There’s a good chance you roll your eyes when you hear the phrase, “find your niche.”
I get it. People dole out this advice like free candy. It’s cliché. It’s boring. And it’s often frustratingly shallow, because few ever follow up with details for how to niche down.
It’s the equivalent of “follow your passion” or “believe in yourself,” but for the creator economy.
But here’s the thing: there’s a deep reservoir of business wisdom lurking within this simple phrase.
Each word hints at some significant truth or tool that can help us succeed as entrepreneurial creators.
More specifically, “find your niche” can refer to…
- Identifying a concrete market that can support your creative/media business.
- Making sure that market is a great fit for you creatively and personally.
- Doing research to understand the depth and breadth of that market.
If you’re on a journey to do creative work that matters, and build a long-term business around it, each of these elements is essential.
Even if you’re tired of hearing it, even if you’re skeptical, stick with me for a few minutes. We’re going to unpack these three levels of niche finding, and explore why each matters for creative entrepreneurs.
Hell, by the time you get to the end, you might even be excited by the prospect of “finding your niche” again. Fingers crossed. 🤞
1. How to play and win the game of business (find your NICHE)
Let’s work in reverse order, starting with the word “niche.”
Business, boiled down to its essence, is the game of satisfying markets. It’s about identifying a group of people with a shared need, then meeting that need.
For entrepreneurial creators, there’s no way around this simple truth. We’re not immune from market dynamics just because we’re “creatives.”
For us to succeed financially, we need to find a group of people who will reliably trade their attention or money for our creativity. Otherwise we don’t have a business, but a hobby. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
Now, here’s the rub. As indie creators, we’re at a disadvantage in this game. Mass market media (ie. pop culture) is dominated by a handful of mega corporations, celebrities, and cultural institutions. Trying to compete in those markets as a solo creator is a recipe for disillusionment.
As indie filmmakers, if we try to pull viewers away from the latest Marvel show, we’ll get steamrolled by the Disney Empire Machine. As podcasters, if we try to win Joe Rogan’s listeners away, he’ll put our fledgling show in a choke hold while eating elk jerky and tripping DMT or whatever.
The mass market is a brutal, inhospitable place for indie creators. It’s subject to the power law, where the winners win big, and everyone else fights to the death for the leftover scraps.
That’s where the “niche” aspect of this comes in.
For decades, the internet has been eating away at the dominance of mass market media and popular culture. It’s been subtle and imperceptible, like a river eroding a large boulder.
Along the way, the internet has fractured our collective attention, and created tens of thousands of smaller markets and subcultures. These are niches.
When you narrow your focus to one of these groups, and create hyper-specific work for them, you can break away from the soul-crushing competition and noise of the mass market.
By playing a different game entirely, it’s not only easier to build a creative business, but more enjoyable as well (we’ll dig into this more in the next section).
These days, the playing field is truly level for indie creators, as long as you choose to opt out of the mass media game, and try your hand at finding and serving a niche.
2. Creative, personal fulfillment through Creator-Market Fit (find YOUR niche)
If all we had to do to build our creator business was identify a hungry niche, that’d be easy. Again, there are many thousands of them, and they’re not difficult to find.
But here’s the problem. As creators, we’re not cold, calculating opportunity seekers. If someone came along and said, “you could make great money by making videos for the fly-fishing niche,” chances are you’d tell them to get lost. (Unless you’re that rare creator who loves fly-fishing).
Building a profitable business isn’t the top priority for most of us. Creating unique, worthwhile stuff is. In the hierarchy of creator needs, following our curiosity and making cool shit lives higher than being an entrepreneur. When our creative work isn’t fun or fulfilling, the rest of the equation falls apart.
Luckily, in the age of niche, you can have the best of both worlds. You don’t have to sacrifice creative fulfillment in order to build a business that works.
The trick is to find a niche in where you feel a sense of Creator-Market Fit. This delightful state is defined by three characteristics…
- You’re a member of (and active contributor to) a subculture you love. The interpersonal relationships you form enrich your life.
- When you create for that subculture, it’s intrinsically rewarding. The ideas and topics at the center of your work are an endless source of curiosity and exploration.
- As a result of 1 & 2 working in tandem, you satisfy a segment of the market in a way that only you can. You’re doing work you love for people who care.
That, my friend, is Creator-Market Fit. And it can rightly be described as magical. Once you’ve found a niche that meets these requirements, the dominoes of building a creative business begin to fall in place.
With Creator-Market Fit, your creative work is more fun. Marketing becomes easier. Your audience grows faster. When you release a product, people are way more likely to buy. And from all of this, the journey to building a 1,000 True Fans business becomes shorter.
Now, finding a niche that meets all of those criteria isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible. I’ve found a handful for my own creative businesses, and I’ve been helping filmmakers do it for years.
Again, the internet is magical in this regard. There are tens of thousands of unique subcultures out there. And each of us have multiple elements of our identity, and multiple passions. There’s a lot of room to explore and look for overlap.
If you work through a process of understanding yourself, then look for your reflection in existing markets, the chances are high you’ll find a niche you genuinely love.
3. Mapping the market to lay a strong foundation for your business (FIND your niche)
Finally, we come to the last meaning of “find your niche.” This one is particularly important for anyone looking to improve their marketing.
Once you’ve pinpointed a niche you love, you can (and should) begin researching it, and building out a Market Map.
More specifically, you want to uncover every existing trace of your niche online. You dig up every community, blog, newsletter, YouTube channel, podcast, influential social account, eCommerce business, and so on. You quite literally find your niche.
For each source you stumble across in this research, you add them to a database and categorize them in any way you find useful. This is your Market Map.
I use Notion for this task, and the final result looks like this.
You might be asking, why on earth would Rob spend his time doing this?
Marketing, at its core, is about earning the attention and trust of your ideal customers. And having a database like this makes that process 100x easier.
For starters, building a Market Map gives you concrete answers to questions that marketers must answer.
Where do my ideal customers and fans already hang out? Who are they paying attention to? Who do they trust? What are they buying?
Most businesses (creator or otherwise) have to guess at these things. But when you put in the time to build a Market Map, you’ll have all those insights right at your fingertips
But it goes deeper.
By uncovering every visible trace of the niche, you're able to see the 20,000 foot view of the market. With this level of perspective, it’s a lot easier to position and differentiate your within the space. When you know what everyone else is doing, it’s less of a guessing game to make your content and products stand out.
And finally, the database itself is a useful tool.
For instance, reaching out to other influential people in the niche and building relationships is one of the highest leverage marketing activities ever. So treat your Market Map as a database of new friends you haven’t made yet. And if you want to get really fancy, you can feed the data from the map into your CRM.
I also use my Market Maps to share and promote content. I’ve already collected the various facebook groups, subreddits, and private communities where my people hang out. So when I have something new to share, all I have to do is sort the database by places where I can post directly.
Or let’s say I want to go on a podcast tour to promote a new book or course. I just have to bring up my Market Map, and I can sort it by all of the relevant podcasts in my niche. It’s like magic.
These databases aren’t very fun to build. The process takes awhile, and is a bit tedious. But it’s no exaggeration to say my Market Maps give me superpowers when it comes to playing and winning the long game of creative business.
And they’ll do the same for you if you put in the time.
So there you have it. A primer on what lies below the surface of this seemingly ordinary, empty advice.
Finding your niche means setting your sights on a specific market, and doing the work to get to Creator-Market Fit. It means studying your niche and creating a Market Map.
When I say “find your niche,” it’s an invitation to level up, and turn pro in your creative business. And if you’re excited to dive into this work, go find your niche already.