The myth of the niche (stop worrying about finding a business niche)

This may actually go against nearly everything smart bloggers, home business experts, e-book authors and perhaps even your mom have ever told you when it comes to starting and maintaining a home based business. In fact after reading this you might actually slam your laptop down in anger or walk away. Or you might simply dismiss me and this idea.

But I can guarantee you that this thought will be simmering in your little brilliant head for a few days. At least subconsciously.

You see, for many years, I really believe that you have been taught the wrong way to start a home based business. And that really sucks, because you have pretty much been put at a disadvantage. The idea of finding a niche has been ingrained in your head. Everybody will tell you that in order to make money at anything – but especially a home based business – you need to find a good niche that you can operate in and lend your expertise.

And it makes sense on some levels. The idea here seems to be solid.

  • If you focus on a niche, you presumably become an expert (or at least really knowledgeable) and can cast yourself as such, making your products, services or advice more attractive
  • Paying near exclusive attention on a niche allows you to focus without much distraction
  • It is possible to diversify product offerings based on what your target audience wants and cross sell related products

But if you focus on a niche:

  • You can alienate other users or have too narrow a focus – it is more difficult to find and reach your target audience. You are channeling all your efforts and time into a narrowly focused target group with a specific need
  • What if you are not interested in the niche? Would you enjoy working on it? And how do you know the product you have will be bought?
  • Competition, competition, competition…Popular niches have tons of products, some of which are better than yours, others are cheaper, and all are fighting over the same target audience as you
  • It is hard enough to create a good product – it is even harder to create a good niche product
  • What if the niche is not popular, or if the niche audience isn’t willing to buy your product because it doesn’t provide the value? Or worse, what if the problem you are aiming to solve with a product isn’t as big of a problem as you might have thought?

I’d like to share with you a personal example of the myth of the niche. Perhaps you may have had a similar situation.

One of my first products I ever created many years ago was a home energy savings kit. It was a digital download of a rather ambitious e-book I wrote that had tips for people to save on their energy bills.  I spent months writing the guide, then another few months creating worksheets that  I envisioned home owners and even renters could use to lower their energy bills.

I was really proud of the product. I had worked very hard on research, testing the tips and creating the content.

And in developing and later marketing the product, I had believed I had avoided a narrow niche by trying to appeal to homeowners and renters alike – anyone who paid energy bills could and should use the guide.

Well, it turns out the guide never sold well. Over the years I had revised it numerous times, tried re-branding it, tried offering it on Clickbank, and making it into a different e-book offering.

So…what does this failure mean? And how can I trace it back to the myth of the niche? After all, when you fail in a business venture it could be due to several factors. Often times, it is never just one thing that completely disrupts your dream of owning a home based business (or any venture).

There were a few things that together we can identify.

First, the target audience for the niche was too small. Even though I had thought by appealing to renters and homeowners I could reduce the risk of marketing to a narrow audience (those people who paid energy bills), I neglected to research more into the target audience. What type of product did they want to solve this problem? Were they interested in a digital, DIY solution? What age group was I targeting? Would a younger crowd pay vs an older crowd which might not? Once I defined the answers years later I had discovered that I was marketing the product wrong and needed to focus on a more narrow slice of the population.

Next, was I using the wrong method of delivery? The group that I was casting as my niche target may not have wanted an e-book or digital kit. Perhaps a physical product would have been better for the larger niche. Since I had to narrow it even further my prospective target shrank by quite a bit.

Was the group willing to pay for the product? Despite price reductions, different marketing campaigns and the like, nothing seemed to move the product. The narrow niche I had to market to because of the product just didn’t want to pay for the information I had to offer.

Finally, was it a real significant problem I was trying to solve? I had fallen in love with the product because I created it – and it did help me save money. But how would other people view the product? Did they not view it as a big enough issue to warrant buying my product?

This is just as much a case study in product creation as it is targeting on too narrow a niche. And perhaps in a later post which targets more product creation we can talk more about my epic failure. But let’s bring it back to the niche argument.

How can you avoid my niche failure?

…AND avoid my epic fail?

The answer is…

Don’t search for a niche.

Avoid it altogether.

What you need to do is a little exploring. A little research. You need to find what bothers people. What really gets under their skin, so much so, that they are interested in solving it. (Again, this ties in nicely into the article coming in the future about creating products that don’t suck.)

In other words, reverse the mindset. It used to be that you find a niche, then look for problems to solve.  That’s the basic advice most people will tell you who are into home based business selling or blogging or whatever.

Instead, try to find a problem and simply solve it. I know it sounds too easy, or easier said than done. But that is where you should start. And once you find a problem that people actually care about, you expand on that. Through that method, you do essentially find a “niche”. BUT – you know the problem is real and people are willing to at least hear you out, if not buy from you.

If I would have started with the “problem”, I would have avoided my home business fail – because through research and testing I would have seen that I was solving a problem that many people had, but didn’t really care about to the point of paying for the information to resolve.

So the next time your best “business friend” or that business e-book you bought tells you to find a niche people are hungry for, consider pausing and re-evaluating before descending into what amounts to niche and sub-niche hell.

Listen to people.

Solve the problem.

And the niche will come naturally.

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