Should I specialize in a freelance content writing niche? It’s a question that plagues all writers.
A niche is a small, focused subject. For instance, gardening is a large topic. Japanese water gardening is a niche – a specialized subset of gardening.
The freelancing temptation, particularly when you’re starting out, is to be a generalist – a writer who will take on any project in any industry. Generalists get to work on a variety of writing projects and build their skills. There’s a lot to be said for that. Who wants to say “No” to a money-making project when you’re just getting started?
On the other hand, specialization is today’s currency across businesses.
Take this example: your daughter falls off the balance beam at gymnastics class and hurts her elbow. The emergency room x-rays show a broken growth plate. Put it back properly and her 9-year-old elbow will grow normally. But a skewed operation can mean elbow troubles or even limited mobility the rest of her life. You can have a general surgeon perform the operation … an orthopedic surgeon perform the operation … or an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in upper extremities perform the operation.
Which do you choose? Yep, me too: the orthopedic surgeon who is an expert in arms, elbows, and fingers. He’s a specialist.
Which is one reason why clients like to hire freelance content writers who specialize in their particular niche.
Let’s look at your biggest objections to choosing a niche.
The Imposter Syndrome is by far one of the biggest struggles you may face. You feel like an a fake or a fraud for specializing because you don’t have a doctorate degree in your niche or you’ve got little writing experience.
Stop it already. You don’t need super-duper authority or even have wunderkind status to write as a specialist. You simply need to know (or learn) a little bit more than the average reader about a particular topic and then organize that information in a persuasive format. Think about it: not everyone can hire the uber-expensive copywriting gurus. The gurus simply don’t have time to write for everybody and most small- to mid-sized businesses and nonprofits can’t afford them. Enter you.
If others are writing in your niche, there’s a good chance there is plenty of work to go around. Popular niches mean there’s an ongoing need for fresh content. So get going.
Bob Bly has a degree in chemical engineering, which laid the ground work for his transition to copywriting for technical companies. Recreation junkie Mary Iannotti specializes in writing for outdoor companies. Heather Sloan worked in the corporate insurance world for ten years launching her own freelance copywriting and marketing business. When you leverage your experience in a hobby, a profession, or in life experiences you can write with authority sooner than later.
Video games? Emerging market mutual funds? Ballet? Ancient Egypt? Stamp collecting? You have interests. Businesses that meet needs in those areas need written content. Work your way into a specialty and you’ll get to write about a topic that you love. Your passion will show in your writing and …
Once you begin to write in a particular niche, you acquire familiarity with key players, the latest research, trends, and the lingo in that niche. You develop a network of contacts. This uniquely positions you to better serve clients in that industry because you know more. Your expertise distinguishes you as one of the “go-to” in your niche rather than one of hundreds of freelancers floating around the web.
If a client asked me to write about the foreign exchange market, I’d need some time to get up to speed on how it works. (I know foreign exchange markets exist and I know that the British currency is the pound, but apart from that I’m clueless.) When you specialize, you are able to work more efficiently because your learning curve is shorter. That means you’ll save time so you can take on more projects or have time for other things.
If you’re a small business in Florida that repairs German cars and you see a terrific website of a small business in South Dakota that repairs German cars, don’t you want that writer to help you? Of course, you do. You’ll hire him. When you specialize, you become a wanted commodity and you get more work.
As a niche content writer, you can help clients by specializing in two different ways:
You can also specialize further in writing a specific kind of content for a specific industry – say annual reports for small nonprofit organizations.
Once you’ve written a few projects (or even before that), you start to have a good idea of what topics interest you and what kinds of writing projects appeal to you most. Choosing a niche allows you to focus your prospecting and prevent overwhelm.
Start with your background and interests. What industries, businesses, or hobbies appeal to you? What kinds of content have you written already? Make a list.
Research to understand the content needs in that particular industry. Do they operate mainly in social media? Technical manuals? How-to instruction guides? Make a list of the kinds of projects that you could potentially write.
Search for companies and agencies in that industry and make your pitch. (More on that in another post.)
One more helpful tip about choosing a niche: you’re not pigeonholing yourself. Start in one niche and see where it takes you. You can always add another niche to your skill set.
For instance, perhaps you want to put your experience as a college soccer player to use in writing in the college sports niche. Along the way you write about the newest artificial turfs. You may feel pulled into writing more about artificial and natural turfs … and soon you’re writing for landscape companies.
Or maybe your trajectory works another way. You start out writing in the college sports niche and begin to have success in writing appeals and campaigns for college athletic departments, including those that are building new facilities and stadiums. You do a bit of prospecting and soon you become the “go-to” writer for collegiate athletic promotional campaigns.
So get going already!
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