“Riches lie in the niches” — depending on how you pronounce “niche,” this is either a great rhyme or at least a very pithy aphorism. It’s not just about building businesses either: narrowing down your target audience is a great way to focus attention and create opportunities for yourself and your personal brand.
Consider this: every well-known expert is an expert in a particular subject. No one calls themselves just an “expert” — they immediately add their field of expertise. We’re “experienced SEO specialists, “doctors of internal medicine,” or “historians of warfare in the Early Middle Ages.” We specialize. We niche down our interests into a snappy phrase.
And that’s where the minipoly — pronounced /mɪˈnɪpəli/ — comes into play.
A minipoly exists when you turn your expertise into a reputational advantage within a well-defined niche. To build a minipoly, you distinctively position yourself so that other members of your community associate you with one particular aspect, topic, or theme. It’s a niche brand monopoly based on your reputation within a niche community.
There is an expression that many who are building in public use to describe themselves — or, better yet, are being described as: “The Writing Guy,” “The Hacker Gal,” or “The Lifestyle Designer.” These creators have titles that aren’t about hierarchy, like “CEO” or “Assistant to the Regional Manager.” Old-fashioned titles like that are pecking order status signals that don’t carry much weight in communities and audiences. Titles and ranks like these are about being conventional, playing a game that others have set up for you.
A minipolistic title, however, claims expertise-based ownership of a solid chunk of a domain. If you’re “the person for X,” then everyone interested in X will have heard of you. They will also know that you are such an expert in your field that you’re trailblazing it.
Minipolists are always practicing their craft. They’re active in their communities and contribute to the process of knowledge generation and distribution in their fields. In short, they’re teachers.
As highly experienced teachers, they attract students of all experience levels. That means that minipolists can’t ever afford to stop learning for themselves. Practicing what you teach is central to keeping your reputational advantage: the moment you start talking the talk without walking the walk, you’ll lose contact with the shared reality that your audience lives in. I wouldn’t want to be operated on by a surgeon who stopped learning about surgery in the late ’90s. Your audience expects you to stay on top of developments in your field. They expect you to be involved.
Like a monopoly in the business world, a minipoly needs to be maintained — and sometimes defended — over time. But unlike true monopolies, minipolies aren’t exclusive. Having multiple “Writing Guys” won’t make their individual contributions any smaller or less impactful. And if a space is already saturated, niching down further is a great way of zooming in even more precisely: being “The Historical Fiction Writing Guy” needs no further explanation.
The world is big enough to allow every creator, founder, and entrepreneur to become their whole self without infringing on another person’s uniqueness. If you’re starting out by making a reputation for yourself as a startup founder only to learn that you’re even more impactful as a writer and public builder, then that’s not a problem — it’s an opportunity. Our unique potential lies at the intersection of our most marketable skills. The more overlapping skillsets we find, the easier it will be to position ourselves as unique contributors. Make the best of who you are, using all the facets of your life. Your minipoly is flexible: you can grow, reshape, and change it over time.
That’s because minipolies are self-fulfilling prophecies: from the moment you claim to be “the person for X” and contribute your knowledge and experience, you become the person for X. The more you spend time creating and curating content for the people following you for your X, the more expertise you’ll build, further reinforcing your status as the expert for X.
You strengthen and solidify your minipoly whenever you learn and teach something new about your field of interest. The more you put in, the more you get out of it. Building a minipoly may not be easy, but it’s worth it. The long-term advantages of staking out your niche claim in a huge industry are manifold:
- You become a household name in the conversations — and often literature — of the field. People will recommend you as a person-to-follow. The content you produce will be widely disseminated throughout your communities. If you ever wanted to write a book, you’ll have an audience for it.
- You leave evidence of your ambition everywhere. When people think of someone they can hire for insight and quality services, you’ll be front-of-mind. No matter if you’re looking for a job, freelance work, or investment opportunities, they’ll come knocking because people can’t help but stumble into your work again and again.
- You’ll stay informed about current events in your field. If you surround yourself with an eager audience, you’ll be pulled into conversations and projects that are front-running the newest developments in your industry. You won’t be able to avoid knowing things as early as possible, allowing you to participate in those industry-changing conversations and exchanges.
- You’ll have access to other experts and highly reputable players. New job opportunities, partnerships, and deeply committed relationships await. Experts from other fields will go to you first when they are interested in your area of expertise.
But as with all things related to building in public, creating your very own minipoly can also have its disadvantages. There are a few risks to be aware of.
Minipolies can limit you. If you’re “the writing guy,” your audience will expect you to almost exclusively talk about writing. Of course, you can tackle a broad range of topics — writing as a profession, copy-writing to increase conversions, the mental health advantages of journaling — but you’re locked into at least tangentially making it about writing at all times.
For many creators, that’s not a problem. After all, the fields we work in and on are vast, diverse, and always exciting. If you could talk about your passion for hours on end, consider turning it into a minipoly; you’ll never run out of ideas.
However, not all is lost if you’re new to a particular field and still want to build a minipoly. You don’t need to be an expert to establish a reputation. All you need is the desire to become that expert. Display the willingness to learn and share what experiences and learnings you encounter. That’s more than enough to build your desired brand.
And it will be a public brand. That comes with its own set of problems. Building a minipoly exposes you to scrutiny of a level you may have never faced before. If hundreds and thousands of people are watching whatever you say, you can be sure that your content will be interpreted a hundred or thousand different ways. Anything you will say can and will be used against you. The more controversial your words, the more public backlash you’ll have to face. Some people have little issue with that. Others will spend a lot of their focused attention on making sure their content is well-balanced and well-explained. You’re not everyone’s cup of tea, and you don’t have to be. You can, however, try to be inclusive and supportive. It always pays to be nice.
That’s because you’re eventually operating at scale. Minipolies make you a central figure. Your name becomes familiar in the community, making you an attractive target for many good and even more sinister things. People will be reaching out with ideas, asking for advice, and trying to get you to test their products. Others are looking for partnerships or affiliation with your growing reputation. And then, there are those who want to use that for their own selfish gains. You will need to learn to say no — or say nothing at all. For better or worse, you need to learn to judge and discriminate. Depending on how you come across as a person, you’ll invite the attention of certain kinds of people. Be mindful of what image you project and who is attracted by that.
At some point, the minipoly is not so “mini” anymore. Many additional challenges arise when you reach a certain level of fame — Tim Ferriss shared his experiences with becoming a very public figure. He talks about receiving threatening messages, stalkers, and all sorts of harassment. This is a real possibility for people who reach the highest echelon of public notoriety. Be aware of the downsides of fame. Talk to people on the same journey as you are — in other fields or in your own — and exchange notes. But until then, the upsides of building a minipoly heavily outweigh the potential drawbacks.
All in all, building a minipoly is a wonderful and rewarding activity. As long as it’s intentional and conducive to your entrepreneurial efforts, it’s a highly recommended approach to thinking about your personal brand within your communities.
Become “the person for X,” and doors will open that you never expected to be able to walk through.
Build a minipoly for yourself that will keep growing while you grow.