When someone subscribes to Creator Science, they get an email from me with one simple question:
If I were to dedicate the next issue of my newsletter to you and the challenge you’re currently facing...what would that issue be?
I get several answers to this question every day. And the most common question I receive, by far, is some variation of, "How do I find my niche?"
It seems like a simple question. And sometimes people will give a simple answer! But I disagree with the answers that are most often provided.
But before I can get into why that is...
What is a niche?
A niche is a specific segment of the market for a product or service.
In the creator economy, people go a step further and typically use "niche" to imply a very narrow, highly-specific customer segment.
Why would you want a niche?
The theory is that you have to serve some target customer – so the more specifically you can define them, the easier it will be to find and speak to those customers.
The more specific they are, the better you'll able to communicate with them by using the exact language they need to hear in order to trust you and make a buying decision.
For example, if you are targeting millennial men who collect Hot Wheels cars, it will inform not only the content you create but also the personality you portray.
The typical advice
When people recommend you find a "niche", they often recommend that you aim really narrow.
Business gurus say things like, "the riches are in the niches." They'll encourage you to get more and more specific – not only because it gives you specific language, but because you can "find a niche" where there is little or no competition.
There's some wisdom here – if you aren't clear on who you are serving or what you help them to achieve, you'll have a difficult time finding traction.
If you try to be all things to all people, you end up being nothing to anyone.
But, in my opinion, this "niche" advice is lazy. Instead of helping people to understand the nuances of designing their business, they recommend you go as narrow as possible so that you have a better chance of finding some traction.
If you find some traction, you'll feel like the advice was helpful.
Short-term traction (long-term problem)
Unfortunately, this typical "niche" advice pushes people into markets that are so small that there isn't even an opportunity to build much of a business.
After all, how niche is too niche?
At some point, the "niches" just get silly. If you're not careful, you end up serving millennial men who collect Hot Wheels cars who also live in Tacoma, Washington and were named prom king in high school.
This typical advice also encourages short-term thinking.
Let's say you choose a niche because you think you can find traction there quickly – but what happens once you're successful?
You'll become closely associated with that niche – and if that's not aligned with what you want to be known for over the long-term, you're now forced to fight against (or even destroy) the thing you worked hard to achieve.
Instead, you want to think long-term about who you want to become and what you want to achieve. If you do choose a narrow niche, it should be done strategically as a wedge into a market that you can grow into or even expand beyond.
At best, a narrow niche should be a starting point – not a destination.
Better frames for "niche"
I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater here – there's definitely wisdom in serving people who aren't already being served. When you're able to avoid competition or beat competition to a market opportunity, that can be a massively powerful thing.
A much better approach to "niche" is Category Design – a discipline of creating and monetizing new markets in a noisy world.
An example would be Airbnb creating the category of short-term rentals utilizing private spaces. Instead of Airbnb competing in the Hotel industry (short-term rentals in commercial spaces) Airbnb created an entirely new category of short-term rentals using someone else's home.
Short-term rentals were already a big need in the market – Airbnb just found a new solution, positioned it as a new category, and became the #1 provider overnight.
In the creator economy, David Perell has coined the phrase "personal monopoly" as a similar concept.
[A personal monopoly] is your unique intersection of skills, interests, and personality traits where you can be known as the best thinker on a topic and open yourself up to the serendipity that makes writing online so special.
Both category design and personal monopolies aren't about getting narrower and narrower and narrower, but instead positioning YOUR solution as completely novel to a large, existing problem.
Don't find; choose
Another reason I hate the idea of "finding a niche" is that "finding" feels passive. It feels like something that has already been determined and you just have to (somehow) uncover it.
In reality, this can (and should) be a very active process.
You aren't finding your niche – you're choosing it.
I don't even like the word niche. Instead, I prefer to talk in terms of premise.
Choosing your premise
While "niche" suggests a unique positioning, "premise" suggests a unique perspective.
Here's how my friend Jay Acunzo defines premise:
Your premise is the specific, defensible purpose for a project or your overall platform, pulled from your personal vision for your audience. Most work is too generic to resonate, too forgettable to become anyone’s favorite. But by developing our premise — and forcing ourselves to test just how differentiated it truly feels to others — we stand a greater chance of connecting more deeply and standing out more easily.
I sometimes use "Premise" and "Purpose" interchangeably, but your premise is the polish on TOP of your purpose.
The quest to find a perfect "niche" often becomes an exercise in contriving some novel area of focus that you aren’t even interested in.
That's a recipe for burnout.
But choosing a premise instead grants you permission to follow your true interests – even if others are already attacking a similar problem. It gives you a direction, not a constricting box.
Remember: competition isn't all bad. Competition is also a sign of market need.
Creators make things with the consumer in mind. And, as a result, creators also capture some of the value they create for that consumer for themselves.
If you're making things to your taste without thinking of the end consumer, that's OK – you can still be an artist. All creators are artists, but not all artists are creators (by my definition).
Creators create (at least in part) for the consumer.
And you can't intentionally create value without a clear purpose. Your purpose defines who you help and what you help them to do.
I go much deeper on how to choose your purpose in my popular PARTS framework.
Not only is it part of that framework, but it's the very first step! Because if you don't invest the time into this step, everything else will struggle.
The purpose of Creator Science is to help people become professional creators. I help creators reap real financial rewards for their hard work.
There are four questions to help you develop a strong premise:
- Who do you help (and what do you help them do)?
- Why does your content need to exist?
- Why you?
- What is your unique perspective?
If you want to go deeper into these questions, read the full essay here.
Align your premise with your experience
Another piece of advice I often hear in the niche conversation is to "create for yourself three years ago."
While it's not the worst advice, it's a moving target. As you get older, the person you were three years ago gets older too.
Do you continue to create for that same person indefinitely? Or do you continue to grow WITH your target customer?
Let's focus on the underlying, implied concept – you are best equipped to serve a customer you understand. Not only do you understand who they are and what they need today, but you've achieved something that they also want to achieve.
Said more simply, you're more likely to be successful when you can leverage earned insight:
The most successful creators I know are a wealth of specific knowledge. Specific knowledge that THEY uniquely have – because they earned it.
They earned that knowledge over years of hard work in a specific arena – something unique (and maybe even "interesting.")
Unless you're competing in the realm of pure entertainment, your secret sauce is your earned insight.
Examples of creators leveraging earned insight include Codie Sanchez (buying boring businesses) and Dr. Andrew Huberman (studying neurobiology at Stanford).
When you have earned insight that you can apply to your chosen purpose – that's when the real magic happens. That's when creators become "overnight" successes.
But what if you don't want to apply your experience to your life as a creator?
I actually hear this question a lot from people who have spent a long time building experience in an industry that they're no longer interested in.
What do you choose when the obvious choice isn't interesting?
In that case (and in any case) I encourage you to think aspirationally. Being a creator is a long-term game. If you aren't creating something that you're innately excited about, you'll burn out quickly.
But the good news is that if you're following your innate interests and curiosity, you'll learn a LOT very quickly. Much more quickly than the average person.
Your curiosity is your superpower. By spending a few years diving deep into a specific subject, you'll quickly find yourself in the small minority of the most knowledgeable people on the planet.
I love the example of Dan Runcie and Trapital. Trapital examines the business of hip-hop – and before Dan was one of the foremost authorities on the hip-hop industry, he did business development for a startup.
He wasn't in the music industry – he just loved hip-hop. But by following his interest, he spent more time studying the business of hip-hop than just about anyone else on the planet. Apply a rapid pace of learning over several years and Dan's INTEREST alone made him one of the foremost authorities on the business of hip-hop.
Taking Dan as an example, how do YOU want to be regarded 3-5 years from now? You want to be the foremost authority on ____. You want to be the trusted source for information on ____.
Think big. Have a vision. If you pursue your chosen purpose for 5 years, what can you achieve?
If you don't think about your long-term destination, it's nearly impossible to set a short-term direction.
Differentiate with your vibe
People talk a lot about finding your voice as a creator...but no one talks about finding your vibe.
These things are related – but separate.
And, in my opinion, equally important.
Your vibe is what people FEEL when they interact with your content, products, or experiences.
Your vibe is just as remarkable and referrable as your premise. Many creators have the same or similar purpose – but they're able to differentiate on vibe.
For example, Amy Porterfield and Dan Koe have similar purposes. But you probably gravitate towards one over the over purely on vibe:
Think of your vibe in terms of adjectives people would use to describe you.
My aspirational vibe:
Premise + Vibe > Niche
Dominate a conversation
Another way to force yourself to think aspirationally is to zoom into very small moments of conversation.
There's still no more powerful force than word of mouth. Even if that word of mouth happens digitally, we're constantly looking for recommendations from OTHER humans.
But how does word of mouth happen?
In most conversations, word of mouth is prompted. Maybe someone is looking for a specific recommendation (Do you know anyone who can help me start my business?) or they may simply use some keywords (I'm thinking about starting a podcast).
However it starts, we hear these prompts and our brains go into recall mode. We want to come up with a solution, continue the conversation, or generally add value. We take these keywords and connect them to relevant people or brands that can help.
What are the words or phrases that you want to trigger an association with you? What is the conversation that happens when someone naturally brings up YOUR name or project?
You need to have that answer so that you can start acting and speaking in a way that people begin making that association.
And don't be afraid to think big! I associate the idea of "vulnerability" with Brené Brown. I associate "habits" with James Clear. I associate "stoicism" with Ryan Holiday.
Last year, I decided that I wanted my name or my brand to be tightly associated with the terms "creator" or "creator economy." I even rebranded my business to Creator Science in order to make that connection even easier for people.
So as you're thinking about your long-term goals and how you want to be regarded, ask yourself:
- What conversations do you want your name to come up in?
- What should you be recommended for?
- What will you be known as the trusted source for?
Give the conversation new language
One of the best ways to capture mindshare quickly and dominate a conversation is to contribute new language to those conversations.
As the world changes, the way we speak about the world has to change. Language is a technology for sharing ideas – but when ideas are new, sometimes it's hard to put them into words. If we can't put our ideas into words, it's hard to have productive conversations.
This presents an opportunity to create NEW language or vocabulary to help people communicate.
The term "niche" itself is used as a shorthand for explaining "the customer you serve." Instead of asking someone, "Who do you help and what do you help them do?" we can simply ask, "What's your niche?"
It's efficient. It signals a shared understanding.
I often talk about Wes Kao's concept Spiky Point of View. And in this very essay, I've used new language including "category design" and "personal monopoly."
And when new language is created, the person who coins that term is often given credit for that terminology (as David Perell was above). That means that your ideas can spread quickly WITHOUT your direct involvement.
New innovation = new opportunity = new ideas = new language
If you're trying to dominate 1:1 conversations, you should lead the larger, global conversation. And by leading the larger conversation, you'll find opportunities to introduce new language to explain the ideas you're pioneering.
As I looked at the creator economy, I saw that the term "creator" was being used for what I saw as two wildly different types of creators. So I started to introduce new language:
That received a positive response, so I created a full essay and even a graphic:
My hope is that this language is adopted by OTHERS who talk about the creator economy and that I am credited with that language.
When it comes to finding your niche, I don't agree with the typical approach.
Instead of thinking in terms of niche, think about the premise of your work – who do you help, and what do you help them to do?
You don't find your premise – you choose it. So think big. Think long-term. Think aspirationally.
You may even want to create a new category around your approach.
While a "niche" feels narrow and constraining, your premise gives you space to grow over the long term.
In order to grow large, you need to create word-of-mouth en masse. Think about the conversations that you want to dominate –and how you can successfully tie yourself so closely to those ideas that you are first to mind in those conversations.
One of the best ways to dominate the mindshare of micro (1:1) conversations is to lead the macro (global) conversation.
And in leading the global conversation connected to your premise, look for opportunities to create new language. When you're able to give people shorthand to express complex ideas, you'll see your authority in the space grow very quickly.