The BOLD Show | Episode 16 | Finding Your Niche
Growing your business doesn't always mean doing more. In this episode of the BOLD Show, host Mike Arce sits down with Russ Perry of Design Pickle to explore the concept of niching and how scaling down can have big impacts on your bottom line.
[00:00:00] In this episode, I'm here with Russ Perry, the founder of graphic design company Design Pickle. After niching, his business hit seven figures in just 16 months. Design Pickle now makes $500,000 a month in recurring revenue and is quickly approaching eight figures. Focusing down allowed him to develop the right processes for his specific audience, becoming a bigger authority, attracting more of the right clients, and 4X the size of his business in 2017. Russ is also the author of The Sober Entrepreneur. And today we're talking about the power of niching, and effectively growing your business.
[00:00:38] Growing a small business isn’t easy. To be successful, we know three things for sure: You have to work hard. You have to be bold. And you must constantly learn. We're gathering some of the best minds in the business world to share their ideas and strategies with you, so you can grow your business easier, be more profitable, and have a lot more fun being a business owner. We’re on a mission to connect the world of wellness. And this is the MINDBODY BOLD Show.
[00:01:14] [Mike Arce] What's up everybody. I'm Mike Arce. Welcome back to another episode of the BOLD show. Today, I'm here with Russ Perry, an incredible entrepreneur who learns from incredible entrepreneurs and wrote a book on entrepreneurism. And we're going to have an amazing episode for you guys.
[00:01:29] Russ, welcome to the BOLD Show.
[Russ Perry] Thanks, man.
[Mike Arce] All right. So, I've known you for a long time, and I've seen you grow so much in your journey of being an entrepreneur. And the people that you've gotten to learn from and network with is incredible. But it wasn't always an amazing journey, I guess. Right? Like in the very beginning.
[Russ Perry] There were the dark times.
[Mike Arce] There were dark times that I think every entrepreneur goes through. And some people watching and listening are maybe going through that struggle right now. Where they're just like, I don't know what to do. I'm stuck in my business. I feel like I can't break this wall that everyone else seems to be able to break. Which that’s just a belief because we're only looking at the rock stars, right.
[00:02:10] You've hit that wall. You were in there. And you not only broke through the wall, but you just blew up with your business.
[00:02:16] So I want to talk to you about the things that you believe really helped you break that wall down, and how you've also been able to leverage it on an ongoing basis and also help other entrepreneurs do it, too.
[00:02:28] [Russ Perry] Totally.
[00:02:29] I mean, I think the first thing that I really experienced as a breakthrough during the dark times—that was a pathway to, let's say, the light times or better times—was realizing how much my identity was wrapped up in my business.
[Mike Arce] What do you mean by that?
[00:02:47] [Russ Perry] I was the creative agency guy. My past business was a creative agency. We were a generalist agency. I was more focused on making money any way I possibly could, scattered all around it. But I also liked this brand about myself—being “the agency guy.” And it turned out that I cared more about that brand than I cared about creating a business that had a process, and a system, and I actually knew who my clients were. I mean, I would joke. And I still, to this day, I think during that time, most of my close friends couldn't even refer my business because they weren't even sure...
[Mike Arce] ...What you really can help with specifically.
[00:03:29] [Russ Perry] Yeah. Exactly.
[Mike Arce] So, let's say, like, a fitness element. It's people that want to be the fitness person—the lifestyle fitness person. They want to help you lose weight, gain weight, whatever your goal is. But they're not actually talking to any one specific person.
[Russ Perry] Right.
[Mike Arce] Similar to that?
[00:03:44] [Russ Perry] Exactly. And especially when you're starting out, which I felt like I was in startup mode for, you know, eight years. I never got out of startup mode. And then we closed the doors. But if you're looking at limited time and limited resources, from marketing, sales—you're up early, you’re up late, you’re hustling—one of the best ways to shoot yourself in the foot is to make yourself un-referable. Where people don't know: Like Mike, your that guy. You're the guy for that thing. I'm going to refer you. And that was our Achilles’ heel—a lot of foot references, here. A big athletic audience.
[00:04:19] [Mike Arce] So, as an example, if let's say I said, “Man, I need to buy a new domain for my company.” Where does everybody think of right away?
[Russ Perry] GoDaddy.
[Mike Arce] That's their thing. Now they do a bunch of other stuff, but they've built their brand around that thing. But there were a ton of people selling domains already, right? Before that. But they never really focused their niche on that. They were selling websites and all that kind of seemed like a byproduct to them. GoDaddy decided to own it, and now they are the first company that people think of when they have to go get a domain.
[00:04:47] [Russ Perry] Exactly. And that was the key that we failed to acknowledge, or that I failed to acknowledge for so many years as I was starting out as an entrepreneur. It’s look, I can do many things, but my brand needs to be—I need to be the best at one thing. At least, from a branding or marketing perspective, because that means, you know, cheaper paid search. If I'm doing that. It means cheaper referrals, because everybody knows me as that person. And that gives me that leg up. Versus when I was the generalist, it's just kind of like: “I like Russ. Russ is a nice guy. But I don't really know what he does.”
[00:05:21] [Mike Arce] Exactly, and you don't even believe that all the tools are specifically built for you. So you feel like: What will work? What won't work? You even take CRMs. There's great CRMs out there. But MINDBODY specifically built their CRM for people in the fitness and wellness space. And so, that eliminates other industries. And they can 100 percent put their focus on constantly creating, not just content, but also creating tools and ideas and integrating with partners, and other apps, that can just help that one customer. And not feel like, Oh well that's not going help this guy. But we just don't help that guy. We only help these people.
[00:06:02] [Russ Perry] And at the end of the day, like, if I look at MINDBODY, which I've been a customer of. I've gone to so many yoga and fitness programs that have it and use it. That is a brand that I begin to trust. And let's say, one day I ditch my whole Design Pickle thing, and I go somewhere else. Like, and I go, say, start a studio. I want to go to the experts. Like, there may be 20 other CRMs that I can use. But why waste my time with the ones that aren't the expert? And that was the ultimate lesson that I learned during the dark ages, I guess.
[00:06:33] [Mike Arce] Now you mentioned Design Pickle, and we haven't even referenced it yet. So everybody that just heard—did he just say Design Pickle?
[00:06:38] So let's talk about that. Because what you were doing, being the generalist, that could help a lot of people but [you] weren't talking to anybody specifically. You decided to get— you got clarity. And you just decided to really focus on a customer and a service that you provide to that customer. Right?
[00:06:56] So give me the example, by actually tell me about you and Design Pickle.
[Russ Perry] So Design Pickle was founded, again, out of this wander-ous state that I had. And I looked at all the clients and all the engagements that I had done from a creative standpoint, and asked myself one simple question. This was: When were my clients the happiest? And when they were the happiest is when we were doing boring, everyday design, really, really reliably.
[00:07:20] Like the PowerPoint presentation, the Facebook ad, and the graphic for the website banner. They were ecstatic when we would deliver that. We would work on a three-month, huge, big ass project, and like they would be like, “OK, thanks. But when’s my banner going to be done?”
[00:07:40] And so, that's what we created with Design Pickle. It's a flat rate. You know, as much as you can eat. [It’s an] all-you-can-eat graphic design service that gets you a dedicated designer that you work with as much as you need to get that subset of graphic design done. Not the whole spectrum of design, but that everyday content you need.
[00:07:58] [Mike Arce] So people that, let's say, they don't want to constantly be sitting at the computer designing stuff themselves or contracting out. They can easily just have a contracting system like yours. Where they can go, “Cool. I need this.” And I can get it done in the same day.
[00:08:10] [Russ Perry] It's like renting a designer, but that designer is the same person all the time.
[Mike Arce] Or like Uber.
[Russ Perry] Imagine Uber, but like the same guy shows up at your door. So you get a dedicated designer. And that's where I saw the gap in the creative market. And that's where I identified my niche. You had agencies. You had full-time designers. You had freelancers. You had marketplaces. You had all these different kinds of people that were providing design support. But there wasn't that middle ground. Hey, I just want to work with the same person, but I need it in a reliable way. I don't always want to have to go down to a Starbucks and brief them on my project every time. Or, have them, like, move to Thailand because they decided to start some other business, and now my guy’s gone. Which happens a lot
[00:08:57] [Mike Arce] Joe Polish, who is known as a marketing guru. He said something that was very interesting. And it was: Being the best at what you do doesn't get you paid. Being great at marketing gets you paid. And part of marketing—a lot of people think marketing is running ads and it’s advertising. Marketing is the entire vision. And what's our message? Who are we talking to? How are we packaging it up? How are we presenting it? That's all marketing. And so, when you take certain brands that specifically speak to a specific person. like MINDBODY, it's easy for that audience to receive that information and understand what it is and, like you said, refer it. It’s what you did for Design Pickle. It’s what GoDaddy did. It’s what MINDBODY does. So, for a lot of people that are watching and listening, think about it for you. What is it that you do every single day? Who do you help the most? When are your clients the happiest? And how can we just refine it, so we can just talk to that one person?
I had a friend of mine, she was a massage therapist. Actually she was my massage therapist and then she moved. But she was like, “Man, I'm getting all these different certifications. I'm doing hot stone. I'm the only one. I'm one of seven people in the world that know how to do this type of massage.” She was learning so many different things. Because she believed if she knew more about massage, and did more than any other massage therapist, then it's clear. She's got to be the obvious choice. But there were people crushing her that only knew how to do, like, one type of massage, because they knew how to speak specifically to that one person.
[00:10:34] [Russ Perry] Absolutely. I mean, I was just in Thailand two weeks ago. And I got a Thai massage, which—a.) was the hardest message I've ever gotten in my life. Like, it gave me bruises. But there was one lady in there who, if she moved here to the United States, could be the best Thai massage person because she's been doing it. She was, like, 80 years old. And she was the expert. She was the niche expert at it. And it just goes to show. I will always remember that, too. Granted, it's hard to refer things in Bangkok. But that power of the niche is so transformative. It's something that takes clarity. And it takes space to realize. But once you own it—I mean, you could own it and you can grow at a rapid rate.
[00:11:17] [Mike Arce] So now, there's a lot of people watching and listening that are going, “all right. I kind of get it. Maybe I should focus.” But I bet you anything, while they're watching and listening, they're spinning their wheels. And they're going, “What would I focus on? But then I might lose this.” You mentioned clarity was important.
[Russ Perry] Correct.
[Mike Arce] So how did you go from scatterbrain—and your head was in a thousand different places, and not knowing who would be that person—to, OK, this. What did you do to clear your head and get there?
[00:11:46] [Russ Perry] For me the path of clarity started, honestly, with taking care of myself first. The career that I had for eight and a half years was a career that was stressful. It was a career where, as I talked about in my book, I was abusing some substances, alcohol. And I just didn't have the space in my own life to manage stress and to create. I always imagined a physical bubble around myself, where I actually have some room between the chaos of the world. That I could sit back, and actually see myself. Or look at what I've been doing and say, “You know what? Aha!” That's what I should do. That's what I should be niche about.
[00:12:28] And the problem, as an entrepreneur, like everything goes from here to here. And you're just getting hit all the time. And even if you want to niche, even if you're agreeing with what we're saying right now, you're like, “Yeah, well great idea, Russ and Mike.” But I have got invoices and I have got training and I have got to do this. And I have got to, you know, call this guy back, and I have got to find this person. And you don't have that space. And so, creating that space started with me first. Health and wellness, a healthy lifestyle, and balance, for me. Which is ironic, because that's something I would tell people. That is so important for others to do. Yet, I wasn't doing it myself.
[00:13:03] [Mike Arce] Now people that may be feeling fear to niche—maybe they know what they should niche in. Maybe they've already thought about it. Yeah, you know what, I do help a lot of overweight women that are parents that don't have a lot of time. That's who I help most. Or maybe they say competitors, or athletes. So maybe they know. But that fear exists. Did you have fear when you got the clarity still? Or were you just like, “OK, cool. That's what I should do.”
[00:13:30] [Russ Perry] There was fear, but more like FOMO—the fear of missing out. But it was easier to get paid. Like, that fear subsided very fast. When all of a sudden, in the first month, we launched with our new niche and
[00:13:46] I was getting clients better and easier, that were happier than I ever had in my entire career. And then I looked around at all the businesses or the business entrepreneurs that were massively successful and doing a lot better than I did, and they were all just picking one thing. And so, as much as we want to say the money doesn't matter and you have to do it, it was really nice to get paid.
[00:14:08] [Mike Arce] Well and it's not that the money doesn't matter. It's like the scoreboard. [Russ Perry] Correct.
[Mike Arce] You know, if you don't know how much time—if you're playing a sport, and there's no shot clock and there's no score, how do you play the game? Versus, if there's 10 seconds left on the clock and you're down by two, you play at a much different level. Your focus is so much clearer. So, I definitely understand that. Now you started your new company—the Design Pickle company. When did you start that?
[Russ Perry] In 2015. January 2015.
[Mike Arce] Okay. How long did it take for you to finally hit seven figures? Because I know you crossed that line.
[Russ Perry] 16 months.
[Mike Arce] So in 16 months you crossed seven figures. And have you continue to grow since then?
[00:14:48] [Russ Perry] Yeah, I mean today we are at about $500,000 a month.
[00:14:53] [Mike Arce] Wow. OK. So you're approaching eight figures. Now with your company before that was not niche—and you were still awesome at it—but you were not niche. How long did it take for you hit seven figures?
[Russ Perry] Eight years.
[Mike Arce] Okay. And then, once you hit it, did you exponentially continue growing?
[00:15:09] [Russ Perry] Nope. We hit zero profits and we closed it six months later.
[00:15:14] [Mike Arce] And so that just shows. What’s that phrase? Revenue’s for vanity. Profit’s for sanity. But cash is king. So you were able to say you were a seven-figure business.
[Russ Perry] But It didn't matter.
[Mike Arce] That didn't matter because you weren't making money.
[Russ Perry] Exactly.
[Mike Arce] And you were making more money when you were, probably, a six-figure business with the new company that you were able to niche and really focus on. Not only how to get your marketing message out there clearly, but also how to create really great processes that are consistently working for everyone.
[Russ Perry] Correct.
[Mike Arce] Your employees and your customers.
[00:15:40] [Russ Perry] And that to me—you hit the nail on the head on what our secret sauce is, which is applicable to any business in any industry. When you niche, you create a system of creation that you can improve. You can troubleshoot when things go wrong. You can go to the proverbial assembly line and say, “Hey, this was working, but now it's not.”
[00:16:01] And you can scale it, which is what I could never do without taking that stand and just focusing on it.
[Mike Arce] And since now seeing, OK, that clicked, you've been on this mission to help other entrepreneurs click and get it, too. And so that's why you eventually wrote this awesome book, The Sober Entrepreneur. Will tell you me about the title real quick?
[00:16:23] [Russ Perry] So The Sober Entrepreneur is a duality title about my personal journey around substance and actually getting sober. I've been sober now for over four years. And then it's also about this other storyline, which I also experienced. When we get addicted to a business that isn't healthy for us. And so I expand on both topics. I talk about it back and forth, between my personal story, as well as looking at how anyone could get addicted. Or even just that idea of a business, and the steps that they can take to break free from that and create a healthier life.
[00:16:56] [Mike Arce] And I'm sure the parallels are there. But just like when people are addicted to alcohol and haven’t come to terms with it yet. Or don't think they are. There's a lot of people that are addicted to their businesses, and no one knows it. But this is different. When it comes to substances—when you're addicted, everyone around you knows it and wants to help you.
[00:17:14] [Russ Perry] I disagree. People hide it. Most people didn’t know I struggled. It's actually the same as a bad business versus a business where everything looks like it’s great. Now some people do struggle, and that's usually when you're hitting rock bottom. That's when people notice—when you hit rock bottom. But I argue that there's a lot of people out there who are addicted probably to, both, substances and a bad business, that you would never even know. And that's why I wrote the book, to connect with them and hopefully help them.
[00:17:43] [Mike Arce] That's awesome. Well, Russ, you've done an incredible job with your business, as well as helping many other businesses really get that click to happen. Finding a niche. And really being able to take the hard work, time, the money that you spend to making something work, and actually making it work, as opposed to just constantly spending and wondering what's going on. You've done a great job of helping people and I know you're on this mission and I encourage you to continue it because you're doing a great job.
[Russ Perry] Thank you very much for having me.
[Mike Arce] And for everybody that watched and listened in today.
[00:18:15] Thank you so much. And we will see you next week.
[00:18:19] Thank you so much for joining us today.
[00:18:21] If you like this episode, then subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher, and to our YouTube channel to never miss an episode of the BOLD show. You can get all the links by going to BOLDShow.com. Thanks and see you next time.
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