There are two main schools of thought on how to pick income-producing creative projects. One is to go with your gut and do whatever inspires you. If you get an idea for a new project, run with it right away. The other idea is to research what people actually want to buy and then create something for that target market. This is the classic “find a need and fill it approach.”
I tend to get the best results by combining both approaches. First, I saturate myself in trying to understand what people want. I can do this via online research, surveys, or just talking to people. Over the years I’ve met hundreds of potential clients face to face, so that helps me better understand their needs and what I can provide that will be helpful to them.
If you have your own website or existing audience that you can use for market research, that’s a great place to start, but you can just as easily gather information from other websites.
When I was creating my early booklets (pre-internet), I started out by making simple How to… booklets because those were relatively easy to design and create. My booklets didn’t sell well though. So I did some market research, looking for where there was strong demand from customers, especially in genres that I was interested in. I spent hours observing which categories got the most attention. I purchased dozens of booklets from my competitors to get a sense of what else was out there, how popular various themes were, and what I might be able to contribute that would be unique enough but also familiar enough to sell well.
I think this type of mental saturation was a good place to begin because it helped me narrow my focus, so generating ideas wasn’t an overwhelming task. I could then think about creating something in one of the sub-genres where I perceived good opportunities.
After that I began brainstorming some potential design ideas. I find that taking in a lot of input really helps when it comes to generating ideas.
When I do this, I notice gaps in other people’s creations that help me see where I could take things in a different direction, thereby contributing something unique.
Once I had an idea that inspired me, it still took a lot of work to implement it. That’s the power of market research. If you sell something people actually want to buy, you can do a lot better financially.