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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 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).

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