As many artists and creative entrepreneurs have discovered, if you try to sell your work to everybody, you may end up selling to nobody. Determining where you fit in – finding your niche – can be instrumental in giving you the direction to create a cohesive, saleable line. Choosing a niche also helps you focus on a target customer, which makes your marketing efforts more efficient and more profitable.

The problem that some entrepreneurs have when getting started in a niche is that they don’t even know what they don’t know. They may have an idea, or an inspiration, but aren’t sure how they fit into the marketplace, and what the potential is for making sales. Or, they may start creating work to sell into a niche and find out that it doesn’t sell because they didn’t understand the market in the first place.

That’s where research comes in. You may want to sell to wine connoisseurs, cat owners, chess players, book lovers, interior decorators, or soccer fans – there are countless choices. First, you need to understand the business you are getting into and how it ticks. Here are some questions you might investigate about your niche:

  • Are overall sales in your niche growing, shrinking, or maintaining? Is the industry stable or in transition?
  • How do consumers buy? Online, in stores, in person, at home shows, trunk shows, art shows, at galleries, through consultants, by referral or other ways?
  • How do retailers buy? At trade shows, through reps, advertising, websites, or all of the above? What minimums are customary? Do you need to offer displays? What are typical terms of sale?
  • When do they buy? Determine buying and selling cycles. When do major trade shows take place? How often will you need to offer new product releases and when do consumers make the most purchases?
  • Find out who the major players are in your niche, and what they offer. What are the
  • breadth and depth of their lines? How can you offer a line, that stands out with your own brand and signature style? What extra benefits or services can you offer customers that will make your products more valuable to them?
  • What trends and new products are being introduced into the industry? Which products are becoming less popular or going out of style?

You can easily do internet searches for trade industry websites, publications, and blogs, which will give you tons of information. Then, get out there and do more research in person. Walk trade shows and retail events for your niche. Visit shops that carry these products. How are they displayed? What are the best sellers? What other work would cross-sell well with your own line?

Visit websites of other artists, craftspeople or vendors in your niche. Check out their “Retailers” page. What types of stores carry their work? Enter competitor’s website addresses on and find out who is linking to their website. Those may be good connections or prospects for you also.

Then, start networking. Who else sells to the same audience that you might want to know? If you sell to the bridal market for instance, you may want to meet wedding consultants, caterers, owners of bridal shops, florists, photographers, travel agents or jewelers. These people can become great resources, and even referral partners for you.

Will you be selling locally, nationally, or globally? If your business will be local, check out the demographics in your area, and your competition so that you can gear your business and your line for the most appeal. If your work will sell more widely, tailor your research and marketing plan to reach the largest number of prospective customers in your niche.

You may even want to narrow your focus into a specialty, or sub-niche, where you can really shine, and have very little competition.

Sometimes artists find that their work appeals to unexpected markets. Sculptor Tom Torrens had this experience. His metal sculpture was originally marketed to the garden and landscape industry, but he found that the clergy often bought his work as baptismals and for sanctuary gardens. In response, he designed a liturgical collection to fill the needs of this new market and now has an additional customer base.

Determine the target customer in your niche and finely tune that profile. As you come to
understand their needs and their values, you can create a marketing plan to reach them.

You choose your customers – they don’t choose you. Knowing this empowers you as an entrepreneur to develop a unique line in your chosen price point range and start marketing to the right prospective buyers.