How To Pick A Niche

I made an announcement on Twitter the other day:

I was going to focus my content on energy.

Someone asked a great question: “How did you come to that decision?”

There was quite a bit of thought that went into it, so I wanted to expand in a longer-form post. It may help you, it may not… but either way, it’ll help show you the mission I’ll be going on. This article will also give you ways to come up with your own niche.

For those who are unsure about their niche – or their basis of content – this could serve as a guide.

A few things happened over the past week in particular.

  1. I interviewed Nicolas Cole for my podcast. He pushed me: “What is your focus? What are you known for? Everyone has a top performer podcast. Go deeper.” That made me think.
  2. Two other guests of the podcast asked me: “Who’s listening to this podcast?” When I told them my Mom and Grandma, that was accurate… but I didn’t have a listener avatar. That bothered me.
  3. In Steph Smith’s book, Doing Content Right, she talked about how when you produce content online… you’re really entering into a contract with your audience. One example from her book: there was a creator who produced YouTube videos about haunted houses. The creator stopped posting about haunted houses. Then the creator started posting about something else. Then she went back to haunted houses. But nobody watched her videos when she went back to the haunted houses because she had broken her agreement with her audience. Even if you’re posting your content under your personal brand, people don’t come for you. They come to learn about a topic or something they’re interested in.
  4. I was listening to this podcast from Daniel Pink and Tim Ferriss. Pink was talking about pitching books. How when he pitches a new book, he puts a tagline on the book that explains why this book doesn’t exist in the marketplace. For example, when Tim Ferriss was pitching his second book, The Four Hour Body, he could have said “This is the The Four Hour Workweek… but for your body.”
  5. Looking into the backgrounds of people I admired, like Tim Ferriss and Ryan Holiday, they didn’t start writing about everything. They slowly but surely built up the trust of their audience by starting with one topic (Ferriss – business optimization; Holiday – books). Then, they slowly, but surely grew from there.

The Four Questions

So I started asking myself questions to help guide me…

  • What Are You Known For? Many strangers have commented on my energy. It’s by far the most common comment: “Your energy is infectious!” I appreciate the comment every time. It took me a long time to figure out I should actually study it.
  • What Could You Write A Book About? You don’t necessarily have all the information for this book today. But is this something that keeps you up at night? Would you be interested in researching this? Would you be interested in reading research papers (typically the most boring documents in the world) about this? If yes, that’s a good sign. Energy fits the bill for me.
  • What Could You Help A Company With? The way I like to think about this is: If you were to get on stage at a company or give a TED talk, what would you talk about? Previously, I was writing my content “for those in pursuit of their highest version,” but this is broad. It’s hard to grasp onto. There are so many facets to it. It’s harder to get that across to a company than “Hey, you should increase the energy of your employees and this is why. This is what the research shows about energy.”
  • James Clear = “Habits;” You = “Your Niche”? This was a useful equation for me because I asked myself, if James Clear was known for habits, what would I want people to know me for? What could I dive deep on research (as James Clear did)?

These four questions helped guide me.

Energy will be my focus from here on out.

And who knows if “energy” will be a topic that I write a book about or that people care if I’m writing about.

But doing this exercise and asking myself these questions… it has given me a path forward. When you’re choosing a niche, you’re choosing a lens through which to look at the world. 

And I’m excited to look at the world through the lens of energy.

Postscript: Do You Have To Choose A Niche?

I think it’s important to say no.

For example, Nat Eliason has been writing about a bunch of different things for the past six years on his website (SEO, sex, writing, personal knowledge management systems… you know the usual combination). Overall, I would put him in the niche of “learning,” similar to Julian Shapiro, who focuses on a bunch of different stuff… but this likely happened quite organically rather than a decision to be “the learning guy.”

More important than niche selection is your commitment to put out content. That’s why many people who have succeeded at writing on the Internet have focused on a goal they can control (i.e. write one post a week) rather than an external goal (i.e. have 1,000,000 people check out my writing). You can control the former, not the latter.

My Process For Building Content

Content is the new currency.

I am building a publishing and media company under my name.

Why?

Many reasons. Here are a few (in no order):

  1. Identity. Each piece of content I post serves as a reminder to myself of who I am and who I want to be.
  2. Career Capital. Each piece of content increases my career capital. It is compounding (the is an idea from Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You).
  3. Serendipity. Each piece of content serves as a building block for serendipity to occur.
  4. Legacy. Each piece of content is wisdom for the next generation. It will outline my worldview so others can check it out.

Over the past 6 months, I’ve launched tweets (daily), this blog (2 posts/week), a newsletter (1 email/week), and a podcast (3/week).

Looking back at it, this a lot of content.

If I were to have attempted this all at once, it would have been nearly impossible. But instead, I’ve built slowly.

The specific process I’ve followed is similar to how a bodybuilder adds more weight to the bar.

Here’s how it’s worked: Once I have mastered shipping in one area, I move on to the next. For example, once I felt comfortable producing two blog posts per week, I added a newsletter. Once I felt comfortable sending a two blog posts per week and a newsletter, I added a podcast.

I am trying to push myself. But it’s not stressful for me to produce this much content, it’s actually enjoyable. I can’t think of anything else I would rather be doing.

Does the podcast take away from the blog posts? It’s possible. But could the podcast eventually add to the newsletter as well? Well, it already has. Additionally, the podcast serves as a way to connect with people who are also building.

Set An Internal Goal

For the blog posts, the newsletter, and the podcast… I’ve committed to an internal goal.

What does that mean? It means that I am judging progress on an internal action.

  • For the blog, I committed to 104 posts (every Monday and Thursday for one year).
  • For the newsletter, I committed to sending out 100 issues (every Tuesday for two years).
  • For the podcast, I committed to publishing 100 episodes (every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for eight months).

Then, I have given myself an “out.” I can stop after these markers if I want. Or I can readjust and set new markers.

What do most people do? They set external goals. Amount of downloads, website visits, newsletter subscribers.

I can’t directly control these things. But I can control showing up.

The Path To Becoming A Bestselling Author

  1. Start a blog.
  2. Start a Twitter account.
  3. Start a podcast.
  4. Start an email list.
  5. Use the blog to post original articles. Most will suck. But that’s okay. It’s free to fail. People will find you via Google and sign up for your email list.
  6. Use the Twitter account to make connections with your audience as well as other writers. People will find you via Twitter and sign up for your email list.
  7. Use the podcast to interview writers, as well as anyone else you find interesting. People who follow your guests will find you via the podcast and sign up for your email list.
  8. Use the email list to eventually sell your book. 
  9. Start selling your book when you have 100,000 people subscribed to your email list.
  10. Assuming 10% of the people who sign up for your email list buy the book, you have your first 10,000 sales.

The Best $13 Purchase I’ve Ever Made

Tim Ferriss often asks guests: “What’s the best purchase you’ve made for $100 or less?”

It’s a clever little question because he’s looking for a tool, service, or resource that can help almost anyone.

For me, the answer is obvious.

It’s a timer (not an affiliate link).

The timer serves three main functions:

  1. Meditation
  2. Cold showers
  3. A trigger for meditation and cold showers

Let me explain…

My days begin in the morning. I’ll wake up, rinse off, and see the timer on my dresser. When I see the timer, I immediately think of meditation. So I grab it and set it for between 45 and 60 minutes, and start.

People often ask, how do you meditate 60 minutes every morning?

It’s simple: the trigger is there. It’s not a decision I have to make.

Here’s what happens when we pull out our phones: We scroll. We check our notifications. We get distracted. Or at least I do.

So by having my phone in a different room – and relying on the timer – I get rid of the downtime.

The Disadvantage of Talent

We often think of talent as a good thing.

But talent comes with a price: we take it for granted. It coaxes us into believing we don’t need to work. Often, we are gifted this talent. So we don’t come to appreciate it.

The problem with talent is that over a long enough timescale, when someone has worked hard enough, they beat us.

I love the stories of Navy SEALs.

They all say the same thing…

“You know, before we went through BUD/S there were a bunch of dudes who looked like studs. Olympians, incredible athletes. We thought they were going to be SEALs for sure. But they were the first ones to drop out.”

Why?

Because all their lives those guys relied on their talent. But Navy SEAL training isn’t designed to test your natural abilities or talent (from what I’ve read, not experienced). It’s designed to test your grit.

Life seems a lot like that.

Some people are born more talented than others. 

And yes, eventually talent wins. 

But the fallacy is believing you can’t increase your talent.

In most areas, you can become world class by simply sticking with something long enough.

The disadvantage of talent is that over a long enough timescale… it loses.