For much of human history, opportunity has been limited—by factors like geography, social status, training and education. People often lived within the same area their entire lives, never learning all too much about the world beyond.
Today, all of that has changed. And the Internet has been one of the most incredible catalysts for making it happen.
For those willing to pursue it, opportunity is more accessible than ever before. And with a world as interconnected as ours, niche markets are no longer just for small businesses. Instead of serving a small number of enthusiasts that live within your local area, entrepreneurs can now reach across the world.
To shed some more light on this, I recently sat down with musician Paul Nowell, better known as Paul the Trombonist, a man who certainly knows about competing in a niche market. I also interviewed Mike Pearson, founder of Stupid Simple SEO, and was able to glean some insights on how he successfully monetized his niche.
They both had impactful ideas to share on how to determine whether or not your niche has the potential to grow into a sizable business.
1. An Eager Audience Exists
“There’s no such thing as a niche that’s too small if the people care enough,” says noted marketer Seth Godin. “If you think you need a bigger market, you’re actually saying that the market you already have doesn’t need you, depend on you or talk about you enough.”
Nowell knows a lot about this. He’s a trained trombonist who studied under some of the best in the world, but trombone isn’t exactly something that people are lining up around the block to hear by itself. Still, he’s managed to carve out a niche for himself by finding what Godin calls a “tribe,” a passionate group of fans that cares about what he brings to the table.
“I found out the hard way when I released my first album, that not a lot of people even knew my message existed,” he shares. “Then I decided to give it away for free in exchange for email addresses and built up a bit of a mailing list. Not thinking much of it, after I wrote my first e-book, I sent out one email and generated $6,000 worth of sales in 24 hours. A lightbulb went off in my head. I’d found out how to get my message directly to my audience. It was from then on that I understood, in order to be in complete control, I needed to own my own distribution.”
Passion matters. People don’t want to spend money on something they aren’t passionate about, but if you can tap into a group that really cares about what you have to say—and shares the same interests—assuming you’re in control of your own distribution, you’ve built a lever that can move mountains.
Look at Apple. As illustrated by Guy Kawasaki in his book The Macintosh Way, they leveraged groups of what they called “software evangelists” to build a devoted fanbase that carried the company long before they became the giant they are today.
Find the people who care. Once you do, you’ve found your niche.
2. There’s A Clear Need
When Mike Pearson was trying to come up with an idea for his business, he was in a Facebook group composed mostly of bloggers, and he spotted something. “A trend that I was noticing from all of these bloggers—4,000 of them—as questions kept coming up in the feed, almost everyone wanted advice about how to improve at SEO.”
He began answering questions and helping out where he could. “That was when the idea was born. I thought, maybe I should start a blog about SEO, and eventually release a course about it for the readers that want more.”
Pearson quickly found out that he’d tapped into an immediate need. His course generated $55,000 during its first five-day public launch. Finding a need and filling it, is what takes you from a person with expertise—to one with a meaningful business.
3. You Have A High-Intent Audience
If you have a passionate audience and you’ve found a need, you still need to figure something out: whether they’ll pay for what you provide.
“Starting out, this was hard for me,” adds Nowell.
He continues, “I always thought finding a high-intent audience was about social media followers. But once I built up my email list and was in control of my own content distribution, I was able to get direct feedback from my audience on what they were interested in—and how I could better serve them. I discovered how to build a business doing something I love.”
Finding intent is hard, but if you walk into it like Nowell did, it’s a sign you’re on the right path. A good way to start figuring out whether people will buy, is to ask them.
Sales research indicates that asking the question, “Why did you invite us here?” when starting a pitch in a B2B setting, is a good way to find out what strengths your best prospects see in you, then double down on that. Pearson was able to tap into that by answering questions and finding out naturally, as he shared in his interview. If you can find that high intent in your audience—figure out what moves them to act in your niche—you’ll be well on your way to a strong business.
4. You’re Passionate Yourself
Your expertise is probably something you’re naturally passionate about. But what if it’s not? It’s difficult to maintain motivation if you’re good at something, yet don’t necessarily love it. Richard Branson of Virgin has had that experience.
“If you have an idea that might work in an area you’re not passionate about, instead think about ways you could apply it to a sector that does excite you,” Branson says. “Look at your idea from a different perspective, and you might be surprised by the results.”
This is what he did with Virgin Money, a business sector that didn’t excite him, but he found the customer service aspect did.
If you can find a passionate fanbase with a clear need, high purchase intent—and you can get passionate about that niche—then keep pushing forward.
You may just have a niche you can turn into a sizable business.