If you ever want to find out how fast you can make the smallbiz community clutch their pearls, try announcing that your business doesn’t have a niche.
Because everybody knows you have to have a niche, right? It’s one of the first things they teach you in all the online business classes! What would Marie Forleo say?
And so most people dutifully sit down and decide on a niche. Maybe middle aged women. Maybe bloggers in Portland. Maybe it’s pet owners who also really like baking. Maybe you’re even feeling extra frisky and you create a client avatar of the people in your niche, and you find out that they’re dog owning 30 – 39 year olds who live in apartments but dream of living in the country and just adore farmer’s markets.
And hey, that’s one hell of a niche, right? I mean, you know so much about them, you’re so specific. And that’s what it’s all about, getting specific, right?
OK, sure it’s true that if you try to appeal to everybody you’re not going to appeal to anybody, so you do need to know your people. But all of that information, that “niche”? That’s irrelevant. Here’s why.
The second you start actually trying to use that niche to, you know, actually create or sell things, what ends up happening is that you typically end up transmuting them into some version of yourself, and end up talking to them the way you would want to be talked to if you were them.
Just a few problems: you’re not them, and you’re almost certainly too biased to be able to convincingly “play them” in any sort of useful way. And two, the information that you’ve built this so called niche on doesn’t let you tap into what they really care about, and if you can’t do that, there’s no way you can connect with them.
Think about it this way:
Look at yourself, right now, and imagine yourself as being in somebody else’s niche. And then think, is that really you? Does that information contain genuinely useful data for connecting to you? And yet, you’re being told to connect with other people using that same type of information.
Hint: the more you can remember that there are actual people on the other end of your business, the easier this all gets.
But if you can’t rely on the stuff you’ve been taught for a niche … how do you know who you’re talking to? how do you keep your business focused and avoid trying to be everything to everybody?
You remember that you’re dealing with humans. And this means that the surface-level things we tend to focus on because we think they’re more objective and easy to verify are not really as useful as the things that people care about, believe, and identify with.
Just think — let’s say that you’ve decided that your niche is middle aged moms. But the experience of a middle aged mom who’s just had her first kid is going to be vastly different than the one on number four, and her experience is going to be different from the one who’s going through empty nest syndrome, and they’re all going to be different from the one who’s kids are a year away from going to college. Starting to see the issue?
OK, but if demographics are out, and these people are so different, how can you possibly find a common way to talk to them?
The fix is to think in terms of shared experiences, beliefs, identities, and challenges, and let the demographic stuff fit in around that.
Because if you tell those women, “You’re a middle aged mom who’s feeling stuck”, that’s basically a census form. But if you say “If you have to make one more batch of brownies for one more goddamn bake sale, you’re going to start screaming and never stop,” that’s an “Oh my God, you actually get it!” moment.
It’s raw. It takes a much, much deeper knowledge of your audience than any niche could give you. And it means that you can’t cop out with demographics and surface level stuff. But it’s what makes the difference between content that connects and content that gets clicked off in second one.