, you know, more elite circle of people that had gotten more of my attention at a higher price point, but then also did the membership, also doing brand photography, also doing all the things and this was a period where I was just max capacity, started working with you, of course. And you helped me poke a lot of holes in this and really change the business model to, again, go all in and what is really my zone of genius, which was hard for me, because my identity as a photographer was so strong, but I knew that going all in to becoming a mentor, and a strategist was really more easy for me, matching my skills and my strengths and the vision that I saw for my business. So really, that’s kind of the long-winded way of the journey of my business and all of my offers.

[6:19] Yeah, I love this. Okay, so I want to take a second to talk about this going all in this because having worked with you, yes, this is a superpower of yours. You’re so good at tapping into that intuition and following your heart. And I think I could speak for many people listening to the podcast, to say that that really can be a really hard thing to do. So I’d love to understand a little bit more from you. What pushes you over that edge? What, what allows you to take that leap because I agree that we become so wrapped up in our business, it’s a normal thing, it becomes part of our identity. And one of the things that I see, especially as it relates to businesses growing and as it relates to offers is, sometimes we hold on to our offers like they are our “wubbies.” And if that’s not working, it’s actually easier to pivot. But a lot of those times when we need to pivot or want to, it’s not that we’re not being successful, like you were successful, you were doing all the things. And so you still decided to go all in toward what you want. So talk a little bit about how and how you do that, the process of doing that?

[7:30] Yeah, I think a couple of things. So, the first is burnout. I could feel that burnout coming because I was doing, I had micro businesses, probably five micro businesses. And so each business had its own audience with its own message. So like, I had to go out and speak to all those different people with all these different campaigns. And I’m not target, there’s one of me, right with limited energy limited resources. And so I was really the capacity part is something that we don’t talk about as an entrepreneur, right. And we need to design our businesses to match the capacity that we have, and the vision of what we have for our lives at our business. And so that year that I was doing all the things membership, photography intensive, I was at capacity, I was on the verge of burnout. And even though the revenue was good, I knew it wasn’t sustainable.

[8:22] So you have to be honest with yourself to see you know, what is going to be sustainable, so that you’re gonna maintain this business’s brand in the long run. And the second thing is, having all these micro businesses, I often felt almost like an imposter in some of them. Like, I shouldn’t be talking about Instagram in a workshop, I am not a social media. I’m good at it, but I am not great at it. So why am I leading a social media workshop on Instagram, you know? That had to be cut out so that I could lean into what I was an expert in, what my zone of genius is. And so you really have to do that self-discovery and have that self-awareness of mapping out your passions, where your prowess is. What your past experience has been, like, what your vision of your brand is, what you believe in.

[9:11] And this is what I call like, a Brand Brilliance Map is when you put everything on paper, you can see these threads, these common themes of what you could actually be embracing for your brand instead of doing all of the things which sometimes is like the default, right? It’s like sure you asked me to do this alternative. Instead of saying no, I’m not going to do this because as you say, it’s not a hell yes, this is like a, ‘sure, I can do it, but it’s not a hell yes.’ And so I think having that awareness and realizing your capacity and realizing what your zone of genius is were sort of the triggers for me and the catalyst for me to go all in.

[9:55] I love that. I also think it plays so perfectly into like staying in your lane and staying on brand. You know, I always joke that, yes, I’ve done Facebook ads, and I understand them from my own experience, but if someone asked me to help them with their Facebook ads, I would be like, ‘No, that’s not my thing.’ And I would, you know, send them to an expert, but also, I don’t want to be known as the Facebook ads person. That’s not on brand for me. So, you know, we can really have scope creep in that way that really muddies what people know us for and whether or not we’re standing in our thought leadership. And then all the other stuff that you mentioned too, which I think is equally as important, which is, it drains you of your energy, it pulls you out of your zone of genius. And frankly, it’s going to give you less impact. Because when you’re not in that place, you’re not creating the same momentum. And like all roads aren’t leading to Rome, you want everything to kind of go toward one thing. And it really can take up a tremendous amount of your time and energy and happiness, which is a big part of staying the course.

[11:01] Yes. And this is like where that power of finding your niche. That’s why I’m like obsessed. Right? So it’s about like you said, staying in your lane. It’s about knowing what you are a specialist in and building your reputation around that. Right? It’s about figuring out what your, you know, standout superpower is and amplifying that across all of your marketing channels. It’s also about, you know, the offer, like what is the solution that you want to be known for? Like, is it a certain vehicle, a technology? Do you have a certain training? Is it a certain format? Like that’s part of the niche definition process as well.

[11:42] Yes, totally. And I think the tighter that we get into that place, and people have, and this is a question, I’m sure you’ve heard this a lot. You know, people freak out about niching. They freak out about it. So talk a little bit about that. Because I think for again, I’m putting the words in the mouth of the listeners, they’re like, ‘yes, Malika. This sounds awesome. But it also feels like jumping out of a plane with no parachute.’ So talk a little bit about how you help people maneuver through that.

[12:11] Yeah, there’s so much resistance, and I get it. And you know, there is a time where you don’t want to niche maybe in the beginning, when you’re just starting out and you have to experiment, you need to validate, you need to kind of figure out what your lane is. But there’s going to be a point where you hit the wall and your business plateaus, or you’re on the verge of burnout, or you’re being overlooked, and people are going to your competitors for some reason. And it’s because you are not being specific in the problem that you’re solving, and the audience that you’re serving, and in the solution that you’re delivering. And that’s really what the niche is.

[12:47] So for me, there’s four parts of a niche, the first is claiming what you’re a specialist in. And I know the resistance is, I’m a multi-passionate, I’m good at all the things, I’m a hyphenate. Well, that’s great, but guess what? Your audience does not have the time or the mental energy to figure out what you’re good at. Yeah, I have to tell them. I am a specialist. You know, I’m a relationship expert that specializes in finding the love of your life over when you’re over 60 years old, right? I am not just a life coach. But I’m actually a life coach for women in the empty nest stage of their life, whose kids left and they’re trying to figure out what their next chapter is. Right? I’m not just a graphic designer, because there’s so many, I’m a graphic designer for book covers. Defining your specialization so that it is so clear that you’re findable. You’re referrable, you’re memorable and you’re profitable. Really?

[13:51] Yes.

[13:52] So that’s like step one. The second part of your niche is being specific on who you want to serve. So I can serve everyone, I never want to say no people come to me, I want to help them. And as women and mothers, always try to be nurturing and help everyone but you know, more is not a great strategy. You want to get very selective in who you want to serve, right? So that everything that you’re creating is very targeted to them. It’s like a love letter to your specific audience. So if you are a business coach like yourself, you know, you want to figure out who exactly do you want to work with? It’s for, you know, female entrepreneurs who are ready to scale who are experts and speakers. And they’re highly visible, right? It’s they have different pain points than someone who’s just starting out.

[14:42] Sure.

[14:43] So you want to keep in mind that you know, the specialization, and then the specific audience, and then again, we’re going to talk about the solution. We need to figure out what is your repeatable way to get stellar results. That’s part of your niche. So you don’t want 1000 offers, because no one knows how to pick that offer. And they’re confused. I love even the power of one offer that you get to be known for. Because that’s going to be a point of differentiation, if like, I am really good at hosting a mastermind for a small group of women so that they get seen, heard, and valued, and they get results, right? Or maybe it’s, I’m a web designer, and I do Squarespace only, and I deliver a website in seven days.

[15:32] Mm hmm.

[15:33] So you can, your niche can be, you can get known for the vehicle, for the solution just as much as your audience and your expertise.

[15:42] I think also, as a side note, especially for people who are growing, you know, they’re either starting out or growing, it’s one of the fastest ways to make money in your business, because you’re focusing all of your energy, all of your marketing, all of your branding on one offer. And people get the, it’s very simple for them to consume that.

[16:05] Yes, 100%, because you know, that $97 digital book is going to take as much energy as your $5,000 mastermind 100%. So you have to keep that in mind. Like, what do you want your, to funnel your prospects to have that core offer?

[16:24] Yeah, I agree. I agree. So, as you mentioned, you evolve these offers. And when we started working together in the accelerator, that was really where you were letting some of these pieces go and doubling down on that mastermind and creating what you have today, which is incredible. So talk a little bit about that. Because once you, like you said, decided to go all in, made that decision, focused in on that offer, your business exploded. So talk a little bit about that.

[16:53] Yeah, I mean, it was hard to be honest. As you remember to let go of certain, you know, offerings that you spent a lot of time and energy to build. So I had my membership for three years, before I decided to let it go. And once I decided to let it go, because I knew it wasn’t the match to my skills, and it wasn’t getting the results that I wanted for my clients, it was very liberating. Because it just opened up space for me then to go all in on the format, the offer that I knew I was meant to deliver. And having that mastermind and then having the focus and the energy to spend in creating this amazing, you know, cohort and format that really would help my clients, I think it just freed up a lot of space in my head, and then all the marketing could be tailored to that. And then it’s just easier to sell at the end of the day because it’s one offer.

[17:59] So, you know, it’s hard to let things go. But you kind of have to remember that whatever you did in that offer, all the learnings, you’re actually going to carry it on to your next one. And it’s okay, it’s okay. And hopefully the people in the old offer will still want to work with you in the new offer.

[18:16] Yeah, I mean, I think that was a really pivotal point for you is, and this is for everybody listening is, there’s so much expertise, and so much even of the guts of a lot of these offers that you bring with you. I mean, you had an incredible following, you’re providing incredible results for people, they loved you, and you were seeing an opportunity not just for you, but for them, to do what you were doing in a more powerful way. And so it was kind of like trying on these new clothes that you haven’t weren’t worn before. They feel a little bit weird. But there’s something so familiar there that you just took that you actually made it better. And I think that’s another piece too is that sometimes people can feel like they’re leaving it all behind them, blowing it up, and jumping off the cliff. But really, it’s an evolution in your thought leadership, your skills, your ability to get people results, you have that insight to see where those opportunities are. And so I believe if you’re growing thoughtfully and correctly, what you actually put out there will give people better result in better return on their investment. Because you’re steeped in that niche, and you’re learning it even better. You’re becoming more of an expert within the space, which is the beauty of niching down and then creating and scaling your offers in that place versus being a generalist and trying to scale all these random things that you can’t possibly be an expert in because there’s so many of them.

[18:16] Right. Yes. And that’s what we worked on, which I’m so grateful, is that when we shifted from the membership was which was really more broad brand building a little bit more generic to now creating this container, which is for the more seasoned entrepreneur who is ready not to just build their brand, but to amplify their brand, being as the expert. So, you know, I know the language, and the mindset and the problems that they have, they want to be the go-to, they want to be in demand, they want the podcast opportunities and to be speaking, they want the branded framework, they want that next level. And so by making the shift and creating this new program, I was able to, you know, speak to all of that and tailor everything that we were going to be discussing, even the experts that I would bring in, all the trainings was now for that different type of entrepreneur. But it’s scary to let go, right. And there’s guilt sometimes that you feel a little bit, but I do feel now that I’m on the other side, that, and you reminded me of this all the time is that the potency of this offer is so much stronger, and I’m showing up so much stronger as a leader in this offer. And it’s just, it’s been great. I mean, you know, the biggest hump for me was going from, you know, this very affordable price point to now this higher premium price point, right? And how was I going to be able to find those people, but it all works out. Because I think when you’re niching the program and you’re positioning yourself as an expert, then you’re able to ask for the higher price point. Because you’re a specialist. And this isn’t a generic, you know, mastermind, this is something that has been thoughtfully strategically created for a certain type of woman.

[21:34] Yes, absolutely. And depending on your business model, when you think about your offers, and their pricing and your ideal client, and you reverse engineer that, you also may find, especially when you start charging these very premium prices, you don’t need 10,000 people. So the person you’re looking for becomes very clear the number of people that you need, the type of campaigns that you run, it all is very bespoke. And you actually are speaking to less people, but they’re more of your right people. And so to your point, like the whole heavy lift of that, and all of it, just it’s just very different. And a lot of people find that niching in that way with that offer in a very specific way allows you to design your life and your business, hit your goals, make the money, you want to impact the people that you want to impact in a much easier way than when it’s not as clear or it’s more broad.

[22:32] Yeah, 100%.

[22:33] Yeah. So you have this incredible mastermind, now you’re like running a retreat, talk to us about this, like, I’m sure people are like, ‘I want to know what Malika is doing.’

[22:43] So I have a mastermind called The Brand Breakthrough Mastermind, it’s a four-month cohort, small group, so I really try to keep it to like, you know, under 20 people, so that everybody really feel seen and heard and valued. That’s a big value of mine, because I’ve been in many programs where you feel like a number. And so I really want my women to get the tools and the strategies that they need to gain momentum, reach their goals, but also, we feel like, they have the camaraderie and someone really cheering them on that believes in them. So I’m often you know, sending them Voxer, or messages, because I’m like dreaming about their business, their business at all times. But it is, you know, small and intimate. And I think when you have that type of energy, that you really, you accelerate at a faster pace, because you have the accountability you have, you’re seeing what your peers are doing, everybody is kind of locking arms together, and then you have a mentor kind of in your back pocket that is, you know, reminding you of the things that you said you were going to do and sharing, you know, contacts and my network with my clients so that they can just, you know, accelerate faster.

[24:01] So we work on, you know, finding your niche, we work on figuring out your signature, talk, and framework, all the things that really next-level your brand, we talk about offers, and we talked about visibility. And what I love about the mastermind format is that you kind of come to it what you need, right? Of course, there are resources and curriculum, but it’s not a group program. It is more collaborative, where you’re actually showing up and you’re asking for what you need, and you’re leaning on a mentor and you’re leaning on that circle, and then you’re actually in real time doing what you need in real time, with real action, and that’s what I find is that momentum that builds. So that’s what I think is pretty special about this format of a mastermind and of course, you know, my focus is always on the brand and the visibility, and you know, finding that power niche.

[24:51] Yes, I love it. Oh my goodness. So for everybody who has been listening to this, we’re going to give you a little homework. You need to go and look at your assets, look at your brand. Are you niching down or are you broad? Is there an opportunity to tighten this up? As some of the things that Malika has mentioned, can you go in and really look at those and challenge yourself? Do you have too many offers? Does your offer need to be evolved? Is it talking to the right person? All of those pieces because really, it sounds so cheesy, we’ve heard it a million times, but the riches are in the niches, they really are. And not only will it free you up, like Malika was saying, to be in your zone of genius and talk to your person, but I promise you, it will make your business run more smoothly. One of the beautiful things about dialing in is you start to really understand what your ideal client’s problem is, how you’re going to solve it, what they need to hear where they’re hanging out, and it just frees up all that time. So we want you to go and really take a look at this and then we want to go and have you find Malik on the interwebs. So Malika, where can people find you when they want to go look for you?

[26:01] Yeah, so I love to be on Instagram and connect with me there. My handle is @MalikaMalhotra.co or come to my website where you’ll see all the things, MalikaMalhotra.co and learn about The Brand Breakthrough Mastermind. I would love to invite you to you know, have a call with me or learn more about it and see how we can next-level your brand.

[26:22] I love this, Malika. Thank you so much for being on the show. We loved having you, and for everyone, I can’t wait to see you here next week. Have a great week, everyone.