Okay, that’s it, I’m done with the niche thing. This is supposed to be the first thing you do if you want to build a following online. Find a niche first. Do your homework. Check out what your community needs and see if you can fulfill their needs.
Nope, I’m done with it. Because, for example, while I’m fascinated with digital marketing and still follow lots of cool people in that area, and I love technology and podcasts and politics and all these amazing ideas that are easy to dive into on Al Gore’s internet, I am either not an expert or not able to talk about the area publicly for various personal reasons.
‘Hold on now!’ I hear the coaches say. ‘You don’t need to be an expert. You just need to be a few grade levels up from the folks you want to reach. For them, you’re an accessible expert, with knowledge they want.’
Sigh. Yeah, if I were trying to coach people, or offering a service, this would be supersensible. I would be able to find my audience by being where they are online. I could delve deep into what would make their lives better in this specific area and double down on reaching them in the ways they feel comfortable with.
I watched a free webinar the other day, focused on people who want to create online courses. Now the facilitator was high energy, a Black woman (always a plus in my book), and clearly skilled enough to get me to go all the way to the end of the webinar. The (pretty large) price for the course made sense to me. If I had that kind of money I would probably consider it. But, as impressed as I was, it was easy not to sign up, for reasons that had nothing to do with my wallet or her worth.
I am not selling a service. The very last thing I’m interested in is having people need my help to figure something out, yaknow? In my non-work life, I mean. I did customer service for years in my 20’s and while I learned a great deal, and have above-average skills, this is not something I want to do in my creative business.
Let me tell you a story: for many years, one of my best friends and I were business partners in an artist management company. When I say the company was tiny and we were hands-on, I am in no way joking. We were working with a young band, who, to me, was pretty much Japan’s answer to Radiohead: serious, endlessly creative, a prize in the rough. There was so much joy in working with them! And so much wild and unneeded mess too, mostly music-industry related, but some coming from just the fact that they were a band of young friends, and everybody was still growing up.
Anyway, at one point, we were touring clubs around Japan in a van, as you do. The band was playing a solid set, when suddenly, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Now, I have asthma, but this was different. This was like my whole body rejecting the experience of being alive at that moment. I stumbled out of the band area on the side of the stage, and managed to make my way to our rental van, which was parked outside.
And I wept. Like a heartbroken child, I couldn’t stop crying. When I finally started to hiccup the unusual episode to a close, it hit me like a ton of bricks: I wanted them to be up there, on stage, performing their own music, exciting their audience.
And I wanted to be up there, too.
Not with them. On my own. Doing my own music. With an audience that felt that I spoke to them and with them, with that aching sense of joy I got(get) when I write a song.
I was an artists’ manager and had been for many years. But what I wanted to be was the artist.Tweet
I pulled myself together, wiped my face, and greeted the band when they came outside to smoke. They could tell something was wrong (we were all pretty attuned to each other by that point), but they wanted to give me my space. Which was the right thing to do. I wasn’t a crier then and this was an unusual experience that I needed to absorb.
From that point on I knew I wanted that creative part of me to come to the surface. Dopey self-rebellion and useless perfectionism are how the Resistance manifested to stop me and still does to this day. That’s why some weeks I post here multiple times, and some weeks I can only seem to manage one.
But that’s okay. I’m writing. I’m drawing. I’m even working on a song I wrote a few weeks ago. And in addition, I’m working on getting healthier, and treating myself gently. All I need to do is think about what I would say to my artists when they were ‘blocked’. We’d take a look at their overall condition (if they let me), come up with a few little things to do, and treat their creativity as a gentle gift, worth nurturing. Not a business, not a primarily commercial entity.
So, that brings me back to the idea of ‘finding your niche’. I thought at first that I should write for baby boomers because after all, I’m a boomer myself. But the communities I found online that catered to baby boomer women were not speaking my language. Not to take anything away from people who lived a more conventional lifestyle. But that doesn’t describe me at all, and never did.
Then I thought: well, I’m an older digital native, so perhaps I should forget about age and focus on people who enjoy the same podcasts, essays, alternative media that I do. That’s not exactly right, either: it’s too broad a group of people, and there are way too many tech bros. Some of them have interesting things to say, but a preponderance don’t think diversity and intersectionality are important, which turns me off. If the P. Thiels and E. Musks of the world are your jam, we are not in the same community.
So, rather than worrying about my niche, I’m focusing on writing, making my art and publishing. I’ll do that consistently for a while (no definition to ‘a while’). I’ll see who follows. Keep making more things. Share the tools that help me do more, because they may be helpful to other folks.
I’m starting to get comfortable with the idea that I’m the product of my creative business. And I serve joy, understanding, laughter, the joys of a humane world: all the values I appreciate in others, and in myself.
I have to say thank you to Austin Kleon. I re-read his books just before writing this: . These are affiliate links, btw, from my little Bookshop shop. It’s more of an experiment than anything else. You can find these in just about any bookstore or library:
The Steal Like an Artist Journal: A Notebook for Creative Kleptomaniac
Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered
Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad
So yeah, I’m going to be practical and let my niche find me. If/when that happens, you gentle reader, will be one of the first to know!