Why Finding Your Niche Is Just Plain Bad Advice

Ask a group of pro bloggers for one tip on how to build a powerful online audience that you can then monetize into a full-time business, and they will likely all say the same thing: find your niche.

The idea is simple: it’s a big world out there with a lot of products and services that you probably don’t have the time or resources to compete with.

After all, you aren’t Apple or Coca Cola, right? So why not, instead, go for a smaller, more targeted audience. Makes sense, right?

The problem is it isn’t what people actually do. If you pay attention to those who succeed in online business, they aren’t following their own advice—not really.

Finding a niche for your potential business is just plain bad advice. Here’s why: people change, as do the niches they belong to.

In other words, if your business aspires to reach young, single moms looking to make a part-time living online, what happens when their kids grow up? Your market disappears.

But what if, instead, you didn’t do that? What if you attempted to reach a core audience but that was a little more flexible than a demographic group?

Why what people think matters more than where they’re from

In marketing, there are two ways to segment an audience:

  1. Based on demographics (a person’s age, race, income, etc.)
  2. Based on psychographics (their core ideas, passions, and beliefs)

The first is related more to the stage of life a potential customer is in, and the second is more about what they believe about the world. It’s their perspective.

Which one do think makes for a more powerful marketing message?

We all know people make financial decisions based on emotions. How they feel determines what they buy. So why not tap into that and build your audience around the things that matter more than anything?

The way the world has changed

Think long and hard about the last time you voted for someone in public office. Think about your favorite band or movie. Examine the motivation behind the products and services you buy—what really drives you to make decisions that you do?

Is it really based on party affiliation or genre? Is it really about what burrough you live in or what kind of region of the country you live in? Or is it something else?

Seth Godin writes in his book Tribes that we used to connect based on where we were from or what nation-state we belonged to. Even the color of our skin was a significant factor in who we associated with. Not so much anymore.

Now, the world has changed.

Technology has connected us in ways we never would have imagined. You might be friends with a hundred of people on Facebook you’ve never met and live halfway around the world. You might do business with a partner in France or outsource a project in San Francisco to a developer in the Philippines.

This is all normal now.

So why when we think of building an audience do we automatically think in terms of demographics, of finding a “niche”? Surely, we can do better.

The secret to assembling a small army of followers

Every time I open another class for my online course for writers, I get the same question:

“I’m 65 years old, retired, and finally have time to write that book I’ve always dreamed of. I’m not your usual, tech-savvy, twenty-something student. Is this for me?”

I usually laugh and reply, letting the person know my “usual student” is a 70 year-old woman in Greece. Or a 19-year old marketing consultant in North Carolina. Or a 30-something missionary in South Africa.

The truth is my tribe is eclectic. And so is yours, probably. But if I had focused solely on a certain age group or particular political view, I would’ve missed an opportunity to build the audience that has made my business possible.

So what do you do, if it’s not find a niche?

Choose a worldview.

Worldview — how a person views the world — is what makes her choose one restaurant over another. It’s what makes you justify spending three times the amount of money for one laptop over another. And it’s what makes us believe what a politician says onstage, or not.

And if you are going to carve out your own corner of the market and not only build a successful audience, but build a successful business, you’re going to have to figure out how to reach an audience that shares your worldview.

Here’s how…

How to build an audience around belief

  1. Pick a fight with a commonly-held view that you disagree with. Maybe it’s global warming or the phrase “the customer is always right.” Whatever it is, don’t be controversial for the sake of creating controversy, but pick a stance that people will disagree with and stand strong.
  2. Announce your view to the world. You can do this in a blog post, an online video, or even a manifesto you give away for free. Don’t charge for this; just share something powerful, something that will get people riled up, and let it spread.
  3. Connect with other people who share that same view – and leverage their platforms to connect with a larger audience.

If you do this well, and if you do it enough, you will attract an audience. A quirky, eclectic one that has very little in common in terms of demographics but at the same time, feels like family.

Since this may be a new practice, here’s a formula you can follow to begin figuring out what it is you believe. Just fill in the blanks of this statement:

“Every [BLANK] can/should [BLANK]”

For example:

  • Every Californian should go surfing
  • Every parent should care about organic food
  • Everybody can build a business if they do the work
  • Every animal deserves to be treated humanely

These are statements that not everyone agrees with, which is an essential characteristic of a worldview. By definition, your worldview must not be something everyone would connect with. It must be somewhat divisive.

When you choose such a strong stance, of course you will attract critics. But you will also attract a dedicated base of followers. Your 1000 true fans. A tribe.

So what’re you waiting for?

Start sharing your worldview today, and see your tribe grow (I’d love to hear from you in the comments — tell me what you think your worldview is).

Get the free guide to defining your audience
  • Jeff Freeman

    Great post Jeff,
    I have a world view. Mine is that everybody makes things harder than they have to be. My site is about photography, and I think that most of the other web pages out there are doing it wrong. They all tell you that if you want to take good pictures then you have to learn how to do everything manually. Well, I think that’s bullshit. I think that the automatic modes and processors in today’s cameras are pretty amazing and that you can get awesome photographs in full auto if you just follow a few basic techniques. And most of the people I meet have no desire to become pro photographers, they just want to take better pictures at their kids birthday party.

    It’s my goal to show people that they don’t have to deal with all the hassle, that it can be easy. I know I’ll probably make a lot of enemies in the photography world, and many of them are people I admire, but that’s the price I’ll just have to pay.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      That’s a perfect worldview!

  • http://jasonhjh.com/ Jason HJH

    Solid advice, Jeff! I’ll give it a hard thought and come up with something.

    Thanks!

  • http://www.lifestylefun.net/ Life.Style.Fun.

    Love this post.

    That’s what I have written bellow almost every listing in my etsy shop:

    What kind of people are attracted to 3 Ptice?
    People
    for whom the status quo is not an option. They know the game and they
    are ready to change the rules so that everyone wins. They have a
    revolutionary spirit and they start a revolution with themselves. They
    know their spending habits have an impact on the world, that’s why they
    consciously choose to buy eco friendly products and to support
    independent designers. They aren’t afraid to stand out from the crowd,
    they let their light shine and they light up other open souls. Those
    people are wholehearted! How can you recognize them? They are all ages
    and races, but their most common thing is spark in their eyes! Do you
    have that spark in your eyes? If so, you are more than welcome to fly
    with 3 Ptice, you are precious part of a bigger story here!

    Wanna
    know more about 3 Ptice and Anita? Head over to my personal blog where
    you can get insights from my life, read about wins and challenges I face
    on my journey and get inspired to live fully! And if you send me a
    picture of you rocking 3 Ptice goodies you will see yourself there too!
    http://www.lifestylefun.net

  • Steven Adams

    Thanks for the article Jeff. Great insights. I’ve been struggling with my site (stockwarrantshq.com) which is niched down too much — a sub-sub culture of stock trading. I’ve tried to think of a way to expand into more general finance or investing, but it’s obviously a very crowded field.

    I like you’re “worldview” idea because you could apply it to any field, whether crowded or not, and establish your own group within that field. It’s a great way to look at it, and makes it much less intimidating. Thanks again!
    Steven

  • Pete Davis

    Great post, Jeff. I completely agree. I’ve done a lot of work in the financial industry, and this is especially true in that industry.

  • http://www.lotusblossomcoaching.com/ Ed Herzog

    I agree that it can be a problem to niche down too much. For example, I remember a co-worker’s husband. He was retired and was following his passion of writing mystery novels. He was excited that he had a niche that no one else had. But in my opinion his niche was WAY too narrow – it was something like “18th century Montana cowboy mysteries”. I remember thinking “good luck finding an audience for that niche”.

    • Bree Brouwer

      Ouch. But a great example of a niche that’s too narrow!

  • ingkavet

    Great post – love it. As someone with such a wide angle view on life with multiple passions this is a breath of fresh air. You mean I don’t have to try and live in a sliver of my soul?
    Here’s my worldviews
    - Every child should learn to play music
    - Ultra mega creative – and so can you!

    cheers
    Andrew

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      That’s right, Andrew. Now consider if these two worldviews can be combined into one overarching perspective.

  • Dr Jessica

    This is really great. My niche has been new parents, but that means I have to hustle my ass off to stay in front of new people all the time. I’ve switched to focusing on parents with a certain worldview, as you’ve said, and it’s made a world of difference. Thanks for the validation!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      So glad to hear that, Dr. Jessica!

  • Faith Watson

    Oh this is soooo true, and I’m so happy it was my natural way from the start because I attract the most awesome followers and clients! We click, appreciate each other and it makes everything more wonderful…and effective. When we stand for something and people hear it in our voice and see it in our work, we are doing everyone a favor–it makes it easy for us all to get in alignment. I coach people to use this same approach with their own brand communications–it works best when based on intention and relationships of value. This way, we aren’t consumed by trying to hit targets all day. Instead, we’re learning how to relate to and provide for those we can serve. Thanks Jeff for being a great example of all the good I can do when I stay on an authentic path.

    • Bree Brouwer

      Oh, man, now our messages in Fizzle make SO much more sense. :)

      • Faith Watson

        Bree, you are truly a delight. That is all I have to say about that.

  • Jemiah

    I believe that every person, every leader, who wants influence has to be Socially and emotionally Fit(TM). Especially educators, celebrities, and politicians. Being SEIQ Fit(TM) gives one the competencies of personal power, resilence, achievement drive, integrity, empathy, interpersonal skills, organizational awareness, service orientation, and many other tools that are needed to be innovative, effective, and productive, and build cultures that are the same

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Well put, Jemiah.

  • http://www.downshiftology.com/ Lisa

    Great post Jeff – I couldn’t agree more! I believe our niche mentality is also preventing us to see the big picture when it counts. Case in point – healthcare. Most doctors are now so sub-specialized (thyroid doc, GI doc, allergist, etc) – they’re only seeing one piece of a very large puzzle. This prevents proper health “care” and disease management/prevention.

    As someone who has several autoimmune diseases (and worked in healthcare/biotech) – my worldview is that everybody can learn to control their autoimmune diseases naturally. Through diet, sleep, stress and lifestyle modifications, everyone can become an autoimmune tamer! And let me tell you, it’s an awesome thing to regain your energy and vitality!

    • Sharon Perpignani

      Hey, Lisa, I’d love to connect with you but didn’t see you over on the Fizzle forums. I’m in the middle of a miserable lupus flare, and am interested in your thoughts on taming the beast if you have a minute to contact me…. sharoneyp-at-gmail-dot.com. Thanks!

      • http://www.downshiftology.com/ Lisa Bryan

        I just sent you an email. :)

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Amen!

  • http://www.drivenmotivation.com/ Kevin Bond

    World View…ya know, I have never thought of it that way.
    This post definitely rang a bell in my head, and I now I am not going to fret over the whole idea of niche-ing down, or if I do, do it around a belief.
    That makes sense though, cause new cleaning supplies don’t target small, small audiences because they want a percentage of the whole pie.
    Thanks a ton for this post :)

  • Robb Dunewood

    I read this post three times because I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t missing some larger point, and, although I understand where you are coming from I think, particularly in the case of business owners, telling folks broadly that picking a niche is plain bad advice, from my experience, is plain bad advice.

    I believe that the type of business, size of market, your ability to solve a problem for that market, and bevy of other factors determine whether or not being in a specific niche makes sense or not.

    “if your business aspires to reach young, single moms looking to make a part-time living online, what happens when their kids grow up? Your market disappears.”

    I’d argue that unless young single women stop having children the market for single moms looking to make a part-time living online doesn’t disappear, but, is continually replenished.

    Young single mom’s will definitely grow older and they may not stay single. They may even get to a point where they are no longer looking to make a part-time living online. All this means is that they’ve fallen out of your demographic/psychographic, target market, or niche which is just a part of a normal business life cycle.

    The entrepreneur in me sees this as an additional business opportunity, but, I will leave that for another post.

    I don’t know if you’d call this a worldview or not, but, my experience tells me that you don’t choose between demographics and psychographics when targeting your market. You use everything in your arsenal.

    Young, single moms: demographic
    Looking to make a part-time living online: psychographic

    “Scribes, bards, and storytellers” (writers): demographic
    “feel like outcasts”: psychographic

    At Tribe Writer you didn’t target every human who writes. You targeted subset of people who self identify as writers, feel like outcasts, and want to learn how to build a community around their writing.

    That my, friend, is a niche…

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      That’s a fair point, Robb. Some of this may be semantics but the textbook definition of a niche says way too limiting to me (and to many other people). I think a lot of folks, including me, see a niche as nothing more than demographics. Some broad set of people chosen for their marketability, regardless of their worldview and how passionate you may or may not be. Seth Godin does a good job addressing this when he breaks it down into worldview and frames. The world is changing and we need new nomenclature to talk about it. A niche for me has just become too tired of a word that doesn’t seem to mean much anymore. This post and the reactions to it are a good example of how we can’t agree on what it means to us and our businesses. That’s why I propose we consider changing the way we describe how we find and market to our audiences. Just my thought.

      • http://seointhemaking.com/ Rienzi

        I think the problem here is your definition of what is a niche, not how we definite it.

        Demographics is nothing but data – Who you are talking to, what writing lingo fits your market, what events they can relate to.

        A data to back up your Psychographics – what are their needs, desire, way of thinking, belief. It’s from this perspective you decide what niche to go for.

        There’s a method to the madness.

        And…

        Going for worldview and what you believe is not the ONLY way, it’s ONE OF THE WAYS.

        Well, I guess you’ve struck a string.

        Kudos Jeff!

        • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

          The definition is actually pretty vague: “a specialized but profitable corner of the market.” I think the approach of find-your-niche-then-share-your-message is backwards. What’s better, IMO, is sharing what you believe first and let the market segment come to you.
          Indeed, it’s not the only way. But I believe it’s the best way. Thanks for the challenge.

          • Robb Dunewood

            I will concede the fact that a lot of businesses have seen success with sharing what they believe and letting the market come to them. Many businesses, particularly those where belief systems and worldviews don’t immediately come into play, find, however, that the biggest mistake they’ve made with their marketing effort is being too broad.

            My gut tells me that a men’s clothing boutique that specializes in big & tall sizes would see success much more quickly if it targeted it’s marketing effort primarily to men that are big & tall and secondarily to folks who buy clothes for big & tall men.

            I absolutely write content for a niche. The demographics of my niche, however, aren’t a broad set of people chosen for their marketability, but a laser focused group that comprise my target market.

            My goal, often times, is to write content so focused that it isn’t even directed at a group, but, an individual avatar that I believe would find said content most beneficial.

            I guess that you could say my worldview, when it comes content, is that it is better not to appeal to everyone on anything. Instead appeal to one person on one thing.

          • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

            I think that’s a great worldview, Robb. I wonder, though. Do you think it’s better to be Apple or Dell? Which one is too narrow? I think Apple has targeted a worldview (“technology should be beautiful and easy to use”) whereas Dell has taken a more traditional niche approach (“affordable computers for consumers and businesses”).

          • http://seointhemaking.com/ Rienzi

            What separates Apple (aside from the technology) is their marketing approach (we believe… by creating… wanna buy?)… People don’t buy what you sell, they buy why you sell them.

          • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

            And their marketing is driven by a worldview.

          • http://seointhemaking.com/ Rienzi

            world view of a particular niche.:)

          • http://seointhemaking.com/ Rienzi

            Maybe because there is no need to define it further… and that the common people can understand it right off the bat.

            But the “approach problem” is that I can agree with you.

            Sharing what you believe first??? Can you not see that, that alone is nich-ing your topic down? i.e. you’re a writer and you have an opinion about a particular topic/matter (or related) about writing, therefore that is nich-ing down.

            You can have all the opinions about the world, and that is a given. But if you look at it in a profitable manner, will you make something out of it? That’s when finding your niche thing enters… Of course, when you validate the idea you can run wild with whatever it is you see about the world.

            IMO, defining and understanding are two sides of the equation. And more often than not, the later brings about the heart of the matter.

          • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

            Ok. :)

  • CoulterPatton

    This is something Amy Hoy talks about a lot. I have to agree that worldviews are a much better way to think about building an audience. Niches have always felt artificially constricting to me.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Me too. :)

  • http://kimanziconstable.com/ kimanzi constable

    I like it because it’s unique to what we usually hear as far as building an online business. I’ve never thought of it this way but if I look at what I write and who I write for I think I do have a worldview. Will be giving this some thought Jeff. Great writing sir.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      You definitely have an awesome worldview Kimanzi. And it’s certainly one that resonates with me.

  • http://www.artfulpublications.com/ Meg Sylvia

    This is an excellent way to reframe market segmentation. It’s so much easier to write to an audience based on the way a like-minded group feels about a topic rather than based on tailoring an article to appeal to a specific an age group or income bracket. I think keeping this concept in mind when writing is a great way to become more relatable to your audience!

  • http://www.stepstowellness.org/ Les Proctor

    Jeff, love your posts! “Everyone should try to get and stay healthy naturally.” How’s that?

  • Mick Barrett

    This is epic content. Well done guys and thanks for putting in front of us.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Mick!

  • Bree Brouwer

    I see what you did here, picking a point that people would/wouldn’t agree with and write a post on it. Obvious what kind of “niche” you like to attract!

    On a more serious note, though, I wish I’d known this from the start of my freelancing career. All I heard was “pick a niche! pick a niche!” and I never could. I feel like I wasted the first year of my career trying to find a niche when I should have been trying to connect with people who have the same worldview about business and making things for the world as I do.

    • http://www.kevinbradberry.net/ Kevin Bradberry

      I agree with Bree’s point that Jeff’s topic was designed to be agreeable/disagreeable. Whether or not Jeff actually believes his opinions on niche vs. worldview doesn’t matter to me. I’m impressed at how he gets a discussion going. Create a statement for yourself that will get under peoples skin, then you can attract followers to fight with you…hmm. I’m thinking this out as I go. Haven’t put into practice, yet.

      For instance, “Vegans are healthier than omnivores” will elicit more opponents and followers than “Vegans are healthy if they eat a whole foods diet”. For that first one, people will be ready to duke it out in the comments section. The later is like “duh, so is everybody else”.

      • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

        Great observation, Kevin. :)

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Heh. Thanks, Bree. I wish someone would have told me the same.

  • http://www.successwithfocus.com/about/ Jeff Jones

    I agree, Jeff!

    I think too often we spend so much mental power trying to craft our message for an incredibly narrow band of characteristics we call our niche. While I understand the need to try to narrow for effectiveness, I think assuming all of our readers fall into a skinny category does them and us a great disservice.

    Jeff

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Well said, Jeff. And I must say: you have an excellent name.

      • http://www.successwithfocus.com/about/ Jeff Jones

        Thank you! The same goes for your name! LOL!

  • http://www.kevinbradberry.net/ Kevin Bradberry

    Don’t focus on Jeff’s point about niche vs. worldview. Hell, his examples like “All Californians should surf” is not even a worldview—call it a stateview, maybe.

    The greatest takeaway from this post is “We all know people make financial decisions based on emotions. How they feel determines what they buy. So why not tap into that and build your audience around the things that matter more than anything?”

    Primarily speaking, relate to your audience emotionally and not logically.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      State view. Nice. ;)

  • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

    Excellent Sara!

  • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

    So true, CJ. I struggle with this too. Our work is a portfolio, not just a single thing we do. A body of work.

  • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

    Everyone has a story that the world needs to hear.

    • Stuart Crane

      That sounds like Medium’s worldview too.

      • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

        Yeah. It does. :)

  • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

    Glad to hear that, Ray!

  • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

    Pick the worldview first. Pick a fight with something you don’t like (maybe the way people do online marketing for example). Then create content for that. See who listens. Then you can create products around that audience using the tribal language that unites you.

  • Rebecca Scott Boddie

    Thank you Jeff, for your accessibility and wisdom. What do you think about this worldview that I want to guide my online business?

    Make Persian foods, not war. Or, peace through food.

    Many thanks and peaceful wishes,
    Rebecca Scott Boddie

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Peace through food. That’s fascinating.

  • http://www.garmaonhealth.com/ Joe

    Smart fella, that GoinsWriter.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      :)

  • http://www.basicgrowth.com/ Simon Somlai

    Nice advice Jeff!

    I’ve heard it before and was forgotten it whilst working on my products and whatnot. People don’t buy what you do but why you do something. Emotion is much more important factor in selling things than any other component.

    Maybe we shouldn’t be studying marketing but just how to treat people better and how to improve our communication skills?

    Anyway, schweet post!

    Take care

  • http://seointhemaking.com/ Rienzi

    Exactly! My point is that niche-ing is a process to better understand your market’s values. Announcing your mission statement/worldview is your USP. They come along well in one rather than two separate rivers.

  • http://www.storiessongsandpraise.com Brittany SSP

    I really love the idea of demonstrating a worldview rather than marketing to a specific niche. However, I strongly dislike the idea of doing that based soley on arguing with someone. IMO you open yourself up to a much larger audience by promoting HOW to do something you are passionate about (live in an eco-friendly manner, fight against the human trafficking) than by simply name calling/insulting those who don’t act in the way YOU think they should.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Great point Brittany!

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