Arts Smarts: Finding your niche
Finding your niche
Pretend for a second that we’re living in the distant past. Say, the year 1800 or so. Now pretend you want to make a living by opening a business. That business is going to have to be pretty broad, because your number of potential customers is pretty limited - good luck selling to someone the next town over, which might be a day or so’s journey by horse.
Fast forward to today, and things couldn’t be more different. Now, anyone who wants to make a living has access to customers all over the country, and around the world. This means you can focus on narrower niches than you could in the past. This is great news for artists, because art tends to be fairly niche. Not everyone buys art, and of those who do, different people have very different tastes.
With all this in mind, I caught up with a couple of guys who are making a living by focussing on niches - James Fuller from Hnry, and Tomas van Ammers from enrichme. You might recognise these guys from previous stories here on TBI - Hnry sponsored a couple back in July and August, and enrichme sponsored a post last month. They both found sponsoring useful.
Both of these guys develop products that go after small niches - self-employed people in James’s case, and creatives who want to make a living teaching others their skills in Tomas’ case.
Big problem, small group
Let’s say you work on projects that are really broadly appealing - in any random group of New Zealanders, you can guarantee that 1% of them will be interested in buying or funding your work.
On the face of it, this looks great - New Zealand has almost 5 million people, so that means there are 50,000 potential customers out there. Here’s the problem, though: those 50,000 people are needles in a really big, New Zealand-sized haystack.
When you focus on a niche, there may be fewer needles - but your haystack is also a lot smaller, so those needles are easier to find. To continue the metaphor, focussing on a niche also makes those needles bigger - maybe they’re knitting needles instead of sewing needles. James says that going after a niche gives him the opportunity to “solve a big problem for a small group of people.” A small group of people who share characteristics is easier to find, and it’s also easier to build something that suits them.
Building a community
There’s another side to this, too - the value of community. For example, almost all of my work comes from word of mouth.
“a small, passionate community is much better than a large audience confused by our offering”
Tomas is using this to build enrichme - “a small, passionate community is much better than a large audience confused by our offering.” The idea here is to create a small number of people who really like what you have to offer, and therefore keep coming back - as well as growing that community by recommending you to others.
So focussing on a niche gives you this benefit, where working on things with a more broad appeal does not. By creating a loyal group of customers who all share similar experiences and backgrounds, you can get more repeat business and more referrals - both of which are great for earning a living as a creative.
As with everything in life, there are some tradeoffs with focussing on a niche. The main one that both Tomas and James mentioned was the fact that you’re reducing your total number of potential customers. For example, James specifically focuses on self-employed service providers (like me) with Hnry. That means his product isn’t really suitable for anyone with a slightly larger business - like a cafe owner with 3 employees, or a builder with an apprentice and some labourers.
The other downside is the risk that you go too niche. Focussing on a niche is kind of a goldilocks thing - you want to be niche enough to get the benefits of a community and a specific problem, but not so niche that your product is only relevant to one or two people. Luckily, you can easily make changes to how you work - that’s how enrichme got to where they are today, having started out as a much broader product, that Tomas and his team narrowed down over time.
Making it happen
Now let’s get into some practical tips. It’s all well and good to decide to go after a niche, but you also need to figure out what kind of niche you’re going to focus on. Both Tomas and James had similar advice around this: talk to people!
In fact, you can be the first person you talk to (if that makes sense). By that, I mean you can think about your own tastes, problems and values. Think about what you spend money on, and what niches you might fit into.
Test your ideas, and probe to see whether your niche is feasible.
Once you have some ideas, start talking to other people. Test your ideas, and probe to see whether your niche is feasible. If you start to hear your own thoughts echoed back to you, you’re on the right track - you now have the foundations to build a community.
So have a think, start having conversations, and get working on applying your creative talent to a niche. It’s a great way to build a community, get more work and make a living.
Images from Unsplash