When you start a company, you assume all kinds of risk. One risk involves deciding who will comprise your target market. Sometimes, the market you choose is the wrong one.

Some founders combat the odds by going broad from the beginning — this is a mistake. You’ll never beat the big players in a broad market; it’s too expensive to fight such a wide variety of competitors.

On the other hand, niche market customers cost less to attract because they haven’t identified their needs yet. Thus, targeting a niche is much more efficient. The trick, however, is finding the right submarket as quickly as possible.

Take, for example, the company ShoeDazzle: Those behind the shoe site believed they were bringing chic, fashionable shoes to the coasts. They envisioned a cosmopolitan, modern customer base that achieved relatively high incomes. Major marketing dollars were blown trying to attract this customer, but instead of coastal urbanites, the brand’s early adopters turned out to be low-income women from the South.

Those behind the brand could’ve saved a lot of resources by testing target demographics first. Instead, they were forced to pivot after wasting time and money chasing apathetic customers.

You’re likely to lose if you compete with the big guys in the big markets because their types of customers are pricey to acquire — and their budgets will beat yours every time. Don’t create products and then hunt for compatible consumers.

The key is to find a captivated audience and give them what they already want and need.

Meet a Need

It may sound cliché, but it’s true: Any underserved market can be a natural niche.

Beyond Yoga is not only one of the companies I work with, but it’s also one of my favorite examples of this. The company marketed yoga clothing for shapely, plus-sized bodies, but it created such quality apparel that it wasn’t long before more petite customers were seeking the company’s yoga pants as well. (At that time, yoga fanatics were an underserved market.)

Not only did the brand do a solid job of identifying and building a product around this phenomenon, but it also differentiated itself on that point.

The brand’s mission didn’t change — it just supported smaller sizes, too, by offering different versions of its yoga wear. Its focus never shifted, but shoppers who were defecting from other brands now had options to buy Beyond Yoga’s product as well.

ThirdLove, another brand I work with, sells underwear and bras. The company’s bras are available in half-sizes — this is the major differentiator that defined its niche.

Discern what areas the big names in your industry aren’t serving in terms of the seemingly small — but still very real — needs of their customers. When no one else provides a customized, tailored experience in a crowded field of ubiquitous brands, pinpoint a way to satisfy those needs to uncover a ready-made niche.

Create 10 Personas

Once you’ve developed a great product to meet a real need (instead of the other way around), think about all of the people it could serve. The idea is to discover niche markets — plural. Come up with 10 for a nice, round number.

If your target customer is a man of a certain age, consider other age groups: How could your product, or one like it, appeal to them, too?

This is the time to think broadly within the parameters your educated guesses provide in order to narrow those target demographics down to just the right niche.

If ShoeDazzle marketers had stopped to consider all of the women they could’ve targeted, the company may have saved a lot of money on the front end by conducting tests to find its real audience.

Toss Some Ads at the Wall

Not to be flippant about precious advertising dollars, but sometimes all it takes to find your niche is a little experimenting.

Throw some ads or coupons out on social media, and see who likes them, what comments they receive, and how different audiences interact with different content involving your product.

In his book, “The 4-Hour Workweek,” Tim Ferriss discusses attempts to market nutrition supplements on his college campus; they weren’t selling so well. He needed money fast, so he posted flyers for a speed-reading seminar and saw an almost instant demand for such a class. (He then had to teach himself to speed-read, but that’s another story.)

Digital social media platforms can be used as relatively inexpensive — even free — advertising tools these days. But once you’ve found an unmet need and imagined your 10 personas, be ready to spend a little money to find out who, exactly, craves your product most.

Engage With Influencers

Send influencers samples of your product (and even cash incentives, if it suits you). Influencer opinions can function as proxy advertisements that drive their fans to your product, if and when they post about it.

In the age of social media, we have advantages over our business predecessors via blogs, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and many other online platforms where we can conduct research about the biases and preferences of potential customers.

But before you cast your niche-market net any wider, try targeting tastemakers within your possible niches. Offer them free products and some sort of compensation, then listen carefully to what they relay to their audiences about your products.

If key influencers fall in love with what you offer, chances are good you’ve found a profitable niche.

Persevere and Move On

If you mistakenly target the wrong niche, let it go quickly and keep looking. Trying to force a product onto an ideal customer base only tarnishes a brand in the long run.

Bending over backward for a niche market that isn’t right hurts your brand and bottom line.

Remember that most business founders are wrong at first about their target markets. In conjunction with strategic tests and data gathering, hold your assumptions loosely and be open to serendipity.

Who knows? Your golden market could be a subgroup you’ve never heard of before.