“Find your niche” is a good marketing tactic, but it’s bad life advice.
You hear this all the time from marketing gurus, influencers, and pretty much anyone trying to sell a product or service in the modern age of limited attention and unlimited content.
And it makes a lot of sense ... from a money-making perspective.
Imagine if you rolled up to a Chik-fil-A drive-thru and they said, “Sorry, we don’t sell chicken anymore. We sell hamburgers now.” What?! The literal name of your business has part of the word “chicken” in it. Chicken is your thing. Chicken is all you’ve ever done. That’s what you’re known for.
This is called branding. And one of the most important parts of branding is consistency.
Another important part of branding is specificity. It’s really hard to be good at and known for everything ... unless you’re Amazon.
Also, with more specificity, you’ll grow a clientele that is smaller but much more loyal because you’re doing exactly what they want. And you’ll continue to attract more of those rare but fiercely loyal clientele over time if you stay consistent with your branding, content, product, service, etc.
So when people say “find your niche,” what they mean is that you should find something very specific and stick to it.
Again, this is fine advice for a business. Where I take issue is when solo-entrepreneurs start applying this advice to their businesses that are inextricably intertwined with their own personal lives (“lifestyle businesses”), which is increasingly common in the gig economy.
Because humans don’t fit into niches!
In his poem Song of Myself, Walt Whitman writes:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Does an Instagram feed full of makeup tutorials encapsulate your whole person? Do TikTok videos of nothing other than cute videos of your cat sum up your entire identity?
Even those examples aren’t the ones I’m most worried about. Because they are less likely to pull their creators into the trap of thinking that everything in their life needs to be about putting on makeup or playing with their cat.
The solo entrepreneurial pursuits that are most insidious are those that seem to be imbued with a higher purpose (or at least wide recognition from society as something to be taken seriously): climate change activist, small business consultant, writer about mental health issues.
What if you want to be active about something other than climate change? What if you want to consult an entity other than a small business? What if you want to write about issues other than mental health?
If you’re firm about maintaining separation between your lifestyle business and your actual life, then I think you should niche down on the business side of things while allowing yourself to be a dynamic human being otherwise.
After all, almost all employment opportunities are niched down to the max. Individual jobs play the roles of particular cogs on the gears of a larger business. So if you weren’t a solo entrepreneur and you had a normal job, you’d still have some amount of niching down in your life.
I’m reluctant to use the term “work-life balance” here because I think it creates a confusing and unnecessary separation between the two when work is really just part of life and should be regarded as such, but I digress.
I have argued thus far against niching down. Then again, you can’t go too broad either.
Think about an everyday task—cooking, for example. If you’re scrambling eggs, you need to stand at the stove long enough, stirring with a spatula, so the eggs don’t burn. Yes, you contain multitudes. And a thought might pop into your head that compels you all of a sudden to run out the door to do something else. But you have to focus on the eggs for long enough to cook them and eat them.
As in all things, there is a balance. In modern America, I think we’re out of balance. I think our scales are tipped too far to the side of work. This imbalance manifests in many ways.
If you’re struggling with this, you might ask yourself: Are you building a business or are you being a human? And which one is more important to you?
I’ve been thinking about this topic myself in the context of this newsletter. Thus far, I’ve mostly been using this newsletter as a medium for my creative writing: poems and short prose mostly.
As my lifestyle changes, so too does my writing. When I’m working a day job, I tend to write poetry. My creativity gets clogged and then it all rushes out at once on my lunch break or on my bus ride home. When I have more time to think, as I have while I’ve been on sabbatical, I tend to write essays about my larger ideas.
Lately, I haven’t felt creative. I’ve written almost no poetry. I’m just not “seeing the art of things.” But that’s okay. I am human. I contain multitudes.
Instead of trying to force my present state of being into creativity in order to stay consistent with this newsletter, I’m just going to write whatever comes to me. Today I railed against finding your niche. I also have a few almost-finished essays about taking a sabbatical and work in general that I’ll be posting soon.
I’m sorry, dear reader, but I don't think I can tell you what to expect of me. I’m not sure what to expect of myself. I’m becoming more at peace with that lately. My writing will be whatever pops into my mind as my sensorily experiencing vessel beats against the waves of a dynamic surrounding environment.
If you’re crazy enough to go along with that, please subscribe below to get my writing sent to your email inbox: