Finding your niche in business isn’t always smooth sailing. Our latest podcast guest, Sara Dunn of Sara Does SEO, spent years exploring different areas of digital marketing before she landed on a niche she loves.
As an SEO specialist, Sara helps wedding professionals rise above the noise and get found on Google. Her framework has helped over one million searchers find the wedding advice they were looking for.
But Sara Dunn’s path to specialization was anything but linear. She walked us through the process, from her first business importing wine to breaking into digital marketing, and now being named a Wedding Pro Educator for 2023.
Sara shares some surprising ways her business has changed since niching down, as well as her best tips for navigating the transition from generalist to specialist.
Press play for the full interview or keep reading below!
Sara didn’t grow up in an entrepreneurial family. But after working as a web intern in college, she knew that corporate life wasn’t for her. “I hated the idea of being in an office all day and climbing the corporate ladder.”
Most of all, she hated the jostling to get noticed and how people in her office seemed to step over others for promotions.
“If I worked at a job, I had to hope someone else noticed what I was doing and rewarded me for it. That wasn’t a game I wanted to play. I wanted my results to be tied to my effort.”
Starting a business seemed like the perfect solution.
Sara didn’t waste any time on her entrepreneurial dreams – she started a wine-importing business right out of college. She’d taught herself to code in junior high school, and creating the website for her wine business reignited that passion.
“I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me from the beginning that that was what I should be doing,” Sara Dunn says now. But as Steve Jobs once said, you can only connect the dots by looking backward!
The wine business was slow to take off, so Sara started helping other people with their websites. She did a few for free, including a local political campaign for her mother-in-law.
By her third website design project, she realized this was a service people were willing to pay for – and her second business was born.
Sara started designing websites in 2012 and it wasn’t long before her clients started asking for other services as well – they needed help with everything from social media to email marketing, and Sara said yes to it all. She loved taking on new challenges.
“Whatever the client asked for, I just said ‘Let me figure that out.’ I had so much curiosity about digital marketing.”
If you’re struggling with finding your niche in business, curiosity is a good place to start. Ask yourself what areas you want to learn more about and try out different services to see what you enjoy most.
For Sara Dunn, that was marketing. “I see sales and marketing as a way to elevate great people to find more customers. When I get to help an amazing business owner get found by more people they would love to work with, everybody wins.”
For the next six years, Sara offered general marketing services for any type of business. “Learning a little bit of everything was fun…until it wasn’t.”
Six years into operating her small digital marketing agency, Sara ran into a problem: “The customer didn’t understand how what we were offering was different from anyone else. And it was hard to tell that story when we were complete generalists.”
“I’ll never forget the moment it hit me,” Sara Dunn says.
Their agency was working on a big pitch for a local jewelry store. Sara felt the proposal was strong and she followed up consistently, only to find out the business owner had given the project to his niece who was taking a web design class in college.
“That was on me because I couldn’t articulate why what I do has more value than someone who’s taking a three-credit course in college.” Sara decided she was done knowing a little bit about everything, and it was time to become an expert in one specific thing.
Now she just had to decide what that one thing would be.
After a year-long journey of trying to find the perfect niche, a chance meeting at a conference led Sara to work with her first wedding professional – a wedding planner who needed help with SEO.
That one project completely transformed Sara Dunn’s business. “It was like confetti came out of a cannon, fireworks went off in the sky. It was so much fun.” She knew she’d found a winner.
Finding her footing in a completely new industry wasn’t easy. Even though Sara had been doing SEO and marketing for years, she hadn’t worked with wedding professionals before. “It felt like starting over in an entirely new business.”
She set her prices low in the beginning to get her foot in the door, charging $700 for full SEO projects. Occasionally she would even work for free.
Some business gurus will tell you to never work for free, but when you’re just starting out (or starting over in a new industry), it can be a great way to get your foot in the door. In Sara’s case, it helped her build proof of concept for her new niche.
When it comes to pricing her services, Sara focuses on the outcome she helps her clients achieve. “I ask myself, what is the outcome of this investment someone is making?”
For a marketing service, it’s fairly straightforward to calculate what that outcome is worth. If your offers have less tangible outcomes, think about the time or stress that you save your clients, and what that might be worth to them.
Before finding her sweet spot in the wedding industry, Sara had an idea of what specializing would do for her business. But the reality was even more than she’d imagined.
Even though she had a small team at her agency, delegating was difficult. Because every customer was so different, there was no clear process to follow. “It was on me all the time to figure everything out.”
After specializing, Sara Dunn was able to create repeatable processes and clear up the confusion in her marketing. “We offer three different things, and that’s all we do. I say no to everything else.”
Some entrepreneurs find it intimidating to niche down because it feels like a risk. What if the new specialty doesn’t work out?
Sara is a great example of how to manage the transition period from generalist to specialist. She took things slowly, and she didn’t tear down her old business overnight.
Instead, Sara started her new brand as a completely separate business, with a new website and social media, all while the previous business continued to generate income.
This eliminated the pressure and allowed her to see the new niche as an experiment. When it got results, she felt safe continuing. “I made sure what we were building was going to be sustainable, which made it much less scary.”
Five years later, she’s still enjoying her specialty of SEO for wedding professionals.
Because Sara was new to the wedding industry, her first priority was building an audience. She started with a few SEO packages, gathered feedback, and when her community asked for something new, she listened.
Many wedding professionals were curious to learn about SEO themselves, which led Sara Dunn to create a live workshop and eventually her course, Wedding SEO Bootcamp.
“The most profitable things I offer are the things people asked me to offer. Money follows when you give people what they’re asking for, not what you think they should want.”
Sara doesn’t believe in following a rigid budget. Instead, she likes to base decisions on what feels right in the moment. “My business is always surprising me and I like to give it room to have flexibility.”
I couldn’t agree more! That’s one of the reasons I teach my students in The Blueprint Model to create a spending plan instead of a budget. Budgets can feel restrictive, but spending plans give you the freedom to spend based on your values.
Sara is also a firm advocate for regular money dates. Each month, she gets together with her husband to go over their P&L statement and update him about what’s going on in the business.
Whether it’s by yourself or with a partner, putting a date on the calendar can help you get into a routine of checking on your business finances.
Some entrepreneurs like to let their business and life flow together, but Sara prefers firm boundaries. She works in what she calls “sprint or snooze sessions” – she’s either on or off.
“I’ve accepted that I work in big chunks, especially as a mom. I love being all-in focused on work and then taking a vacation. To me, success looks like the opportunity to get away, have fun, and also find joy in the work I do every day.”
Taking an entire week off may require some planning but for Sara Dunn, it’s worth it to be able to completely disconnect.
I couldn’t let Sara go without asking her for some SEO tips for small businesses! Her first recommendation is to perform keyword research, so you can understand what phrases people are searching for in your industry.
“This is a step a lot of people skip over because they make assumptions. They categorize themselves as one thing, but people may not be searching for that phrase.”
As industry experts, we often forget that our customers don’t share that same expertise – in some cases, they may not even know that a service like yours exists!
When you start searching for keywords, try to see things from your customer’s perspective. Ask yourself (or better yet, ask your customers) what they would search for on Google as it relates to your business. You can also try SEO tools like Ubersuggest.
It may have taken years for Sara to find her place in the wedding industry, but she doesn’t regret any part of the process.
“No phase of a business or career is a waste of time. Anything you try to do, you’ll learn something from, even if it crashes and burns. As long as you take the time to reflect and learn, none of that was wasted.”
If you’d like to connect with Sara Dunn or learn more about SEO for small businesses, visit her website.
To hear the full story and more about Sara, press play on the player above for the full interview or click here to download the transcript.
Sara Dunn is a Wedding SEO Specialist for wedding professionals who want their websites to rank higher on Google. With a knack for making SEO easy to understand, she’s created a unique Wedding SEO Framework that simplifies what it takes to get your business in front of your dream clients. Sara was named a WeddingPro educator for 2023 and has presented to audiences including WeddingPro, Wedding MBA, and Two Bright Lights.Last year, her framework helped over 1 million searchers find the wedding pros and advice they were looking for. If you’re ready to reach rockstar status on Google, Sara’s ready to be your geeky best friend that shows you how it’s done.
August 24, 2023