Why You Should Choose a Niche for Your Freelance Business, and How to Do It
This is a topic I can become quite passionate about!
As a coach, I work with a lot of freelancers, many of them just starting out. And with almost every new client, I find myself having to argue the case for choosing a niche or area of specialization.
I have to do this because the default setting for most start-up freelancers seems to be to launch their careers as generalists. They want to take any kind of work from any kind of client, from any industry.
I understand that point of view. I really do. By declaring that you will work for anyone, you are casting your net as wide as possible, apparently maximizing the opportunity to attract new clients.
At least, that’s the theory. And it’s a reassuring theory. It’s comforting to think you are reaching out to the maximum number of prospects.
But it doesn’t work. Truly, that’s a disastrous path to take.
Why? In part, you can blame it on the web. There are numerous “freelancers for hire” sites on which thousands of freelance writers and copywriters have signed up. Sites like Elance.com, Guru.com, and Freelancer.com. And many others.
Sign up at these sites and you get the opportunity to bid on jobs posted by companies looking for freelance help.
The trouble is, the competition is massive, as is the downward pressure on the price you can charge. Bid for a job and you might find yourself competing for it with a freelancer from India or Latvia who will quite happily work for $6 an hour.
"Okay," you say, "I won’t sign up at those sites, but I still want to be a generalist."
That doesn’t help. Because all those people will still be competing with you. Even if some prospective clients find your site, they know they can compare your prices with other writers on those sites.
Besides which, there is no real value in ever presenting yourself as a generalist. It’s not something worth fighting for or struggling for.
Specialists always earn more money than generalists. It’s true in the medical profession, financial services industry, the consulting business, and every other business. Specialists earn more.
And to be a specialist, you need to choose a specialty or a niche.
What is a freelance niche?
There are two main ways to choose your niche. You can choose by industry or by writing specialty.
An example of an industry niche is to write only for the software B2B industry. In other words, you would work only for companies which sell software to other companies.
An example of a writing specialty niche is to focus on writing only e-newsletters.
Or you can combine the two. An example of that would be to specialize in writing sales pages for fitness equipment companies.
Important ways in which being a specialist helps you
First, you can earn a great deal more. As I said, specialists in all areas of business earn more than generalists.
Second, it makes marketing your business a great deal easier. Imagine it’s Monday morning and you have scheduled an hour to spend on approaching some new prospects.
If you are a generalist, who are you going to call? You have a universe comprising of millions of companies. Which companies will you reach out to? And what will you say to them that might make them want to hire you?
Are you going to say, “Hi, my name is Jack. I’m a freelance copywriter and I’ll write any kind of copy for any kind of company. Please hire me”?
Why on earth would they hire you? What they see is rock-bottom value.
On the other hand, if your specialty is writing copy for dentists, you can get up on Monday morning, open your copy of the American Dental Association’s membership list, and call the next five dentists on the list.
Better still, you’ll have something to say. You’ll have some value to offer.
You could say something like, “Hi, my name is Brenda. I’m a freelance copywriter and consultant, specializing in helping dentists build their client base and profitability. I have some proven packages I would like to show you.”
Do you see what I mean? Specialists know who to call, know what to say, and have proven value to offer. That’s why they do so much better than generalists, and that’s why they make so much more money.
How to choose your niche
Ask yourself … what do you know? In which industries have you worked? If you have a hobby or passion, which industries are involved?
Also, what would you like to write about? Yes, it matters. If you choose an industry that truly interests you, it will always be easier to get out of bed in the morning and start work. Your writing will be better too.
Once you have chosen a few possible options, ask yourself the following questions:
- Can I find these companies easily? (i.e., is there an equivalent of the American Dental Association membership list? Or an industry magazine? Or an annual trade show? Or a business directory? Or an online group site or forum?)
- Do these companies understand the value of copywriting? In other words, will they treat you with respect and pay you a decent fee? Local aromatherapy experts may have neither the understanding nor the budget to support you.
- Can I carve out a niche here, or is there too much competition from other freelancers? Want to specialize in the natural health business? Forget it … thousands of other freelancers got there before you. As a niche, it’s too broad and too competitive. Find a niche that other freelancers haven’t found yet.
For example, I have a coaching client who writes marketing materials for software companies which sell custom applications to small banks and insurance companies. Does he have competition from other copywriters? Nope. None. This makes it easy for him to pick up new clients and to charge a premium fee for his work.
Finally, once you have chosen your niche, build your brand
It’s almost impossible to build a strong brand as a generalist. But as a specialist, you can.
To paraphrase New York designer, Milton Glaser – be distinctive, focus on what you love and what you do well, and become celebrated for it.
It is that distinctive difference that will set you apart, establish your brand, and attract better and higher-paying clients.
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