For new freelance writers, choosing a niche can seem like a daunting task. You want to try a bit of everything and see what sticks. Or perhaps you don't feel like you have enough experience to specialize at all right away. Yet you've heard there's more money in freelance writing when you hone in on a niche.
What's a new freelancer to do?
That's what Colleen Bijl wanted to know when she reached out recently. Here's the situation Colleen finds herself in.
I started exploring the Freelance writing idea at the beginning of March.
I have my Writer's site built and I have written one blog post so far. I have done tons of reading and checking out blogs but I am still having an issue with promoting myself when I really have no experience. I am a realist so I cant say I can do something when I have never done it.
I keep hearing that you have to have a niche this is the biggest deterrent to me and the one I have the most trouble with because I feel that I want to write different subjects in different formats in order to build up a good sampling of work on my blog.
Do you think that this would work? I guess at some point I would have to choose a niche but I just can't pinpoint one yet.
Would that work?
Well yes... and no.
The Problem With Being a Generalist
Could Colleen opt to write about anything under the sun, in any style, to build up portfolio pieces? Sure. She can do anything she wants, as can you. But...
- Generalists can't command the premium rates specialists can.
- An overly-broad portfolio doesn't do much to sell a specialty you choose later.
- Generalists only make marketing harder on themselves, unnecessarily competing in much larger pools.
If you don't mind spending months or years doing this only to start over, that's fine. If you're okay with the lower income potential because you can't charge that premium for specialized expertise, that's also fine. Not everyone needs, or wants, to charge top dollar.
If, on the other hand, you want to bypass beginner-level freelance writing rates, you can do that when you have significant industry experience already like Colleen does.
Putting Past Experience to Work in a Freelance Writing Specialty
Colleen spent 10 years working as a real estate conveyancer for a law firm. This opens her up to a few obvious freelance writing specialties. For example, she might specialize in:
- Writing web copy for law firms handling real estate transactions;
- Writing blog posts for those same law firms to help them with SEO and lead generation;
- Writing content more generally related to real estate.
In that last example, Colleen would need to be careful not to offer legal advice directly. But she could weigh in more generally about things related to her past career such as sharing scenarios where things might go wrong during the title transfer process or what buyers and sellers might expect in a more routine closing.
So that's one option. Focus on an industry where you have experience, and then try different types of writing if you want to expand -- maybe starting with blogging and then moving into web copywriting, brochure copy, and other projects for law firms or others in the real estate industry.
Not Happy in Your Current (or Past) Industry?
Just because you have experience in a niche or industry, it doesn't mean you'll want to build a career around it. No problem. You can still specialize.
In this case you might choose a niche tied to a hobby or passion of yours instead. But there's still another option.
A common mistake new freelance writers make is thinking specialization always means choosing a niche. It does not.
You might also opt to specialize in:
- Certain project types;
- Writing for a particular type of client.
You also have the option to choose multiple, though related, specialties. This lets you specialize for the sake of earning more, but it gives you some flexibility. And by keeping your specialties related, you only need one marketing strategy and don't risk spreading yourself too thin when promoting your services.
In Colleen's case, it sounds like she has an interest in blogging.
So, while broad, that's still a specialty. She might narrow that down then by choosing to blog for small businesses, larger corporate clients, or niche publications. Or she might narrow it down by blogging for middlemen clients like marketing agencies and SEO firms.
She also has the option to focus on a few related industries -- blogging for real estate attorneys, real estate agents, and residential developers, using her past experience for example's sake.
Promoting Yourself With No Experience
Some of the worst advice I've ever seen people give new freelance writers is to outright lie to clients, telling them to do something you can't, and then attempting to learn as you go.
That doesn't make you a smart businessperson. It makes you dishonest.
So I'm glad to see Colleen doesn't want to take this route.
Here's the thing though. You don't have to tell people you have experience with something you don't. And that's one of the big reasons to specialize, especially if you can early (and no, you don't need an established career already to do this -- any hobby or life circumstance can be turned into a specialty).
In Colleen's case, she does have experience in the real estate world. It doesn't matter that she hasn't done much blogging yet. Can she write and edit? Sure. Does she know the subject matter? Yes.
The latter is what really matters.
Remember, the reason niche specialists often get paid more is because clients pay a premium for the subject matter expertise you bring to the table. Any mediocre writer could put together coherent blog posts for their website. Not any old writer is going to understand their business, their clients, and their goals.
If you have a lot of experience working with a certain project type -- sales letters perhaps -- you can do similar with that kind of specialization because you'll have results to back you up. In Colleen's case, the better option is to stick with subject matters she knows well already because the projects types are still new to her.
Does that limit Colleen to the real estate niche? No.
Taking a look at her new blog and Twitter profile, I can see she has an interest in combating ageism in the workplace (though the post itself isn't appropriate on her freelance writing blog -- we'll get to that in a moment). She also mentions interests in social media, politics, reading, gardening, and cooking. Any of these interest areas where she already has experience could be turned into a freelance writing specialty. And she wouldn't be promoting herself as having experience she doesn't.
The Purpose of Your Freelance Writing Blog
I mentioned Colleen's first post on her freelance writing blog being inappropriate. Here's why:
The blog on your freelance writing website is not a place to collect your personal thoughts on anything and everything under the sun. A personal blog? Sure. Start one. Or start a blog on that niche topic you want to. Or write about those things on third party blogs for pay, or as guest posts, and link to them in your portfolio if you'd like.
The focus of your freelance writing blog is one thing -- your ideal freelance writing clients.
This is why it helps to have a specialty before you begin blogging on your professional website. You have to know your target market before you can blog in a way that attracts leads.
If Colleen decides she'd like to specialize in something related to ageism in the workplace -- maybe writing for older entrepreneurs who started their businesses after traditional retirement -- her post would be a better fit, though she still needs to work in a call-to-action.
Always remember your blog on your professional website is a marketing and PR tool. Let your personality shine through. But make sure posts address the needs, problems, and questions of your target freelance writing clients -- not simply things you are interested in.
Where Do You Go From Here?
Look. I'm not going to tell Colleen or anyone else that they should absolutely specialize in X niche or Y industry. But I'm also not going to pretend a generalist career is as valuable.
Again, if you have the time to play with several niches and see which suits you, that's fine. If you want to take on a bit of everything for everyone to get a feel for freelancing, do it. But know you're also slowing yourself down.
Colleen has a few different specialty options she can run with where she won't be a total beginner. She has industry expertise in one area and she has experience with hobbies and other interests that she can turn into a potentially-lucrative freelance writing career. So the good news is, she's not at a loss for opportunities.
What do you think readers? How can Colleen make the most of her existing experience and interests in building a new freelance writing business?
Jenn has 18 years experience writing for others, around 13 years experience in blogging, and over 10 years experience in indie e-book publishing. She is also an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.
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