Find your creative niche

 29 May 2015

When I ask creative people to tell me who their ideal customer is, most struggle or say: "well, anyone..." But being non-specific makes marketing incredibly difficult. Here are my thoughts on finding your creative niche and targeting your marketing to a defined audience.

Will the effort, cash and emotional investment be repaid in such a way as to make it all worthwhile? © Crafts Council
Will the effort, cash and emotional investment be repaid in such a way as to make it all worthwhile? © Crafts Council

According to conventional wisdom, the best niche can be described as being an inch wide and a mile deep.

This means it's very specific in scope, meets a well-defined need and attracts plenty of people who want to buy.

Defining your niche can be tricky, but it must be done.

Build regular customers

Finding your ideal niche is about getting to the point where you can work on the things you love and have a healthy database of loyal customers who buy your products or services – not just once but regularly.

Big companies test ideas relentlessly. Why should creatives expect to behave differently?

Being creative, it’s easy to get carried away enjoying and engaging with your work until selling becomes secondary.

You naturally fall in love with the things you regard as being creatively successful. But you must not fall into the trap of thinking that because you love it, everyone else will too.

Your ideal customer will not appear out of the woodwork just because you are doing the work.

Test the market

Big companies test ideas relentlessly. Why should we expect to behave differently? There are a couple of things you really need to pay attention to when developing your creative business.

  • One is geography: where is your ‘patch'? Where will you show up and sell your work?
  • The other is who and where the critical mass of your customers might actually be. Do they want to buy your work?

For example, I recently mentored a talented textile artist who was struggling to earn a living. Her work was great and she had a lovely studio from which she ran courses for small groups. However, she was having trouble drawing in enough people to make her business work properly.

It turned out that her marketing was restricted to her own locality. She simply was not spreading her net far enough. We took out a map, did a calculation based on an hour’s drive time and found that there were a number of large population centres where she could attract a much bigger customer base.

Whether you're an app developer, speaker, artist or designer, figure out how far you need to spread your wings in order to get the profile and income you need.

Test with minimum effort

You need to get your head around the risk to reward ratio in relation to each new thing you do. Will the effort, cash and emotional investment be repaid in such a way as to make it all worthwhile?

You also need to think clearly before making investments of lots of time and money.

What is the minimum viable investment you can make in order to test the market?

What is the minimum viable investment you can make in order to test the market? Not just for your overall business idea, but for each product or service before you roll it out?

This is not about cutting corners, it is about understanding exactly how much or little it is sensible to risk at each stage of development.

Do you need a 10-page website or could you test your idea on a blog or Facebook page first? Do you need to borrow £3,000 or could you fund a test out of cash flow initially?

To build your niche and a database of loyal customers, you must show your products and services to people and test their reaction.

It’s easy to do this these days as social media provides a convenient platform to pose questions, post images and ask opinions.

The perfect outcome of market research is to sell products or get serious enquiries while you are still in the research phase.

Test to find your niche

So before you start selling anything, show samples and demonstrate services to both existing and new customers.

See what they think. Ask if they think it’s up to scratch and if the price is right. This is much better than meeting an awkward silence later on if you try to sell something and they don’t like it.

It’s what Alan Sugar calls ‘smell and sell’. Finding the thing that you can supply that people really want.

Green & Blacks use a similar process. They get people to taste the product by giving away loads of samples, and only put time and money into making and distributing those that people like the taste of.

Remember, a sustainable business is not just built on making sales. It’s also based on building relationships with a loyal group of customers who say yes to your offer – not just the once, but again and again throughout the lifetime of your business.

When that starts to happen you’ll know you have truly found your niche.

Pete Mosley writes extensively about the business of creativity. He has written a second book The Art of Shouting Quietly – a guide to self-promotion for introverts and other quiet souls.