So you’re ready to build a business around your creative work, and you’ve decided to niche down. That’s rad. And awfully smart of you.
Business, at its core, is about identifying a group of people with a shared need, then meeting that need. And that’s what “finding your niche” means. It’s about pinpointing a narrow slice of the market that you can uniquely serve.
This guide will get lay out, in excruciating detail, how to identify hungry niche markets for your creative work. We’ll also ensure you find the right market, and the right subculture, for you. Because none of this matters if your work isn’t creatively fulfilling, or you’re surrounded by people you don’t vibe with.
First, a quick disclaimer. If you’re in the early stages of being a creator, you might not be ready for this yet. By trying to niche down too early, you risk not having enough data about your creative interests and skills to make the most of this process. So unless you need to build a business quickly, consider taking some time to follow your curiosity, hone your craft, etc. In the parlance of Jack Butcher, diverge before you converge.
But if you’re an intermediate or experienced creator who’s ready to buckle down and build an effective business, I’m your huckleberry.
Here’s a quick roadmap of the process we’ll be working through together.
- Brainstorm niche ideas that are tied to your identity and passions.
- Validate those ideas to see if they align with pre-existing markets.
- Build out a database (Market Map) of the major players in the niche.
- Immerse yourself in the space to ensure creative and personal fit.
- Make the commitment to show up and serve your people generously.
It’s the same process I’ve been using for years, and it’s the same process I teach in my course, Find Your Niche. Don’t worry, though. This isn’t some watered down version that’s a thinly veiled sales pitch. This is the 80/20 of the process, and it’s more than enough for you to find Creator-Market Fit without ever paying me a dime.
Sound good? Let’s dig in.
Step 1: Audit Yourself
In working 1-on-1 with creators, I’ve seen time and again that the whole niche equation falls apart if you’re not doing work that’s creatively rewarding.
Sure, you can go into a niche because you think it’ll be profitable. But if you don’t enjoy the work, or the culture you’re immersed in, you’ll burn out, and your business will flatline.
That’s why your niche should be drawn from your pre-existing identity, passions, and curiosities. When your starting place is rooted in what you already love, it leads to a more effective business, and a more enjoyable life. That’s what Creator-Market Fit is all about.
So in this first step, I recommend doing a thorough “self audit” to uncover as many resonant niche ideas as possible. The goal is to find a handful of topics, ideas, causes, groups, etc that you feel an emotional connection with.
In order to do this, I know of no better technique than freewriting. Here’s how it works.
First, prime yourself with a prompt or open-ended question. Set a timer. Then write in pure stream-of-consciousness. No stopping to edit or second guess. Doesn’t matter if it’s gibberish, or if it’s something you’ve never told another living soul. Just keep writing whatever comes to mind until the timer stops.
I don’t know why, but this technique has a consistent track record of producing valuable insights. Very often, once you’ve gotten past the obvious ideas, your brain will unearth all sorts of intriguing, counterintuitive tidbits from the depths of your subconscious. It’s a bit like magic.
(For any of you Julia Cameron fans out there, it’s similar to the “morning pages” process, but a bit more targeted.)
In my course, I have students go through several different layers of self-audit. But here are some of my favorite prompts to get you started:
- The labels that most define me are…
- I feel like I belong when I’m with…
- It breaks my heart when I see…
- I’m endlessly curious about…
- The problems I’m most proud of overcoming are…
Spend at least 20-30 minutes freewriting your way through those prompts, and I guarantee you’ll have more niche ideas than you know what to do with.
Step 2: Form a Niche Hypothesis
Here’s a hard truth. A niche doesn’t exist just because you want it to.
Simply defined, a niche is a group of people congregating around one or more shared characteristics. It’s a tangible, observable subculture, with its own ecosystem of community, media, and commerce. And through research, you can discern whether your niche idea bears any resemblance to reality.
That’s why we treat niche ideas as hypotheses. Because until they’ve gone through the validation process, they’re inherently risky. I’ve seen many-a-creator get attached to their niche ideas, spend months or years trying to make it work, only to realize there was a never a market there to begin with. Womp womp.
Frankly, I’d prefer you took a week or two to research your ideas in order to avoid that kind of heartbreak. We’ll get to how to do that in a moment.
But for now, this step is super simple.
When you look over all the ideas you brainstormed in step one, which one immediately grabs you? Which one makes your heart flutter a bit? Which do you feel most drawn towards, as if by sheer magnetism?
Generally, the more emotional pull we feel towards something, the more our subconscious is saying it’s important to explore. The same is often true of ideas where we can’t tell if we’re excited or anxious.
So trust your intuition here, and choose the topic or group or problem that strikes a chord. That, my friend, is your first niche hypothesis. And hopefully your last.
Step 3: Validating Your Niche Hypothesis
There are two distinct flavors of niche research: high level, and deep dive. Both are necessary for finding Creator-Market Fit.
High level research is about seeing a niche from the 20,000 foot view. It’s about uncovering the entire market, so that you can validate it, and understand its many contours and permutations. It’s also the most technical, analytical part of the process.
Deep dive research is about immersing yourself in the niche, and participating in the culture. The goal is to discern personal fit. It’s to find out whether or not you’ll enjoy creating things around these topics, and spending your time with these people. So it’s more intuitive and emotional than high level research.
When you use both of these research methodologies back to back, you get the best of both worlds. You come out the other end with a niche that’s fertile ground for a business. And you ensure that being part of that niche will make your life more delightful. That, my friend, is Creator-Market Fit.
Now, let’s talk specifics for how to achieve that fit.
How to conduct high level research
By now, you should have a niche hypothesis. The first stage to validating it is high level research.
There are three questions you need to answer in this stage.
- Does this niche actually exist? (Is there already a market around this idea?)
- If so, is that market big enough to support my business/financial goals?
- Is it active and engaged? (ie. are people already consuming and conversing?)
If, after your research, you can answer yes to each of these, you’re good to go. You’ve got yourself a viable market, and you can move on to deep dive research.
However, if you land on “no” for any of these questions, you might need to refine your hypothesis (try different keywords, or look in different places). After that, if you still can’t find anything, you’ll need to go back to the drawing board, and start the process over with a new hypothesis.
That might sound a bit demoralizing, but it’s not. By weeding out the bad niche ideas early on, you’re saving “future you” immeasurable time, and preventing a good deal of heartbreak.
Now, you’re probably asking how you can get the answers to these questions in any kind of methodical way. Here’s the process.
Uncovering your niche with “keyword roulette”
I’d like to introduce you to a process called “keyword roulette.” It’s far and away the most effective method for discovering every existing trace of a niche online, and it works like this.
- Brainstorm keywords that describe your niche. What labels do they use to describe themselves? What topics are they most interested in?
- Combine those keywords with this giant list of search modifiers.
- Run these keyword + modifier combinations through a variety of search engines (Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Reddit, etc)
- Work your way through the combinations until you’re no longer finding anything new.
For example, if you’re absolutely obsessed with coffee (like I am), you’d start by brainstorming keywords and phrases related to it. So you’d probably end up with “specialty coffee,” “third wave coffee,” “single-origin coffee,” and maybe “coffee connoisseur” as your keywords.
Then, you’d head over to “the googles” as I call it, and start entering those words along with a modifier from the list.
So you’d try, “specialty coffee + blog.” Scroll through a few pages of search results and see what you find. Document your sources, and follow any rabbit holes. Once you’ve tapped out that search, you’d then do the same thing with “single origin coffee + podcast” and “third wave coffee + community.”
And so on.
Now, Google is a great place to start for this, but it’s far from the only place to search. Every major platform is its own search engine. So search for your terms natively in places like YouTube, Amazon, Reddit, Facebook, etc, and you’ll find way more stuff.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “man, that sounds tedious and time-consuming,” you’d be 100% correct! But it’s the most robust, thorough method I’ve found for validating that a niche exists. And if it does, this process will reveal how the tentacles of this market are spread throughout the online world. This is incredibly useful information to have in your business endeavors.
Now, if you’re willing to spend a bit of money, you can shortcut this process a bit by using SparkToro (which is AMAZING). But even then, the data from a tool like that is just a starting place. You still have to do most of the digging and documenting manually. But SparkToro can indeed shave hours off the process if you pony up.
Building your “Market Map” along the way
As you work through the keyword roulette process, you are going to discover a FREAKING BOATLOAD of stuff. It’s almost certainly going to be overwhelming. Luckily, we’ve got a tool for that.
A Market Map is a database that helps you keep track and make sense of it all. I use an app called Notion for this (and the course comes with a sweet template that you can duplicate). But you can use Airtable, Google Sheets, or any other tool you feel comfortable with.
Here’s what mine look like for my two current creator businesses.
Every time you stumble across a related website, community, social profile, podcast, YouTube channel, or anyone/anything influential, add it to your Market Map. More specifically, you’ll want to…
- Add URLs to their main site and social channels.
- Categorize them. What type of media do they create (videos, books, podcasts, emails, etc), and optionally, what topics do they cover?
- Estimate their size/reach by looking at their subscriber/follower counts, and estimating their website traffic using a tool like SimilarWeb or Vstat. When you add enough of these sources into your database, you should be able to make a rough estimate of how big the niche is.
- Add any additional notes you think might be useful to you in the future. I like to keep track of whether I can post directly (for content sharing) and whether I’m able to be a guest (usually podcasts and YouTube interview shows). Also, if you can find contact info for the person/source, it’s a good idea to add it.
As for how much keyword roulette and documentation to do, my unsatisfying response is that you need to do however much it takes to answer the three questions of high level research. Is this market real, large enough, and engaged? Generally, 2-3 hours is enough to figure these out, but it could take a bit less, or way more.
That said, I generally recommend spending the extra time doing your Market Maps right. Provided you stick with this niche, your database will come in handy in all sorts of ways as you grow your business. It’s basically a list of influential people you should connect with, and a list of communities you can be a member of share your work in.
Trust me on this, if you build out a robust Market Map, future you will thank you.
Step 4: Deep Dive Research
At this point, your niche hypothesis should no longer be a hypothesis. By working through the high level research process, you’ve found an active, engaged market full of people who are congregating around a topic or idea you love.
That, by itself, is pretty freaking rad. Now let’s take it final mile, and get you to Creator-Market Fit.
The goal of this final stage is to ensure this niche—or at least a portion of it—fits you like a glove. You want to be reasonably certain that if you commit to this market, and start creating things for these people, you will genuinely enjoy yourself.
That’s where deep dive research comes in.
The art of immersion
If high level research is about seeing a niche from 20,000 feet, deep dive research is about getting down into the mud and rolling around in it.
Your goal is total immersion. You want to know what it’s like to be an active, engaged member of this subculture on a day-to-day basis.
In other words, you can’t think your way into Creator-Market Fit. You have to dive into the ecosystem and experience it firsthand.
So here’s what that looks like on a practical level.
You know that big fancy database I just had you put together? Your job now is to go through and follow everything (yes, everything).
Join the communities and groups. Subscribe to the newsletters and YouTube channels. Follow all of the relevant people on social. Be proactive and find as many ways to immerse yourself as possible.
And for the next 2-3 weeks, I want you to live in this niche. I want you to eat, sleep, and breath it. The content, community, and commerce. Be obsessed.
But don’t just subscribe and passively consume things. Think of this as a test drive, where you get to “try on” a new internet life for awhile. So make a point to jump into—or even start—conversations with people in the space. Even if you’re a shy lurker (like me), you’ll get way more useful insight from this process if you genuinely engage and talk to people.
What are you looking for during immersion?
First off, this isn’t a data-driven thing. It’s about intuition and emotion. It’s about whether you vibe with this subculture, and enjoy being part of it.
So here are some questions to keep top of mind as you’re in immersion.
- Are the topics people talk about interesting to you? Is your curiosity piqued?
- Do you enjoy the conversations you’re participating in? Do you feel like you could make friends here?
- Do you enjoy consuming the work of other creators in the space? Would you want to collaborate with them?
- Are the comments left on that work supportive or toxic? Is this space friendly to creators?
- Do you feel excited to create your own work in this space? Do you have something to say?
In addition to all of that, the big emotional insight you’re trying to uncover is whether you can belong here.
That’s what makes Creator-Market Fit work. Belonging is the secret sauce. When you feel like you’re accepted and cherished as a member of this subculture, it’s a hell of a lot easier to play and win the long game of creative business.
Chances are, you won’t feel a profound sense of belonging right away. It takes time to develop. But you should have a sense of whether those seeds exist in this niche. Could you belong here? Could you enjoy your time creating for these people, and being internet friends with them?
My recommendation is to shoot for 80% certainty around these questions. If you feel that level of assuredness that the niche is a good fit, you’re ready to move on to the final stage of this process.
What if your niche sucks?
Here’s a hard truth that took me a long time to learn and accept.
No niche is going to be 100% delightful, 100% of the time. In fact, you should expect to stumble across ideas and people who rub you the wrong way. That’s just the nature of the internet, and you should not take it as a sign to abandon the niche.
Trust me, there are segments of the “indie filmmaker” and “creator” niches I find aggravating as hell. And for my side project Citizen Within, there are vast swaths of the “political internet” that are raging dumpster fires of toxicity.
But despite those annoyances, I’ve still found my people in all three of these niches. I’ve carved out my own little space where I’m surrounded by like-minded peeps.
And that’s a big part of what you’re trying to do during deep dive research. You’re looking for those corners of the niche full of people who share your interests and values and worldview. That's what it means to "find the seeds of belonging."
So again, just because a niche isn’t all sunshine and roses, doesn’t mean you can’t make it great fit for you. Look for seeds of belonging. Find the others. And then let’s talk about how to plant and nourish those seeds over time.
Step 5: Commit
This last step might seem so obvious as to not warrant a section of its own.
But here’s the thing. Nearly every creator I’ve worked with has felt trepidation before committing to a niche. There’s always—and I mean always—a nagging voice in the back of your head saying, “what if this isn’t the niche for me?” “What if I get bored?” “What if I want to create things that don’t fit in this place?”
It’s entirely possible to get this far into the process, then paralyze yourself. That voice in your head might convince you of the need for more research, or to jump ship and find another niche idea.
Here’s a little secret. If you’ve done the work above, the niche you’ve landed on is as good as it gets. If you feel at least 80% certain, there’s not a whole lot you can do to fill in that other 20%, other than committing and diving in.
My favorite analogy for this is long-term romantic relationships. So many of us move through life, waiting for “the one” and imposing an impossible set of expectations on any potential partner we meet.
But talk to one of those old couples who’ve been together for 50 years, and who love each other more than ever, and you’ll find the secret. The secret lies in commitment. The secret is working to love the other person, day in and day out. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it.
The same is true of niches. There is no “perfect niche” out there, just waiting for you to discover it. But there are likely dozens of niches that you could love—and be of genuine service to people—if you committed and worked at it.
So get yourself to 80% certainty, and then make your minimum viable commitment to this space.
Making your minimum viable commitment
So here’s what I’d like you to do. Once you’re 80% certain that you’ve found Creator-Market Fit, I want you to commit to that niche for a year. That’s right, a full year. And in that year, I want you to focus on to two specific things.
First, commit to a minimum viable creation schedule.
What’s something you could reliably create that would delight the people in this niche? Is it a newsletter, a short essay, a podcast, a TikTok video? And what’s a relatively stress-free publishing schedule you’re confident you can stick to for an entire year?
You might be tempted to go overboard in these early days, taking on a twice a week publishing, a bunch of social posts, a newsletter, and more. But please, don’t bite off more than you can chew. It will lead to you feeling guilty when you inevitably can’t live up to your unrealistic expectations for yourself. And that toxic stew of shame can derail your momentum in big ways.
For my new site Citizen Within, my minimum viable commitment is a short weekly newsletter, where I share three curated stories. That’s it. It takes no more than an hour or two per week, and I do it on Saturday mornings.
Some weeks, I might write original essays or micro articles. I might even start a podcast at some point this year. But none of that is mandatory. As long as I’m showing up and shipping one simple newsletter per week, I’m meeting my commitment.
So that’s your first step. What’s something creative you could commit to for a year? Figure it out, then actually commit to it. Find the time you’ll do it every week, then block it out on your calendar. Make it a priority.
The second thing I want you to commit to during this year is actively trying to love the niche.
Again, there will almost certainly be parts of it you don’t like. There will be people who make you roll your eyes, topics you don’t care about, and lots of opinions that make you bristle with disagreement. That’s to be expected in any vibrant, diverse niche.
But I’m willing to bet there will also be bright spots. Communities that always seem to have the fascinating conversations. Podcasts that bring on guests you love hearing from. And most important of all, people you meet who you love talking to, who feel like lifelong friends.
So your challenge, for this year, is to heed Seth Godin’s call, and do your damndest to “find the others.” Because once you feel like you’ve found your people, and once you’re reliably putting out content those people love, that remaining 20% in the certainty gap will close right up.
And from there, it’s off to the races with your niche and your creative business.
Next Steps for Niche Finders
So there you have it. My process for finding Creator-Market Fit, laid out in full.
If you’re the type who likes things broken out into step-by-step exercises, and who wants some pre-made Notion templates for Market & Audience Mapping, then by all means, join the course.
But you certainly don’t have to. You’ve now got everything you need to identify a niche that’ll support your creative business, and make your life more enjoyable.
Good luck, and godspeed.