How to Escape the Trap of the Niche and Embrace Your Full Self

What if, instead of niching down, like all of the marketing experts tell you to, you began with exploring who you are?

What if you started your business on a foundation of self love? What if you gathered all of your unique and strange parts together and that was your niche, instead of an arbitrary idea of what you “should” do?

That’s what this post explores.

Yesterday, I met with a coaching client who has a therapy practice. For months, I had tried to get her to niche down. She is brilliant at helping families go through addiction recovery and I wanted her to focus solely on that.

She explained to me how much she loves working with healthy couples, and new mothers, and teens. I could see that she was struggling because she thought I would be disappointed that she didn’t want to niche down.

As she spoke, I realized that maybe niching down didn’t make sense for her. Maybe, instead of trying to get her to be super specific, I should celebrate her strengths and encourage her to use them with all types of clients.

You see, this client is extremely creative. She uses dance, storytelling, and sensory exploration to help her clients heal. I thought, What if she emphasized her creativity, instead of limiting who she works with? What if I help her do more of what she loves instead of trying to fit her into a nicely defined box for the sake of marketing?

When I told her my thoughts, she let out a sigh of relief. And so did I.

Even though every marketer tells you to niche down, it can often feel like wearing Spanx – so restrictive it’s hard to breathe. Your business may look sexier, but you’re never completely comfortable.

Niching down is like wearing Spanx. You may look sexier, but it's hard to breathe.Click To Tweet

Here’s how I’ve tried to niche down in the past:

I tried to figure out what people wanted. I looked at lists of psychographics and demographics. I picked one area or topic to focus on based on my strengths.

My main goal was to make it easier for people to “get” what I did. I wanted to make money quickly (which didn’t work, in case you were wondering). Also, to be painstakingly honest, I didn’t want to do the deep, messy work of truly looking at myself and then creating a niche based on everything that I am.

I tried to take a shortcut. It didn’t work.

I ended up with a blog and a business that felt so unaligned with me I had to dump all of my well-researched tactics and start over.

But I’m convinced there’s another way, a more intuitive, fuller way, to create a unique niche.

I want to create a brand, that doesn’t diminish me for the sake of convenience, but instead, represents who I actually am.

I’m sharing this with you because I’m guessing you may be sick of wearing metaphorical Spanx, tired of trying to fit yourself into a box so that other people “get” who you are and what you do.

The first step is to get down, in writing, or in drawing, or however feels good to you, all of your strange and beautiful complexities.

I’ve explored this in two ways.

First, I made this bullseye. The center shows my values in blue, followed by my actions in green, then what I make, and finally, what I sell.

Then, I wrote down some ideas about who I am and what I offer:

My approach: Playful, creative, connective, intuitive, innovative, concrete
My values: Honesty, joy, integrity, uniqueness, permission
My strengths: Writing, breaking concepts down, meeting people where they are, seeing different possibilities, teaching through expressive modalities, learning, making connections, humor, honesty/vulnerability, courage to explore
Things I love to do: Have deep conversations, go on adventures, write, connect, read, learn new things, celebrate other people’s uniqueness, create, experiment
Qualities I bring to my clients: Listening, reliability, care, exploration, permission, fun/joy
Key moments in my story: When I went on LEAPYear, shaved my head, became a teacher, pursued my own business, moved to Miami, grew Blogging on Your Own Terms, met my Soul Women
What is important for me to share: The complexity of creating, our endless capacity for reinvention through creativity and curiosity, stop defining and start noticing, it’s okay to follow the money

These are the things that feel intuitively right for me to explore. You are welcome to use my format to write your own list. Or it might look different for you. That’s okay, too.

If you know my blog, if you know my writing, you know that I can’t write a blog post without some concrete steps to follow.

So here are a few guidelines for how to begin exploring the fullness of who you are.

  1. Start with your values. What is your core, your foundation? Begin with that.
  2. Don’t let your brain take charge of this process. Follow your intuition. Write down whatever comes up, no matter how strange, embarrassing, or irrelevant it feels.
  3. Be creative. Draw. Paint. Dance into your niche. Seriously. Let yourself explore.
  4. Play. Go outside. Take a walk. Let your joy speak.
  5. Be curious.
  6. Go into moments of power in your past. What have you done or experienced that changed you forever? Those moments matter.
  7. Let yourself stay with complexity, with not knowing, with the messiness. Don’t try to “make sense” of it all. This part of the process is about seeing yourself fully. That’s it.

Here’s another truth bomb for you.

I don’t know where this is leading. I may write another blog post where I fold this into a unique, well defined niche. Or I may see a thread inside of this self-knowledge, and follow that to a project. Or an idea.

Right now, knowing myself feels like a solid foundation to begin rebuilding. So I’m starting there. And if it feels right to you, I hope you’ll start there with me.

  • Daniella, I LOVE this! I resonate totally! Especially now, in the wake of a horrific life experience, I’m so much more attuned to “just being me”. The raw and transparent me. I was heading in this direction before I lost my son, and now, it’s even more evident that my writing and what I create is who I am…My blog has a few categories. Apothecary, Creativity, Sufficiency, and Wellness. I’ve been pondering also adding a “grief” category. But all in all, the bottom line, I just want to write about life, and encouraging others to just BE who they are, and BE great with that!

    • Daniela Uslan

      Joyce, I am so glad you are giving yourself permission to show up as your amazing self. I like the idea of adding a grief category. So many people need help and healing with grief, and you are courageous to be so open about your own.

  • Fabiola Rodriguez Licona

    I wholly agree with you, Daniela. I recently read an article by Jeff Goins that says something similar- finding a theme (or a voice) is more important than a niche because readers follow your voice, not your topic. Therefore, if you find your own voice, you can write about anything.

  • indeed. and YES too re: your SPANX comment. you might like this, on that subject: https://www.portapocket.com/blogs/news/15677656-for-the-love-of-spanx-what-kind-of-message-are-we-sending-to-society

    • Daniela Uslan

      Thanks for the article! Very interesting read!

  • Jennifer Boyd Ross

    Love love this…have always struggled/fought with nicheing down ( however you spell it). Feeling such a relief!!! Thanks!!!

    • Daniela Uslan

      I’m so glad I could bring you some relief! You do you!

  • Daniela, I really love this. Thank you for writing about this. It

    I am going through something similar. I started working as a part-time freelancer in September doing different things (content creation for inbound marketing strategies, web development and journalistic work).

    You are talking about niches, but what I’m doing is combining three different disciplines.

    Everything and everyone says, focus on one thing.

    The thing is that enjoy all of these. I’ve also been doing okay since I started freelancing last September. I’ve had three clients who I have made about a total of $10K from (working 15 hours a week) I know I can make more if I push for more, but I’m intentionally working only the 15 hours per week right now because I stay at home to care for my 3-year-old daughter.

    I feel that I’m going with who I am as you said. I have many interests and I feel like everything I do is connected.

    I do however focus on working with startups, nonprofits and influencers.

    Sometimes though, I do feel inadequate and pressured because people don’t get me. I feel like I owe people an explanation. But, I look back to my work, and it’s fun to work on different projects. I am super curious, and restless. There’s nothing I can do about it! (LOL)

    This also reminds me of an email you wrote, “Permission Granted.” Specifically this: Permission to create a business that combines different parts of yourself that may seem strange to combine. That always stuck with me.

    But, what do you think? Can the same be applied to me who is doing content creation, web development, and journalstic articles?

    Thanks again for your super amazing blog posts, Daniela!

    Cheers,
    Alma Campos
    almacamposdiaz.com

    • Daniela Uslan

      Thanks for your comment, Alma! I definitely think all of those things have a common thread, or many. Creativity, storytelling, and creation just to name a few. And if they all feel good to you, I say enjoy all of them!

  • Jennifer Boyd Ross

    I wrote a comment. Have no idea where it went but LOVE this. You have no idea how much!!! I can feel the freedom of it!

  • Peggy Nolan

    I dumped everything last year. And I had signs along the way. My twitter account was hacked and I said good-bye to almost 5,000 followers. Then my self-hosted website was hacked beyond reasonable repair. I said good-bye to that, too. I hated niching down. I was stale and boring. I write. I paint. I Crochet. I teach yoga. I have a full time job. Life is better now that I’ve opted out of the online marketing hooey.

    • Daniela Uslan

      That is so great, Peggy! The whole point of this blogging stuff, especially if you have a full time job, is to just ENJOY yourself and express yourself. I’m glad you’re letting yourself be you and doing all these things that make you feel good!

  • Thank-you for writing this – it makes me feel so much better about my repeated failures to niche. It sounds like such good and logical advice, but it just doesn’t work for me, even if I choose something I love. It’s good to know I’m not alone.

    I hope your re-building adventures go well.

    • Daniela Uslan

      Thanks Katie! You are definitely NOT alone!

  • Leanne Brewer

    All I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you!! I don’t know how many times my daughter and I talked about niches. She is my help behind the scenes and I’m the one that puts it together. I kept telling her that every thing I’m reading and courses that I’ve taken says to niche down. We are both creatives and have a very hard time with it. She finally said to me “Mom, life is NOT a niche!!” We blog about a little bit of everything and enjoy it. So, yes! we don’t have a niche and yes! it’s a little bit harder to make money, but we are enjoying the ride.

    • Daniela Uslan

      Thanks Leanne! Sometimes we forget that blogging is supposed to be a creative expression of who we are. Your niche doesn’t have to be topic based. It can be the way YOU approach things. Your unique take on everything you write about!

  • Ha, this is perfect. It’s refreshing to hear someone say something other than “You’re trying to do too many things.”

    • Daniela Uslan

      Thanks Marianne! I know, right?

  • Jill Levenhagen

    This is great Daniela! I really love seeing your “bullseye”. I have been going through about 3 years of not feeling authentic online. I finally stopped doing it for money and decided to just “throw up whatever I want to” on my name url jilllevenhagen.com, and as I was doing that it felt like the best thing I’ve ever done online. It is like blogging circa 2005. But there is no money in just being willy-nilly about it. It is authentic, but being authentic is not seeing every visitor as your means to live. Such a hard thing to work through. Because there is not a lot of point in working at this blogging thing without making money. I just have a hobby now. Keep exploring all this though. Because that line between our authentic self and our money-making self is a sweet spot for the future of blogging. Because the serious-money-making is business, and has little to do with authenticity. The serious-money-making blogging was something that “happened” to people, while they were authentic and all the FB and Pinterest stars were aligned. Then so many people chased it. Now it is dying, because people have had to turn more business-like and less authentic. I’m watching for what is next.

    • Daniela Uslan

      Thank you for your thoughts, Jill! I agree, it can be tough to find that line. I am going to write another few posts about this.

      As I mentioned, I think the FIRST step is looking at yourself in this full, authentic way. And THEN you can move forward and create projects that allow you to take that distilled essence of you and make things of value and sell them. So instead of thinking “I have to find my niche” you first explore what makes you unique and what makes you thrive. Then you take that knowledge and funnel it into specific projects that provide value for specific people.

      For example, one of my core strengths is writing, another is learning, and another is synthesizing. I am using all of those skills to freelance write for publications. It’s not my ONE niche, but it’s a use for my skills and abilities. And then I can take those same abilities and talents to make other things, like a creative writing workshop or a group coaching program. I am thinking about moving away from needing to define my one niche into thinking who am I and how can I use my skills in all sorts of ways to serve people AND myself. I hope that makes sense! I would love to hear your thoughts on it!