“Anyone can sound like Beethoven or Joe Pan or them other guys you said. But your music, what you do? Only you can do that.” –Tony Lipp, The Green Book
During a blogging workshop I ran at the London Writers’ Salon, one writer named Ricardo asked:
“I hear advice that I should be more specific with my blog. I’m interested in a bunch of things… Am I being too broad? Should I niche down my blog?
Ricardo writes about technology, finance and politics on his blog Risk & Reward. He explores wide-ranging topics from machine learning to travel, mathematics to space exploration, gender dynamics to the Federal Reserve. Ricardo is originally from Columbia, lives in London, travels internationally often, and publishes his blog in both Spanish and English.
I thought about Ricardo’s question for a moment before something creeped out of my mouth:
“Maybe you’re the niche.”
Like Ricardo, I’ve long struggled with the niche question.
My crisis with niche crops up every 9-12 months, particularly around Christmas/New Years. I’ll look at my current work situation (the projects I’m working on, how I’m spending my time, where my income comes from) then look at my blog and online profiles (what I find myself writing about, my About page, how I describe myself in my social bios) and then…throw up my arms at the impossible dissonance between the two.
Reconciling what I do with what I say I do is a perpetual pain in the ass. I’m constantly changing, evolving. Variety is certainly the spice of my life. Par for the course as a freelancer / portfolio-careerist /multi-hyphenate (or as I’ve described it, Schizophrenic) career. But a pain in the ass no less.
Then the niche question comes up – do I need to get more specific about what I write about here? About the work I do? Should I niche down myself? Back to Ricardo’s question – should he niche down?
It might help to look at examples of the “Master Bloggers.”
Studying The Masters: “A Category of One”
First, a few stats on blogging. In 2019:
- There are over 500 million blogs on the internet
- A new blog post is published every 0.5 seconds
- A quarter of all websites on the internet are blogs
Master Bloggers are ones who seem to occupy the top .001% of that space.
(I use the term blogger loosely here. Some of them are bestselling authors and NYT columnists. One is Bill Gates. But many of them either started writing on a blog, or their blog is a big part of their professional footprint.)
Here’s how some Master Bloggers describe themselves and their blogs:
- Ryan Holiday = “Meditations on Strategy and Life”
- Mark Manson = “Author. Thinker. Life Enthusiast.”
- Jocelyn K. Glei = “I help people find more creativity and meaning in their daily work.”
- David Brooks = “Politics, culture and the social sciences.”
- Bill Gates = “This is my personal blog, where I share about the people I meet, the books I’m reading, and what I’m learning.”
- Maria Popova (of BrainPickings) = “I am a reader and writer, and I write about what I read…”
- James Clear = “The central question I explore through my work is, “How can we live better?”
- Chris Guillebeau = “I started this blog to chronicle my journey to every country in the world—but it’s since grown into a hub for original thinking….we focus on three core areas: Life, Work, and Travel.“
- Seth Godin: “I’m a teacher, and I do projects… For more than thirty years, I’ve been trying to turn on lights, inspire people and teach them how to level up.”
The bigger and more popular the writer, the wider their “niche” becomes. Until it vanishes altogether. Or rather, until it expands to include whatever the hell they feel like writing about.
Instead of mastering a particular niche or category, they’ve created, as Tim Ferriss has described, “a category of one.”
A Case Study: Tim Ferriss
Many of these Master Bloggers built their initial audience on a specific niche: Maria Popova on books; Ryan Holiday on stoicism; Seth Godin on marketing; Tim Ferriss on lifestyle design.
Let’s look at how Ferriss’s blog evolved. From “The Human Experiment Blog”:
To The 4-Hour Workweek (the title of his first book):
And now simply Tim.blog:
(If Tim’s seizure-inducing neon first attempt at a blog isn’t a case for starting before you’re ready, I don’t know what is!)
As his audience has grown, so has Ferriss’s topics and interests.
These days, instead of trying to write every post for everyone, he hopes 10% of his audience will madly LOVE each. Every post he hopes to hit a different 10% of his audience. So if you follow Tim, you might love every 10th thing he puts out. The other 90% you’ll either learn to love or tolerate because you value the 10% when it comes back around to you.
What’s Your Intention?
In the end, it comes down to intention.
If your goal is to build a business from your blog – go super-niche. Write for a specific slice of the world and serve those people well. It’s like the advice I gave hopeful entrepreneurs this week at Escape The City’s Startup Accelerator: before you serve everyone, you need to serve someone.
However, if your primary intention is to become a better communicator, explore your own thoughts, document a journey, or find your voice as a thinker and writer – write whatever the hell you want to. As long as you’re doing the work – writing, sharing, learning and improving – you’ll succeed at that intention, no matter what. Readers will be a happy by-product. And eventually, your unique voice on a variety of topics might even become a “category of one” niche after all.
The latter was my intention. And yet the irony: I can trace back my most purposeful and well-paid opportunities to this blog. Not to count the meaningful connections, skills and friends I’ve made along the way.
It may take many, many years to garner an audience like Tim’s or Maria’s or Seth’s. But you can still, like them, emerge unapologetically, uniquely as yourself.
If it’s good enough for Da Vinci to dabble in a bunch of things, maybe it’s good enough for us.
There’s no greater niche than you.
“The older I get the more I understand it’s okay to live a life others don’t understand.” – Paolo Coelho