Becoming a Freelance Writer: To Niche or Not to Niche?
The path to becoming a freelance writer is fraught with distractions and, in some ways, danger. It’s easy to get sidetracked; it’s even easier to find yourself completely derailed. A lot of people dip their toes into the freelance fjord only to find that things run a little too hot and cold for their liking.
Here’s the truth: Freelancing is unpredictable at best and bury-yourself-under-a-pile-of-debt-collector-notices bad at worst, but there are a few things you can do to tip the tide in your favor, and one of them is niching.
Becoming a freelance writer is one thing; becoming a successful freelancer writer is another level entirely, and you may find the high seas to be a bit smoother if you set your niche, or specialty, early on and stick to it.
What the Heck is a Niche?
The lovely folks at Merriam-Webster define “niche” a noun meaning “a place, employment, status, or activity for which a person or thing is best fitted.” Tweak it and you can also use the word as a verb, as in “niching down” or “niching your business.”
In more straightforward terms, a niche is what freelance writers choose as their specialty. You can niche down by industry (for example: real estate, food and beverage, finance) or by service (direct response, email marketing, case studies). You can also do both, specializing in email marketing for real estate agencies, for instance.
Picking a Niche
To decide on a niche, you need to ask yourself two questions:
- What am I good at? (Or what am I willing to learn about?)
- What do I want to do every day?
Of course, there are a ton of sub-questions you’ll want to dig into as well. Finding out what you’re good at isn’t simply a matter of, “I use social media therefore I’m an expert.” You’ll also have to consider your training, on-the-job experience, what references you have, and, perhaps most importantly, what you can offer clients that other people in your niche cannot.
Then there’s the matter of what you want to do every day. You may be the self-anointed guru of sales pages, but if writing sales pages makes your eyes twitch and skin crawl, that’s not your niche – or at least it shouldn’t be. No one is truly great at something they hate.
How to Use Your Niche
We’ve covered the what, but the why is even more important. Why niche at all? Why not be a master of all trades? Mostly because no one is. There’s not a James Beard Award-winning chef alive who is just as good at whipping up a cheese souffle as she is at folding a pork-stuffed mandu, and the same principle applies to writers. You can be good at many things, but greatness is narrow. People are searching for greatness.
By choosing a niche, you’re identifying your differentiator and giving yourself a strong pulpit from which to broadcast that aforementioned greatness. Imagine a new client is sifting through WriterAccess profiles hunting for someone who can help their health tech firm create attention-getting videos. They come across three writers, all the same star level, all with a healthy amount of endorsements and positive feedback. Those writer’s profiles state the following:
- Writer A – “Experienced writer with an eye for detail and expansive portfolio.”
- Writer B – “Years of experience writing for the healthcare industry, including healthcare tech and other innovation-minded firms.”
- Writer C – “Extensive experience in healthcare tech including video and podcast scripting.”
Who’s going to get the job?
Most profiles won’t lead off with that kind of specificity, but you get the point. While choosing a niche helps you center your own efforts, it also helps clients refocus their resources, so they can quickly zero in on the talent they need most. Even better, you come across as authoritative and confident right out of the gate. You know your strength and you’re not afraid to broadcast it. How attractive is that?
Niching is also a phenomenal way to identify ways in which you can improve your own systems and forays into continuing education. Are you declaring yourself the premier blogger for life coaches? Instead of hemming and hawing over whether or not a potential client in the photography field is a good fit, you know your best bet is to say “thanks, but this isn’t my forte” and refer them on to someone who knows shutter speed and aperture like the back of their Nikon.
In short, niching is a gift, to you and to the endless ocean of businesses hoping to find the writer of their dreams. See, becoming a freelance writer is as much about the plan as it is about the skill and training.
A Word (or Two) of Warning
Don’t over niche your niche. “Animals” is too broad. “Natural pet care for dogs and cats” is better. “Shampoo brands for middle-aged Shar Pei” is asking for missed mortgage payments and endless rivers of sadness. Your chosen niche must have an audience big enough to satisfy your goals in terms of workload and financial compensation. Otherwise, you’re just cutting yourself off at the pass before your even have a chance to become the freelance writer you know you can be.
Alana L writes content that helps brands separate themselves from the sad sack pack of sameness littering the professional landscape. Want to blend in? You’ve come to the wrong lady. Want to dominate your competitors, make loads of cash, and thrill your customers from the end of their adorable noses down to their exciteable little toeses? Alana’s your gal.