The unexpected (but proven) way to find your niche in the creator economy
Figure out exactly how to identify your niche and differentiate your work in a crowded space.
The creator economy has made it possible for more people than ever to earn a living doing work that uniquely combines their passions and skills. Jack Butcher is a perfect example. Once an agency designer, he found a way to separate hours worked from income earned and created a seven-figure business in the process.
And yet, if you ask the average person who he is, chances are they’ll have no idea. That’s because you won’t find his creations in luxury stores or on main street billboards.
Jack draws pictures for a small audience on Twitter and Instagram, giving away 90% of his work for free. His simple model illustrates the success that is possible once you find your niche.
So, what exactly did he do?
What does your niche mean?
The rest of this article will systematically breakdown Butcher’s exact niche-finding process so that you can:
- Find your niche by identifying the "overlap,"
- Create content for your niche that gets noticed,
- Monetize your work through iterative listening.
But before we dive into these elements, we need to address the #1 factor creatives get wrong about finding their niche: a niche is more than a topic.
Niche is every factor that contributes to the unique value you bring to your audience. It’s not only about the topic you choose but also everything that surrounds the topic.
Elements of a Niche
- Topic - Targeted topic of your content.
- Format - What you choose to create (image, video, text, audio).
- Language - How does your audience communicate (English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese)?
- Audience - Who do you serve, what do they call themselves (veterans, soccer moms, cat owners)?
- Voice - How will you communicate, will you use swear words or keep it clean? Big words or plain language?
- Location/Platform - Where does your audience live (physically and digitally)?
The most successful niche creators intentionally use every one of these elements to set them apart in their audience’s mind.
Now let’s take a look at exactly how Jack Butcher accomplished this feat and found a niche market.
Identify the overlap
After spending a decade working in graphic design agencies, Jack left to see if he could build a business on his terms. One that would allow him and his wife to experience more creative and personal freedom in their everyday lives.
But the dream quickly turned into a nightmare. He writes,
“I was taking on work for anyone who’d pay me – quite literally a jack of all trades and a master of none.”
The balancing act between going broke and burning out pushed him to experiment. At this point, he began working towards his niche by using a process I like to call identifying the overlap.
The overlap is the sweet spot. The place where your experience, skills, interests, and the customers’ needs all meet.
- Possessing the right experience and skills enables you to tackle projects with confidence.
- Taking into account your interests ensures you’ll stay in the game long enough to see the results of your work.
- Clarifying the customer’s needs dictates whether or not your chosen niche will be profitable.
Jack’s overlap came about as follows.
He’s a designer at heart and knew that he wanted that to remain the focus of his business. His experience in corporate design gave him a unique angle with which he could approach future projects.
During his time working with corporate agencies, presentation decks were his favorite projects to work on because they regularly included opportunities for him to “visualize intangible concepts.”
Design -> Corporate design -> Presentation decks -> Visualize intangible concepts
Here’s an example of one of Jack’s designs.
This focus capitalized on his corporate experience, design skills, and interest in converting ideas into images. Additionally, he knew there was a demand for this type of work because of his history in the field (but we’ll talk about how he fully monetized this new direction below!).
If you’re stuck trying to figure out your niche or where an overlap might exist for you, think of the problem as a series of connecting flights.
There are no direct flights from Cincinnati, Ohio, to the Galapagos Islands. You need to fly through Atlanta or Ecuador first. But once you’re in either of those locations, a huge variety of new destinations become accessible. In the same way, maybe your current overlap seems limited because of inadequate experience, conflicting interests, or unclear customer needs.
No worries. Create what you can with the skills you have for the people you know. Every action you take will function as a new connecting flight, opening up opportunities that couldn’t be seen from your previous location. Then use those to take you to where you want to ultimately land.
Create content that gets noticed
Jack knew that simple visualized concepts was a niche he could get excited about. If all of his clients hired him to do this type of work, it would eventually lead to more freedom (fewer projects) and higher profit (specialized value for customers).
His new problem was figuring out how to get attention on the new design focus. He decided to double down on social media by producing a large volume of shareable content, “I posted 2–3 visuals a day on Instagram and Twitter for around 6 months.”
For clarity's sake, let's elaborate on his strategy.
Jack continued to work on various available projects while also actively creating free content that would attract the type of projects he most wanted to work on. Two to three images a day means his total unique creations for the year were in the range of 600–900.
He visualized nearly a thousand concepts in order to solidify his niche in the market’s mind.
Successful niches don’t happen by accident. They aren’t stumbled upon during normal business hours or discovered while reading a curated list of this year’s most profitable industries.
Niches are forged, not found.
When you boil down Jack’s strategy, he’s essentially sharing quotes through images. There are already thousands of creators in this space.
- Myselflovesupply (2.6 mil followers) shares quote images on Instagram.
- Karl Niilo (500k subscribers) shares <1-minute videos of memorable quotes on YouTube.
- James Clear (440k followers) uses Twitter to share short text quotes from his writing to keep his readers engaged.
Arguably, Jack doesn’t have a unique topic (inspirational quotes).
Instead, his value comes from the unique format he chose (black and white images illustrating a quote), the audience he serves (solopreneurs who can’t afford corporate-level services), the voice he uses (to-the-point copy), and the location/platform he prioritized (using images on text-focused Twitter).
So how can you apply this strategy to your niche search?
In terms of how long you should create for, I like Noah Kagan's Law of 100 or Basecamp's 6-week cycles.
The former advocates for creating 100 consecutive pieces of content before you evaluate, iterate, or pivot. Basecamp's tactic is called "scope hammering." They strip down a massive project until it can be successfully completed in 6 weeks or less. You can use a similar process to reduce your expectations around your creations so that you can produce more content faster than you thought possible.
What Jack Butcher, Myselflovesupply, Karl Niilo, and James Clear all have in common is that by producing a large amount of publicly-available content, they created:
- Multiple opportunities for audience feedback to help them refine their work.
- Numerous entry points into their brand. More content = more discoverability.
- A huge backlist of completed media that can be reshared, repackaged, and monetized.
The surest way to find your niche is to create your way into one.
Listen for profits
Niches only lead to riches if you’re paying attention.
Jack’s designs were not immediately monetizable in themselves, the way a video on YouTube might be through AdSense. Instead, his strategy was to use the shareable designs as a lead source for his non-scalable design work. People who saw his work could then reach out and hire him to design their decks, website graphics, etc.
His first scalable product came after the 6-month mark of sharing his creations online. And the way he decided upon it speaks volumes about his monetization approach.
“I spoke to hundreds of people who were interacting with the brand — what do you need help with? The answers: ‘Time management, procrastination, getting started, staying focused.’ All problems I’d experienced myself.”
That first product turned out to be a time management tool he created for himself years ago. He took some time to update it, made it available as a digital download, and began selling them through Twitter and Instagram.
From there, he went on to build a community subscription, host live workshops, and launch evergreen courses. It's worth noting that fully half of his seven-figure revenue comes from a single product: the community subscription (the product has nearly 3,000 members already).
The most successful creators and companies all have subscription models supporting their work. Coincidence? Probably not.
As we examine Jack's strategy, we can see that each new product was birthed out of the one before it and validated through customer feedback.
The first digital download created a demand for accountability (i.e., a virtual community). Questions in the community led to a demand for more in-depth training (i.e., live workshops). The time and audience size constraints of live workshops led to the creation of prerecorded trainings (i.e., evergreen courses).
This is iterative listening at work.
- Jack grew an audience through design.
- The audience voiced a need.
- Jack responded with a solution (product).
- Jack and the audience found new ways to communicate (private community).
- New needs arose.
- New products came to life.
If this process seems like Jack’s beating the system, he is. What I don’t read in this story is extensive market research, the analysis of one’s competitors, or a huge product launch to crickets.
That’s because, for successful niche creators, the real work is listening. It’s figuring out a who long before a what. It’s trial by community, not fire. And it’s about them, not you.
How to apply this strategy
Regardless of the type of content you create, the following principles will apply.
Step 1: Start by identifying the overlap.
Finding your niche begins with looking inside. Where is the overlap? What experience, skills, and interests do you bring to the table? What have you already created/worked on that received positive feedback?
Only after you answer those questions should you then peak into the marketplace. Where are people already spending their money? What are they already reading, watching, consuming?
Where is the intersection of these points?
If your niche idea requires you to do many new things in new ways, it's probably not for you. When you find your niche it should feel like cheating—the more unfair your advantage, the more likely your success.
Step 2: Creates lots of content to get noticed.
Belle Cooper writes,
“Focus gives your audience an anchor… You want people to go to your [content] and know immediately what they’re going to get.”
Volume helps your audience believe your message. Suppose you say that your niche is ancient Mediterranean baking recipes, but you only have 3 published on your website. In that case, you're not going to be taken as seriously as the competitor who has 150 blogged recipes and uploads regularly to a YouTube channel.
When you're first starting, think of every piece of content as a personal invitation to a new subscriber. The creator who's sending out 10+ invitations a week will always grow faster than the person sending out 1.
Step 3: Monetize through listening.
You can't make money until people know who you are, and people can't know who you are until you've made something.
The order for success is no secret in the creator economy, and yet so many try to circumvent it only to end up in failure. There are other business models that don’t require you to be (as publicly) known. But if you want the rewards that niche creators enjoy (freedom, income, respect), then you must work the formula.
Solve the real needs of actual people, not the assumed problems of an imagined demographic.
Next steps to finding your niche
You already have all of the information you need to find a profitable niche. What comes next is the work. Take some time to follow the steps above, sketch out your content ideas, then create something before the end of the day (see what Ghost users are creating).
Nothing will ever be able to give you an answer as powerful as one discovered for yourself.