Finding Your Niche

Jan 23, 2015

Good Morning all,

I thought I'd reach out to the community for some inspiration.  What are your thoughts on carving out a niche in elearning?  Do you have a niche and if so would like to share?  

I work in higher education, but as I develop freelance work I'm trying to figure out if a niche is good for me.  

Thanks all.  I love this community.  


25 Replies
David Anderson

Hey Chris -

That's a really great idea for building your elearning brand around one or more areas you most enjoy.

I know some designers who specialize in medical-based training and some others who are even more specialized around scenario-based training.

You don't have to limit the projects you take to your niche, but you can nurture it by presenting, sharing, and writing on the topic more than others.

The weekly elearning challenges are a great way to develop your brand. If every challenge entry you submitted shared a common theme, it wouldn't take long before folks would equate you with that type of project.

Bruce Graham

Hi Chris,

One of the things that is often counter-intuitive, (and perhaps somewhat frustrating...), is that it takes a few years, IMHO, to find your niche. Whilst I am not disagreeing with what David says, (as he's bigger than me...), I would suggest that you do EVERYTHING you can for 2-3 years. Only that way will you know what you like and/or dislike.

My absolute PASSION is taxidermy, but I wasted a couple of years trying, desperately, to create a viable business called "Stuff the eLearning", as the market, even Global, was just not large enough.

Actually - I just made that up, but I hope I made my point. Most of the time people do not know WHAT their niche is until they find it. I didn't - it took me about 4000 modules and quizzes over 10 years to realise what it was.

Bruce Graham

Well - my main niche (at the moment), is "breaking the mold". I love pushing people out of the "norm" - for example, "microcourses", (1-3 minutes long, using animation products within, or not within) Storyline. Heavily into animation at the moment. BUY THE BOOK at

My training experience comes from a "business" background, so I have no problem with the concept of a 60-second course or other "training experience" if it meets the BUSINESS objectives. I'm not always successful, because cultures do not always want to be broken apart, and you need to be politically sensitive.

That said - current topics of work are Retail Cash Management systems, Parenting, Recycling/Repurposing, Selling Houses, Cleaning Breweries, Pharmaceuticals and Pay & Rewards. So - I do limit myself into a specific TOPIC niche, but have a niche vision running through everything I do, or try to.

I found not having a niche liberating, not a "hard time" at all. This topic reminds me of a great friend of ours, one of the most influential people in the finance industry/City of London in the 1980's. I spoke to him once about how he recruited. If he ever interviewed anyone, and they said "Oh...I've ALWAYS wanted to be a xxxxxxxx", he'd always exclude them almost immediately. How can anyone KNOW what their niche is until they've tried as many as physically possible? Do not confuse your "niche" with "what you are comfortable with". One may feel good, however your REAL niche may be something you have not even tried yet. :)

Good luck.

Phil Mayor

I would say do everything and anything when you start out, don't try and pigeon hole yourself at the beginning it may be that you find something else that you enjoy doing more.

I find it more fun to have a diverse range of topics to work on, today I have done dentistry and Pest control as well as a bit of finance all different and all have a different look and feel and tone. It keeps my work life interesting and fun :-).

Kevin Thorn

Hey Chris,

Phil and Bruce have been doing this longer than me and completely agree with their suggestions. I'll jump in and add that concerning yourself about a 'niche' is lost energy. If you don't know what it is already, then trying to force yourself in a direction you're not sure of yet may prove disappointing.

Best advice I ever received: "Figure out what you're good at. Then learn how to make a living at it." (Dad). Only, my follow on question to that was, "How do I know?" Dad has never answered that question to this day!

Seriously,  just jump in! Participate in the challenges. I sat in your chair not long ago where *my* time wasn't until the family went to bed. That was usually 9-10 PM and had to find the energy to dig in a couple more hours knowing wake-up call was 6 AM the next day. 

And to Phil's point, stay diverse. Your *style* will become your niche. From that the best part is being exposed to so many topics and industries you wouldn't otherwise have an opportunity to work on. My project plate currently ranges from government, nutrition, railroad safety, whiteboard animation, conservation, retail sales scenarios, and a couple illustration projects. Lots of hats to switch on and off but keeps me from getting bored working on the same topics.

Bruce Graham

Great point:

"Your *style* will become your niche." (Copyright Nuggethead 2015. All rights reserved).

I have been told on a number of occasions that my "style" is informality and/or ability to project manage. Neither of those have anything to do with "elearning" per se, they are just skills and attitude that I bring to the party to support the business requirement and the eventual product.

David Anderson

I see style and niche as separate traits. One's design style can transcend an industry while one's specialty or niche is (usually) tied to an industry.

For someone starting out, I like the idea of narrowing focus around a few areas. The more comfortable you are with the content, the more you'll focus on using the tools in creative ways. When every project topic is new, you're working to learn the content and how to craft the multimedia experience.

If someone writes me looking for elearning designers specializing in comic book courses, I would send them Kevin Thorn and Elearning Engaged. Those guys created some of the most visible and popular comic courses. While their design styles are different (illustrated vs. photographic), their niche industry is comic-themed courses.

David Anderson
Bruce Graham
however, it seems to me that there are
only a few specialist "niches" like this?

I'm always weary of any reply that begins with "however."

I love this topic because there's the individual's specialties and then the outsider's perception of qualities. 

Personally, I think the market is open for more specialties like medical elearning, scenario-based courses, and a few others. Scenarios are something everyone talks about in our field but we rarely see really great examples.

I would say one of your niche markets is illustrated courses and voiceovers.  I see your illustrated specialty as different than the general comic-book themed courses.  But that's only my perception. I can do comic book courses all day but I couldn't create something like your Story Lion courses.

Bruce Graham

Agreed - and I will never use "however" in any post again...It still stands just starting with "It seems to me..."

Yes - the fact that I supply voiceovers as well could be seen as a niche, I've never seen it that way, to me it's just a service offering, like Photoshop. I wish I could produce more (any..?) "Storylion" style courses :)

Have just started a whole series of medical-industry courses and been contracted for about 200 hours, so perhaps I shall own that niche after all!

Holly MacDonald

In my mind, a niche market is who you intend to serve, how you serve it is more about the style, service offerings, methodologies, process, etc. Those could be niche offerings.

There's no real right or wrong, because you can differentiate yourself in whatever way you want, and I think there's a real art in figuring it out. 

If you had a strong style or approach that you wanted to stay true to, then you would identify "this is the kind of work I do and want to find customers who will buy it". It's almost like your work is a product.

If you had a strong interest in the types of topics or industries, then you might identify "these are the industries that I would have the strongest connection to and would market myself to them". This is more of a service-based approach in my mind.

Why don't you make a couple of lists:

1. Customer

Figure out who your ideal customer is. They don't necessarily need to be in an industry, it could be departments within companies or individuals you've enjoyed working with. You want to have a composite of your ideal customer, so you can recognize them.

  • Traits that you'd look for in your ideal customer
  • Topics that you'd be interested in working on
  • Good fit with your skill set (maybe they are similar to higher ed?)
  • Problem that they have - why would they need you?

2. You

Figure out what you shine at. What would others describe as your best work? Are there patterns that you can discern? Again, you want to find aspects of a great project so that you can recognize it.

  • Your ideal projects - if you could describe it, what would it be?
  • Things that you are good at
  • Things you really don't enjoy doing
  • What experiences you've had - what's the cumulative work you've done and what story does it tell?

Why do these things? You can take any project that comes along, but I've found that there are hidden challenges with doing that. It can just be a transaction, and often the push is to get it as cheap as possible. If you are clearer about what you want and who your ideal customer is and your own unique skills, you get to choose your own path.

I hope that helps


Daniel Adeboye

What an interesting discussion going on here, I've been asking this simple question for some time now; maybe I should have asked here!

I'm glad I'm not the only one struggling with discovering a niche and maybe I should just leave it all and keep doing EVERYTHING as advised, though 10 years seem to scare me😦 

Thanks everyone for the great insights. 

Ryan Martin

This year, I'll be niche'n (is that a word?); built following Lean / MVP (minimum viable product) methodologies.

I have a few elearning activities in mind (management, onboarding, leadership, sales) ...

Chris, I recommend you watch Amy Jo Kim's recent webinar: 5 Key Hacks for Breakthrough Innovation

That webinar will get you in a healthy frame of mind to build your niche/product (e.g. how-to avoid wasted energy). Watch all of it. Great food for thought.


P.S. To be clear. When I say niche/product, I mean perfecting the utility (and UX) of a few elearning activities that complement each other for a given market.

P.P.S. Yes. If I get my way. A comic-style will be involved ... but we'll see.

David Glow

One way to look at this is exploiting opportunities in the market/tools that many are not and making that a niche to give yourself an advantage.

xAPI is a big area- not many truly know about it, very few actually experimenting. It is "beyond SCORM" so when most folks transition, they will so "SCORM-y" things, but not move beyond it to provide clients new opportunities.  There is a big one.

Somewhat related- javascript. Most using the tools use the brilliant wizard-like functionality and build great things, but going beyond and understanding how javascript can be used to REALLY make your deliverable dance with the web is again a thing most won't provide to clients.

Those certainly apply to any industry- but I see these as "needs niches" of clients that are both growing and under-served areas for clients.

Just another take on it.

- Opportunistic David

PS> I do love Kevin's thoughts on "style is your niche", but I think that carries more stock when you have a brand like Nuggethead that has that recognition (it certainly takes time to build); my experience is that often organization have brands, UI standards, that can dilute your opportunity to showcase your talents (niche) at times.  That isn't to say your "style" didn't bring them knocking to your door specifically, but it can be hard to have the freedom of design to fully apply it to client work.

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