Freelance specialization is something I've been passionate about for years. I've said it before to new freelance writers, and I'll probably say it countless times again, but:
"Clients don't pay top freelance writing rates because you can string sentences together; they pay the best rates when you bring valuable knowledge and insight to the table."
That's why specialists often earn more.
They have inside knowledge of their specialty industry. They have insight into specific client types and the markets those client groups serve. They have more experience (and a history of getting results) with specific project types.
Specialists don't have to try to appeal to everyone. They don't have to compete with the masses. Clients are searching for them. And when they specialize in working with a narrow client group, they often have an always-on referral network working for them.
So yes, I'm passionate about the issue of freelance writing specialties and believe all freelancers should find something to specialize in.
That might be a niche or industry. It might be a certain type of client. It might be clients working in a narrow market geographically. It might be a certain project type. As John Soares and I recently explained on the podcast, you can even have multiple specialties.
To give freelance writers a better idea of the kinds of specialization opportunities out there, I started an interview series letting other freelancers share their own stories. Today, we continue that series with Bree Brouwer.
Interview with Bree Brouwer, Online Video & Digital Media Writer
It's not uncommon for writers to go from a full-time position into freelancing later in their careers. Bree took a slightly different route, doing a sort of professional double-take.
She worked as a freelance writer.
Then she received a full-time job offer that was too good to pass up.
So she took it.
And she used that opportunity to hone in on her writing specialty.
She built her network, making valuable contacts.
And then she came back to freelancing, in a better position than ever.
Bree's story might not be typical. But it's an interesting example of how you can find your way into a specialty, and a great reminder that freelance writing success doesn't have to be some huge struggle. Sometimes it's simply about building your network and who you know.
Here's what Bree had to say about choosing and marketing herself in her specialty, writing about online video and digital media.
What made you decide to specialize in online video and related niches? How long have you been specializing in this area?
I decided to specialize in online video and digital media because I was tired of trying to make it work as a generalist, which gave me many clients but they were all in different industries and usually low-paying while taking a lot of my time.
I then tried pursuing entertainment and video game work, but those industries had very high barriers of entry which required lots and lots of dedication and passion to break through (don't get me wrong: I had the passion, but after six months of trying to make it work in these very... biased, inclusive, and even sexist industries, I decided it wasn't worth my sanity).
What was worth my time and efforts was online video. No other freelancer I knew focused exclusively on it, so I saw my chance to establish myself now, as digital media would only continue to grow.
I started writing about online video two years ago in 2014.
You offer a fairly wide range of services. Would you say you specialize in any of those project types more than others? If so, was that a conscious decision or a simple case of client demand?
I offer a range of services, but only for now.
The variety comes from my early days of freelancing, where I was trying to do everything. But the more I get to know the online video industry, the more I'm discovering I'll probably niche down even my services to copywriting, content marketing, and some PR-related work.
These three have been most requested since I started focusing on digital media topics.
You went from freelancing to taking a full-time job and then back to freelancing. What prompted you to reconsider a freelance career, and did having a niche specialty help with that transition back to freelancing in any way?
A few months after I started writing about online video, I met in-person an editor at an online video news site whom I'd written one piece for as a freelancer.
He offered me a full-time job as a reporter, and I purposefully took it. Why? So that I could build up my knowledge and connections in the industry.
The steady pay was great for a while, but after a year and a half I felt like I'd made all the impressions I needed to.
I also wanted to move back to freelancing because my husband's schedule changes frequently, and without being able to match that, we were having a difficult time properly maintaining our marriage.
But it was the best decision I'd ever made.
My full-time job within my niche definitely helped make jumping back into freelancing easy; I hit up a lot of the contacts I'd made, and several hired me within just a month after I left my day job.
What have been the biggest benefits of you having a freelance writing specialty so far?
The connections, hands-down.
Once you become involved in an industry, your clients can recommend you to others in the same business, and they're glad to do so if you're a great writer.
I suppose this is ironic, though, considering I hated the inclusive nature of the video game and entertainment industries, of which online video has many cross-overs and connections.
But since no one was clawing and fighting to write about online video (unlike those other industries), my barrier of entry was much lower, and I've already established myself as a go-to digital media writer.
Having accomplished that in just 6 short months (of course only boosted by my year and a half as being an employee in the industry) is a massive benefit to my career that I'm not sure many other freelancers get to experience.
Tell us about your favorite (or most effective) marketing tactics for attracting prospects in your niche. In other words, where are your prospects most often found, or how do they tend to choose their freelance contractors?
The most effective way to get clients is to show up at industry events and name-drop. So old-school and (again) inclusive/biased, but it works.
The moment I go to an industry event like VidCon and get asked what I do at a networking event, you have no idea how many people are impressed with my time as a journalist at the online video news site.
I almost never have to ask if they're hiring; instead, they either ask, "Do you have a card? We're looking for a writer now" or "Let's keep in touch; we're growing and will need to bring more people on board."
It's also nice to just go on weekend trips around the country and be able to write it off for work.
If you could offer one piece of advice to newer freelance writers considering specialization versus a generalist career path, what would you tell them?
Please do it.
Feel free to generalize for a few months, but the sooner you can specialize in even ONE topic you're interested in, pursue it and see where it takes you.
You can always change specializations later.
Don't make my mistake of flip-flopping and not deciding on a specialty for almost two years; I'm not saying that was wasted time for me, but I definitely could have built my business faster if I had pursued a niche.
Never underestimate the power of your network. And, as Bree said about specialization, try it. It's not a life-long commitment. If you want to make a change later, you can. But the sooner you start specializing, the sooner you can reap the benefits, from higher pay to clients seeking you out instead of you constantly looking for leads.
If you have an interesting freelance writing specialty, and you'd like me to consider featuring your story here on the blog, tell me about it in the comments or contact me to chat about it.