“What’s your niche?”
These three little words strike more terror into the hearts and minds of idealistic new entrepreneurs than any others.
Has this ever been you?
You start a blog about your passions and write what you’re sure is the most amazing content on the planet. After several months, hardly anyone aside from your mom and your partner is reading. And those who are reading don’t leave comments or even click the friggin’ ‘like’ button!
So you do some research to try to figure out the problem, and everywhere you look the experts are talking about choosing a niche. It appears to be a technique for improving your reach and bottom line by removing all the passion from the topic you’ve been so passionately writing about and confining your message to a neat and sterile package with one… horribly… narrow… focus.
Panic takes hold. Is this what it takes to have a successful business?!
- What if I pick the wrong thing?!
- I’ll be missing so many other opportunities!
- I’ll be ignoring most of my potential customers and leaving money on the table!
- I’ll be so bored focusing on just one thing!
Frustration mounts. Despair sinks in. You think about giving up.
Or worse, you actually give up.
Sadly, many budding entrepreneurs of all kinds suffer from these debilitating fears, but it doesn’t need to be this way.
The above concerns all seem to be valid and make sense, but the fact is that knowing your niche is highly beneficial to your business—it’s not a cruel and terrible joke created by the universe to torment the intrepid souls who dare to reach for something more in their life by starting a business.
What’s going on here is just a little misunderstanding- of what a niche is, what it means to embrace one, and how to go about it.
Pigeonholed by a Niche?
For many new entrepreneurs, or those looking for ways to grow their business, they run up against this idea of choosing a niche, and it seems like a concrete tube they have to stuff themselves in and forever be stuck there.
This – is – all – life – will – ever – be: A dark, stuffy, uncomfortable hole with an iPad and no possibility of escape.
If this is you I have good news and more good news.
The good news is that taking a niche approach to business really is an efficient and effective strategy.
And the other good news? Far from being a tiny cave of despair, stifling your creativity and passion, a niche is an elegant tool for self-expression, or if held properly, a glorious weapon.
****We interrupt this message to bring you a metaphor****
In martial arts, a sword is considered an extension of the artist’s body. Its proper use requires high levels of focus, control, and balance, and its point is obvious. (pun intended)
Traditionally, it’s been viewed not only as a weapon for the defense of one’s person. But as a spiritual tool a sword can cut away doubt, confusion, and the inner voices of negativity that cloud the mind and make action ineffective or destructive.
Now, hundreds of metaphors have been used to describe what a niche is, and this one may or may not be the most apt, but I’ll lay it out anyway, and let you can decide.
Your niche is your sword.
It gives you the ability to focus your message, and reach your audience with it in a way that is impossible to miss and crystal clear. Defining and working within your niche teaches you many things about yourself while simultaneously training you to express those things in a clearer and more effective manner.
That’s great, you say, but I’m still worried about picking the wrong niche and cutting out most of my potential customers.
I get it. So let’s address your concerns.
How a Niche is Not a Niche
What I mean is there are actually two kinds of niches which I will call the Big Niche and the Little Niche.
They both provide a clear, but continually evolving, definition of your place in the community you serve based on your passion, expertise, and vision. Understanding their differences is what will save you from the fear and stress that plague so many of your peers.
Related Article: Starting Up on a Shoestring Budget? The Key is Niche Marketing
Your Big Niche is your overall business vision. It’s based on your passion and sense of purpose.
It has definition, but not as narrow a definition as you might associate with the word “niche.” It’s specific enough to give you a framework for your business strategy, but broad enough to allow for a variety of potential projects.
The Big One
How to define your Big Niche:
- Identify your market (e.g. life coaching)
- Describe your values, ideals and mission (e.g. everyone deserves love and happiness, and your mission is to help people experience them)
- The kind of people you want to work with (e.g. people with at least a basic level of personal awareness and open-mindedness to change)
Take money out of the equation when defining your Big Niche. This is all about what you feel inspired to create and how you most want to serve.
Be willing to re-evaluate your Big Niche over time as you change and evolve based both on your business success and your personal satisfaction. Defining and refining your niche at this level is a process of continual self-discovery as much as it is a process of choosing a business direction.
The Little One
The Little Niche is the one that freaks people out because they think it also has to be their Big Niche.
In reality, it is only the narrow focus of a specific project or entry point. It is not your whole business, although if you’re a newbie entrepreneur it may be the whole focus of your business activities for awhile.
Think of your Big Niche as a garden with potential to grow all kinds of vegetables, herbs, and flowers, and your Little Niche as one cash crop you decide to try out.
How to define your Little Niche:
- Within your Big Niche, make a list of specific types of people you can help and specific problems you can help with.
- Research the words and phrases your potential customers use to describe the problem you will help with. This helps you develop empathy towards them.
- Use those same words and phrases to communicate how you will help them with a small, free piece of content they can get in exchange for their name and email address. Communicate around symptoms rather than a root cause even if the content of your solution addresses the root cause.
- Evaluatehow many people opt-in for your free content, and based on the results, either proceed with the Little Niche, tweak it, or try a different one.
- After you find a successful Little Niche and grow your business, repeat the process with another.
The Little Niche is a project or starting point, and it takes experimentation to define. Honing in on a successful one often takes multiple iterations, even for experienced entrepreneurs.
It’s okay to not get it ‘right’ the first time. Each time you try another permutation, you’re going in with more data and therefore you have a better chance of hitting on a winner.
Big Niche + Little Niche = Niching Success
Your Big Niche is a container that defines the shape of your business, and what you fill it with are your Little Niches.
To put it another way, Big Niche equals Vision, and Little Niche equals Action.
Both can be, and should be, subject to on ongoing refinement based on market feedback, your increased knowledge and experience, and your sense of fulfillment.
What this means is more effective messaging, better response rates and relationships, faster audience building, and increased enjoyment of the whole process.
As you can see, defining your niche in no way conflicts with your ability to connect with plenty of great customers and bring your meaningful work into the world in a big way.
There’s also no need to be scared of picking the wrong niche- you can replace that fear with an enthusiastic attitude of experimentation.
Okay, your turn. What do you see as your Big Niche? And what Little Niche(s) are you working on currently? Leave a comment below!
Author: David Kirshbaum joined the Firepole Marketing team as a student advisor in 2015. His unconventional journey has included playing drums in a variety of bands from heavy metal to salsa; starting a holistic health coaching practice; living in a yogic spiritual community; and various travels around the US and abroad. When not working with the Firepole team and students, David can be found practicing Qi Gong or Yoga, walking among trees, or spending quality time with family, friends, and the love of his life.