Let’s do a thought experiment.
Imagine that you just won a trip to Nashville. You’ve never been there, you’re a big roots music fan, and you are stoked.
You want to find some great things to do while you’re there. You know you’ll visit the Ryman Auditorium and the Bluebird Cafe, but what else is there to do?
You head to Google to find out. Do you:
A.) Search for “Things to do in the United States”
B.) Search for “Things to do in the South”
C.) Search for “Things to do in Nashville”
You search for things to do in Nashville, right?
Now, apply that same logic to your freelance writing career. That, my friend, is the beauty (and necessity) of finding your niche.
What exactly is a niche?
My laptop’s dictionary defines niche as “a comfortable or suitable position in life or employment.” A niche is that sweet spot where your strengths, interests, connections, (and, ideally passions) overlap.
Here’s an example from a freelance writing perspective. You tell someone at a networking event that you’re a writer. They ask what you write about and you say something like, “Oh lots of things,” or “whatever clients want me to write about,” or you rattle of 10 unrelated things you’ve written about in the last six months.
You might continue with a friendly exchange, but that person knows little more about your freelance writing business than they did when they asked the question.
Now, imagine that you responded to that question with this:
“I write about health and fitness with an emphasis on outdoor activities.”
“I provide new dog owners the tools and resources they need to train their pup.”
See the difference there? When you drill down into a specialty, you position yourself as an expert. Now, instead of boring networking event conversations, you’re talking about ways you can help people train their new dog, or handing them a card for their friend who’s trying to get in shape. You’ve become valuable and memorable.
Sometimes new freelance writers are hesitant about narrowing their niche because they either aren’t sure what they want to specialize in or they don’t want to be limited to one thing. Somewhat counter-intuitively, the reverse is true. By finding and narrowing your niche, you stand out from the sea of other freelance writers writing about “lots of things” and attract clients who see you as a valuable resource within a specific field.
How do you determine your freelance writing niche?
For some writers, this is easy. They know, absolutely, that they want to write about college sports, or the local music scene, or national politics. Great. Done and done. Go forth and multiply those words.
For others, it’s a bit trickier. Maybe you want to write about cooking, and fashion, and photography, and yoga, and kittens. Here, you have a couple of options:
1) Find the thread that connects them all. Your niche could be: lifestyle writing at the intersection of home, health, and creativity.
2) Determine which of your interests offers:
- the most potential for article ideas
- the most engaged audience
- the most need from publications or clients
- the most income potential
You may love writing about kittens, but unless you’ve got the ongoing attention of publications about cats, you may want to table the kitten writing thing, or create a hobby blog for yourself about kittens.
Something else to consider is whether you’re passionate enough about your interests to make a commitment to them. You may really love yoga (I get it, I do too!), but is it what you want to focus on with your writing? Maybe it is, and that’s awesome, but maybe it’s just something that you love and that keeps you healthy and sane—not necessarily something you want to write potentially hundreds of articles about.
Give some thought to what you want to focus on, create a catchy little description (sometimes called an elevator pitch), and try it out on people. If it feels awkward and terrible saying it, rethink it until you find something that feels right.
Pro tip: You don’t have to stick to today’s niche forever. Things change. You change. Clients change. Determine what you want to focus on now, but know that you can course-correct as you see fit.
When I started my freelance writing career, I wanted to write about art and culture. I covered musicians, artists, designers, and interesting events for the local alt-weekly paper. Once I started branching out and writing for other publications, I did news writing, features, profiles, press releases, arts and culture, tech innovations, and the sharing economy.
In writing about the sharing economy, I connected with countless people doing amazing work in the world. This quickly became a focus and passion of mine, and my niche shifted from primarily covering arts and culture to primarily covering community, the commons, coworking, and the new economy built on meaningful work, consuming less, sharing more, and being more connected to those around us. I still cover arts and culture, but my primary niche shifted.
Don’t be afraid to create a niche
You can always take on whatever jobs come your way that feel like a good fit, but by determining your niche and putting it out in the world, you will attract more clients and make yourself the go-to person when people need your particular skillset.
Have you created a niche for your freelance writing career? How did you decide on it? Have you struggled to find or create one? What’s holding you up? In the comments, please share your experience with niches.
Top photo: Martin Terber (CC-BY)