Pigeonhole Me. Please.

“I’m really tired of being pigeonholed as a ___________ – there’s  more to me than that!”

Frustrating, isn’t it? When you’re categorized and put in a box that limits the fulness of who you are?

We are multi-faceted people and we want to be recognized as more than just a (mother/father/student/neighbor/waiter/chef/world’s-worst-driver).

But, when it comes to business, maybe we want to be pigeonholed. Does that sound counter-intuitive?

pigeonhole desk(factoid: the word pigeonhole is derived from the the small compartments where pigeons were kept. The meaning carried over to desks and other furniture where mail and documents could be stored/categorized).

Here’s the reality of business – each of us as professionals, and all of our companies, WILL BE pigeonholed. It is human nature to try to categorize people and companies so that we can maintain some sort of order in our memories.

What do I think of when Drew McLellan comes to mind? I think marketing, midwest, blogger, connector, loyal friend. That’s the “metadata” in my mind to describe Drew. I have him, in that sense, pigeonholed.

Why do I bring up Drew? Well, because I received an e-mail inquiry from him this morning about a client need, and he had me accurately pigeonholed as someone whose network is in that sweet spot (hey, Drew – tell your friend that the referral is on the way….!)

And when a someone needs a marketing firm, perhaps in the midwest, and especially with a need to build closer ties to their customers, who am I going to think of?

Drew McLellan. You see, since I have him pigeonholed accurately (and positively), I know whom to turn to.

There’s a lot of potential business in a (well-chosen) pigeonhole!

Pigeonhole Biz

You’re either going to occupy some space in the minds of customers, or you’ll occupy no space. So, isn’t it better to clearly define your sweet spot and make that message abundantly memorable?

I want to be pigeonholed (accurately). Because that’s when customers know to call me. That’s when people know how/when to refer me.

But, then again, there’s another side of this coin, and it’s worth discussing. Have you thought about these questions (I’ll bet you have):

These are tricky issues. I’ve written about them in the past, but I’d love to know your thoughts – how can you be well-positioned in the minds of your customers, while still maintaining the flexibility to evolve? When and how might you NOT want to be pigeonholed? Share your insights in the comments!

(For further reading – check out this excellent post by Liz Strauss: What Narrow Niche Already Loves What You Do?


Also on the blog: Four Ways to Get Out of Someone Else’s Box

Do you need clarity?


  1. Hey Steve —

    Happy to be pigeon-holed as you described. Even happier to have friends I can count on to help me serve my clients!

    I wholeheartedly agree that there’s incredible opportunity for businesses/people to drill deeper into a niche/area of expertise and that in the long run, that sale is a lot easier to make than trying to be a mile wide but an inch deep. Generalists are struggling today and I don’t think that’ going to end any time soon.

    Sometimes a person who isn’t happy with their category of expertise needs to step back and look at it from a different angle (which I know is what you help them do with your clarity work) so they can see all the nuances, nooks and crannies it offers them.

    As you say — there’s almost always plenty to keep them busy and prosperous!


  2. Great insight right here. What I am known for is the value I choose to focus on. This might be to a specific tribe or different tribes…but like you said, I will be pigeon holed in a specific area.
    For me, it’s time to choose my pigeon hole so when they put me there, I will be at home.
    Thanks for the wisdom Steve.

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