Don't let your niche become an empty buzzword

When a reader asks for advice about whether to be a cloud migration specialist, Chip Camden suggests how to expand the substance of his niche offering.

TechRepublic reader Michael Nicholas sent me an email which said in part:

I've been working in IT as a middleware administrator with some project management. I worked on contract as an email migration consultant and loved everything about it.

I want to become a full time consultant on my own but want to specialize in the next generation of enterprise IT. Some say that's cloud computing. Keeping with the migration theme I was thinking of a cloud migration specialist. Email, apps etc.

In what area of training should I focus? Storage in the cloud? Microsoft cloud services? Any ideas you can offer I would certainly appreciate.

I certainly agree with the idea of establishing a niche for yourself that's in high demand, and it seems like everybody these days is trying to take a ride on the magic cloud. I often wonder, though, how much of that is mere fad versus solving a real business need. If you tie your identity too much to the fad, then when it inevitably fades, so will your business.

That doesn't mean it isn't a good niche, but it does mean that you need to be careful to make a solid business proposition out of it, and not just ride the hype. There are at least two dimensions in which you can expand the substance of your offering. We'll call them depth and breadth.

  • Depth: get beyond the fanboyism and analyze exactly what benefits and constraints the various cloud-based strategies provide, so you can tailor a solution to exactly what the client needs rather than forcing them into a "one size fits all." From that perspective, it doesn't make sense to me to limit yourself to one vendor's solutions, even if you tend to prefer one over the others. Remember that the most important thing is solving your client's problems in a way that will make them want to come back to you with their next problem.
  • Breadth: avoid limiting yourself to only this specialty. Cloud-based strategies aren't the best solution to every problem. Think about auxiliary or alternative services that you can provide as well. If you demonstrate an ability to work with different technologies, then your client will call on you to advise them on all sorts of problems. Most importantly, you won't get written off as the cloud guy once something else becomes the new cloud.

Most new technologies go through a hype phase where they're touted as the answer to everything. Some of them pass and we never hear from them again, but most survive in some form or another because they contain important innovations that led to the hype in the first place. For the long haul, it's important to identify the substance, and exploit it for the benefit of your clients.

I have to admit I haven't really addressed Michael's question about training. Are there any cloud migration specialists out there among our readers who would care to offer suggestions?