Stop Thinking About Niches and Start Thinking About You
“Do I contradict myself? Very well then…I contain multitudes”. So wrote Walt Whitman in Song of Myself 51, one of the greatest poems of the 19th century. I was reminded of Whitman’s words recently when I read a piece by Brittany Jezouit about why content creators should avoid niches.
Embracing a niche-less existence is an act of creative rebellion
There’s a lot of marketing and creative-career advice out there about “finding your niche.”
The piece was based on an earlier article by Emily Sinclair Montague.
I’m a Niche-Less Abomination: Here’s Why You Should Consider Joining My Hellish Crusade
Do you know what niches are? Made up. Probably by robots, and that’s bad, in my opinion.
In additions to gems like this line (which I totally agree with)…
The term “income streams” makes me picture a Scroogelike scene in which writers bathe in a river of gold coins, hedonistically cackling whilst accusing other artists of being “poor, ragged peasants.” Personally, I feel that this image is pretty appealing.
…Montague and Jezouit both argue against the conventional wisdom that content creators should choose a particular niche, build a brand around it, and stick to content which fits into that niche, so as to focus all their efforts on targeting a specific audience.
I totally agree that niches are stupid and limiting. I originally discovered this in the context of my Youtube channel. The channel is called Do It Yourself Home Automation, and initially I focused it exclusively on that one topic: diy home automation projects. I wouldn’t post product reviews about anything not home-automation related, videos about software, etc. because I assumed my audience only wanted to hear about the channel’s home automation niche.
The Trouble With Niches
YouTube can be a challenging platform, though. On a platform like Medium, you can always create a new account or a new publication within your existing account in order to test a new niche or content type. From day one, you can monetize your content and have it promoted.
YouTube is different. To monetize content there--and access certain features, like mobile livestreaming--you have to reach 1,000 subscribers on your channel. That’s a tough bar to clear for a new channel, and it took me years to get there. You can create a new channel to explore a niche, but you can’t monetize it or access all possible creator tools until it grows substantially. That makes testing new niches hard.
I realized, eventually, that YouTube’s structure encourages a focus on the creator, not on the content. Their setup encourages you to create one channel for you, and then build it by uploading enough great content to reach 1,000 subscribers, instead of creating myriad small channels which you can’t monetize. I also realized that YouTube’s model is largely transactional. I have some hardcore viewers that watch all my video. But most people find my channel via search, and come there to find the answer to one, specific question.
For both of those reasons, I realized that especially on a platform like YouTube, focusing on a niche was the wrong approach. To keep scaling my channel, I needed as much content as possible, so it literally didn’t pay to focus on lots of individual channels tailored to specific niches. And most of my viewers weren’t coming to my channel because it was about home automation, anyway. They were coming because one of my videos addressed one of their specific questions, whether that was about home automation, cooking, or something else entirely.
So about two years ago, I decided to abandon niches--or at least totally de-empahsize them. I started uploading content about whatever I felt like covering, whether that was a home automation product, some other gadget, or something totally random. I also tried to involve myself and my own personal presence in the videos more.
The move definitely paid off. Some of my best content on the channel is about things totally unrelated to home automation, like configuring a Google WiFi router, using Fitbits, or changing the batteries on a Swiffer. The channel has nearly tripled in size since I made that shift, and got 935,000 views in 2020. Eschewing niches is a strategy I’ve used in my content here on Medium and in my photographic work, too.
You Are the Niche
As I made the move away from traditional niches, I started to realize something curious. Many people still came to my content in a transactional way, to read a specific article or watch a video that answers a specific question.
But a growing portion of my viewership consumed my content because I created it. I have readers that care about coding, but are willing to read my writing about cooking just because it came from me. There are also people who read my articles here on Medium and rarely go on YouTube, but will go there occasionally to watch the YouTube videos I publish. Practically, this shift is reflected in a growing number of people who follow me, either here on Medium, on my Youtube channel, or on my personal newsletter.
That was surprising, and enlightening. It’s almost as if by sharing more of myself and of the random variety of things that interest me (in short, by ignoring traditional concepts of a niche), my content became more appealing, not less so. You’d think that if I went outside my nice, I’d annoy my followers with irrelevant content, and drive them away. Sometimes people unsubscribe when I publish new YouTube videos, but overall abandoning niches has led to a major upwards trend in followers and viewership.
The Takeaway: You Are the Niche
Eventually, something dawned on me. If you’re a curious, engaged person with a range of interests — and you share that range with others — then eventually YOU become the niche.
People don’t tune in to hear about home automation, or Fitbits, or cooking (or makeup, or cosplay, or whatever kind of content you create). They tune in to hear your take on all those things. People engage with your content not only because they care about the topic, but because they want to know what you think about the topic, no matter what that topic happens to be.
And here’s the great thing--by definition, the niche of you is incredibly targeted, specific and exclusive. Anyone can write an article sharing information about Fitbits. But no one but me can write an article sharing what you think about Fitbits. You have a monopoly on your personal niche, and that gives you a competitive advantage — especially as you create more content and your followership grows.
Once you make the shift from thinking about external, topic-focused niches to the niche of you, you’ll likely find that it gives you a lot more creative freedom. As Jezouit and Montague suggest, you can explore whatever you want, and trust that your audience (or at least a portion of it) will follow you on that journey. And as a bonus, you’ll have zero direct competition and unlimited scope for growth.
So in 2021, forget niches. Or at least forget traditional niches, focused on specific, external topics. Instead, focus on creating content that interests you, and building your brand (and a niche) around that. As Whitman said, you contain multitudes. As you create content, don’t be afraid to let all of them show.
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