Choose Your Writing Niche by Playing to Your Strengths
You've heard it before …
Marketing your freelance writing services is easier when you occupy a distinct niche.
With a niche, you know who to market to and how to talk to them. Finding clients becomes much easier, and you see better results for your marketing time and effort.
But, how do you go about choosing a niche?
It's not complicated, but it requires some introspection, research, thought, and effort on your part. A well-defined, profitable niche acts as the foundation for your entire business, so it’s worth taking the time to get it right. You'll be able to fine-tune as you go along, but only if your niche is manageable to begin with.
Once you nail your niche, the rest of your business becomes simpler to sustain and more rewarding.
AWAI's Pam Foster had been a successful copywriter for years. But after she established her niche as the Pet Copywriter, her business skyrocketed. Marketing became a breeze, and she quickly gained a reputation as the go-to copywriter for businesses in the pet industry.
In the early days of the internet, Nick Usborne stopped accepting projects for print and took on only web projects. In doing so, he became the Online Copywriter. (Today, everyone's an online copywriter, so you need to define something much narrower to set yourself apart.)
Boiled down to essentials, your niche is the sweet spot where these three things intersect:
- Your experience
- Your interests
- Enough clients with good writing budgets for hiring freelancers
You control two parts of the equation — your experience and interests. You have no control over which clients hire freelancers and have the writing budgets to pay them well. But, you can focus on an intersection of experience and interests where those kinds of clients exist.
This process of figuring out your niche takes time, but don’t let it become a roadblock for your momentum. Set aside 10-15 minutes a day to work on it and let the ideas gel and percolate over time.
Before I decided to write about WordPress a few years ago, I spent about three weeks going through the process outlined below, and then another couple of weeks looking for flaws before I moved ahead.
Start by listing your areas of expertise. Include experience with:
- Volunteer positions
List jobs you've held. Include the skills required to do those jobs and think about how those skills might transfer into other areas.
As a teenager, my first after-school job was in our local public library. I shelved books and filed cards in the card catalog, checked books in and out, issued new library cards, and collected occasional fines.
Our librarian was a brilliant woman who took the time to understand the abilities, hopes, and dreams of the young part-timers who worked for her. She quickly identified our strengths and assigned us tasks that put those strengths to good use.
One girl was assigned to applying book covers and making posters and displays. Our librarian recognized my organizational flair, so she gave me jobs where I could employ that talent. In fact, when our little library was modernizing its system for issuing library cards and checking out books, she had me entirely plan, organize, and deploy the changeover to the new system — a hefty responsibility for a 15-year-old.
I haven't worked in a library for decades, but skills like alphabetizing and organizing come in handy in almost any work setting. These days, I use my knack for organizing to manage projects efficiently and to streamline the administrative tasks of running a freelance business.
What expertise have you developed as a volunteer? Write it down.
You may have some skills you don't think are anything special, but they might make you more appealing to clients. When my daughter studied abroad in the Kingdom of Bhutan, she volunteered some time at a local monastery. She had planned to teach English to the nuns there, but it turned out they wanted to learn to use a computer instead so she taught them computer skills.
Before her trip, she never thought knowing how to operate a PC was anything special … but that volunteer experience has helped her get a job teaching computer skills and providing tech support to residents in an assisted-living facility. For her, using a computer is as natural and ordinary as breathing, but others are willing to pay her to share that expertise.
Skills that may seem insignificant to you could be important to someone else, so write them all down.
Throughout our lives, most of us develop lots of skills we don't place much value on. If you can't think of any "life experience" areas of expertise, ask yourself this question: "What do friends or coworkers ask me for advice about?"
Chances are, if people regularly come to you with questions about how to build a raised garden bed, or the best way to find a pet sitter, or how to back up your computer to the cloud, you have some expertise in that area. Write it down!
Next, think about what interests you.
Include the most interesting facets of jobs you've held, as well as hobbies, volunteer interests, and whatever else captures your imagination.
Do you love coaching your child's sports team? Adore taking your dogs for long walks in the woods? Get energized by planning outings for your kids and their friends? Write those down as well. Remember, you're looking for intersections.
While I'm good at organizing, and I derive a lot of satisfaction when I come up with workable systems and processes, I would not enjoy being a professional organizer. However, I do enjoy writing about organizational processes and tools. So, if I were thinking about a niche for my freelance business, I'd include "organizing" on both my expertise and interests lists.
You can also create a niche for yourself with the type of writing you focus on, rather than a specific industry.
Jay White developed an affinity for short-form copy after years writing copy for catalogs and radio. When he started his freelance career, he discovered he had a real talent for writing email and autoresponder copy, and he quickly developed a stellar reputation in that niche.
If you just adore writing blog and social media posts, or email, or long-form sales letters, you can specialize that way. Include specific types of writing you enjoy on your interests list.
Next, go through both lists looking for areas that overlap. If you have expertise but no interest, cross that particular expertise off your list.
Be ruthless during this step. If you're not interested in a topic, it will show in your writing. You'll also find it harder to market your services for a niche you're not enthusiastic about, so don't burden yourself trying to work in an area that bores you.
Let's say you have an engineering background and you're interested in preserving the environment. Could you find a workable writing niche where those two things intersect?
How about "solar energy”?
Research the Overlap Areas
Once you've found an intersection between your expertise and interests, you need to know there's financial potential.
Are there enough companies in that area that hire freelancers and are willing to pay well for copywriters? If the answer to that question is "no," keep looking until you find a niche where you'll be able to earn the living you want.
To figure out who has money to spend, start with an internet search.
I picked "solar energy" pretty much out of a hat, so it's not something I know a lot about. However, here's what I came up with after just 10 minutes of online research. If it's an area you're knowledgeable about, you'll be able to find a lot more.
- Solar energy trade associations
- Solar energy conferences
- Solar energy trade journals
You'll quickly find SEIA (Solar Energy Industries Association) and their website. The membership roster on their website lists each company's name, address, type of business, and website, and can be further searched by state and business type. It's a marketing gold mine!
Search for "solar energy conferences 2019 USA" and you'll get more than six million listings. Peruse a few of these to see what companies are exhibiting. Since having and manning a booth at a trade show is a big investment, that's another indication the company could have a good-sized budget for copywriting.
Search for "solar energy trade journals" and Google returns over a million listings.
These results indicate to me there's money in "solar energy," but it's too broad to make a viable niche. How can you narrow the niche further?
On the retail side, solar breaks down into commercial and residential. But there's lots more behind-the-scenes. There's manufacturing and all the components that go into making solar panels. Things like batteries — big ones. And inverters.
What about lobbying for solar? That's certainly an area that needs writers and recognizes the value of paying for persuasive writing that gets the legislation and funding they're looking for.
Then there are companies that train workers in the solar energy industry.
If you're actually knowledgeable about solar energy, you could probably come up with a dozen viable niches in just a few minutes.
If Interests and Expertise Don't Mesh
It is much easier to land clients when you have industry expertise. But, if you're hoping to leave an industry where you have expertise, you can still make this whole writing niche work.
You just need to be willing to spend time — and maybe some money — educating yourself in an area you're passionate about.
For example, plenty of people who aren't medical professionals write about health-related and lifestyle topics. So, if that's a strong interest for you, can you get up to speed quickly?
Does It Excite You? Be Honest
Once you've identified a viable niche, think about what it would be like to write about it, day after day. Do you still feel excited? If so, that's a niche worth pursuing.
If not — if you worry you might run out of steam, or maybe there's just not that much to say about it — identify another niche where you feel more confident.
When you've identified a niche you're excited about — one that makes good use of your expertise and where you can readily identify companies that will value your writing and pay you accordingly — your writing business will flourish.
Do you have any questions about choosing a niche for your writing business? Please share with us in the comments so we can help.
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