Think Outside the Universe: 3 Strategies for Finding Your Ideal Market Niche

One of our bibles here at 16 Hoops is Benjamin and Rosamund Zander's book The Art of Possibility. The framework for the book is the concept of “It’s All Invented”.

These are words to live by if you want to break new ground with your creative business.

An illustration of It’s All Invented

The Zanders use the following story to illustrate their theory:

A shoe factory sends two marketing scouts to a region of Africa to study the prospects for expanding business.

One sends back a telegram saying:


The other scout sends back this telegram:


This story is not just about the old, simple "half-full or half-empty” view of the world. It goes deeper than that.

It’s about inventing something new (and lucrative, natch) by zooming out and enlarging--breaking free of the old limiting framework that might be holding you back. 

The best way to do this is to look at your market and see what opportunities might be hiding in plain sight. There are three ways to do this.

1. REDEFINE: Plant that flag and dominate

Take an existing niche and claim a leadership position by nailing down your specific, targeted positioning. This is the least risky strategy for finding a niche--and if you're creative, the possibilities are endless.

For example:

Existing niche: Weddings.

Redefined niche: Hey! No one is doing "Same Sex Weddings in Small Coastal Inns".

Who is this strategy for? Someone who wants a chill lifestyle in a smaller market or saturated field. If done well, this can be the road to a very financially satisfying business, with a laid-back lifestyle to boot.

2. INVENT: Pays the bills (and how!)

Search your market for new opportunities. This is the strategy taken by our shoe scouts above. There's potentially less “cool” factor here, but this path is the most lucrative by far.

For example:

"Hey! No one is doing executive dating service portraits. I’ll do that.”


“Hey! Children’s book authors (or chefs, or realtors--pick your passion) don’t have great headshots. I want to travel around the world doing this one thing."

Who is this strategy for? Someone in a larger market or someone with the willingness to move/travel who is ready to take the bull by the horns and build a highly profitable, lucrative business. The payoff for this kind of bold (if less emotionally exciting) approach can be ginormous.

3. CULTIVATE: Do what you love

Take a passion and turn it into a business. This is a bit riskier, but warm fuzzies are their own payoff.

For example:

“Hey! I want to only photograph rescued horses and their new owners.”


 Preemies. Or vintage teacups. Or whatever makes your heart go pitter-patter.

Who is this for? Someone who values soul satisfaction over profit as a business model. Market and payoff may not be as huge as in #1 and #2, but you can turn your passion into a business.

These are all examples of essentially inventing or reinventing your business. 

What happens if you don't pick a niche?

You become the dime-a-dozen, dreaded, sales-driven photographer (ACK!), rather than the unique-snowflake, delightfully rich, market-driven photographer (YAY!).

Anyone can just answer the phone and let whoever is on the other end define the work. This is what's known as being "sales-driven". 

Define and own your market. Defining what you do takes bravery and lots of discipline. Photographers are far too often sales-driven rather than market-driven.

Here at 16 Hoops, we love it when we see a business owner get to this lightbulb moment. It's very exciting to help our clients uncover those hidden market opportunities and then build a formidable business around their expertise with powerful branding, messaging, and marketing.

Don’t just politely remove yourself and "think outside the box”. SMASH that old, boring box to smithereens and think instead outside the GIANT, BOUNDLESS, INFINITE UNIVERSE.