A roomful of accountants is an unlikely place to have an epiphany, even if they are disguised in jeans and T-shirts. Nonetheless, it’s where Sholto Macpherson found the niche that he turned into a profitable blog that’s taken him around the world.
Sholto Macpherson of DigitalFirst knew he’d stumbled onto something strange when he found himself surrounded by young accountants talking about computer programming and being rock stars to their clients. It was an accounting conference, and they were talking about cloud-based accounting software.
What he heard in that room changed the direction of Sholto’s career.
From there he launched DigitalFirst, a profitable blog that has grown from covering cloud-based accounting software to accounting technology generally. (As Sholto points out, you can get your bookkeeping software on your Apple Watch now, even if he no one can explain why you’d want that.)
The advantage of writing in a niche is, Sholto says, “that every time a reader comes to my site or opens my email or my newsletter or whatever there’s not a 20 percent chance it might be about something that they’re not interested in.”
Sholto has great advice for anyone looking to find and monetise a niche.
1. Write about people, not things
“You don’t end up writing about products; you end up writing for people. I came into it as a classic business technology journalist looking for products to cover. I’ve realized I actually have to write for the accountants and business owners that use these products and talk to them about the issues that they face.”
2. Ask how can I help
“Ask how can I help my reader improve the way they do business. That is a never-ending cycle of topics there. Things change all the time; new ideas come along that need to be explained. People want to work out what the best way of doing things is.”
3. Detail builds audience (and SEO)
“The way I built up my blog was by writing about new products in greater detail than anyone else was. Just by virtue of becoming the only site that had any information on these programs you naturally pick up readers who are searching on Google for it. If you get the people that do search those terms, they tend to include among their ranks influencers who will talk to others.”
4. Think 80:20 with your readers
“You need to find among your readers the 20 percent who are the most passionate. They tend to be the ones that find you the earliest. You can establish that relationship and over time it kind of fans out like a spear.”
5. Be visible to maintain a relationship with your readers
“I’m visible in a number of ways. I post several times a week about news and opinions for what’s happening in accounting technology in Australia and around the world. I attend conferences. I tweet vociferously from conferences abroad so people from Australia can follow back home.”
6. Use your position to get invited to events
“Once you have a big enough profile in a niche, then it becomes important for you to attend events. Because it becomes a signifier of the importance of that event.”
7. Start small and build
“At the beginning you should start off as small as possible. Even if it is a matter of looking at a meet-up on your favorite topic and going along and finding say 30 nerds about drones for example and say, ‘I’m going to write just about drones in Sydney for people using drones in Sydney’. You build up a really strong niche very quickly.
That will begin to snowball until you’re the biggest person writing about drones in New South Wales and then Australia and then Asia Pacific, and then you become a global expert.
You just have to start small because it will be those 30 geeks that you met at that first meet-up who were talking about drones, and you said, ‘No, I’m going to come to every meet-up. I’m going to cover what’s said here. I’m going to cover what each of you is doing. I’m going to profile you. I’m going to interview you. I love what you’re doing.’”