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Finding Your Niche


Yesterday, I discussed how important it is for freelancers to find a specialty or niche in order to better their chances of making a good living. While I would love to have an absolute answer to the question of how to find a niche (especially a profitable one), I’m afraid that I don’t. Because Lorna and I are still in the initial phases of our company, and because our primary goal up to this point has been to get some cash in hand, we are currently niche-less ourselves.

The good news is that we are closer to one now than we were two months ago. As we take on more and more writing assignments, we are taking the steps necessary to find a specialization. Here are some of the ways that we think are good approaches to narrowing the wide field of writing opportunities:

Look at Your Resume

Did you work for a law firm before you decided to become a writer? Did you work in human resources? Were you a teacher?

No matter what your professional past, chances are you held some sort of job that required specific skill sets. These skills can and should be funneled into future freelancing jobs. A law firm will be more likely to hire you to write their web content if you have a general understanding of how the legal system works. An advertising agency might want you to take on some of their surplus promotional work if you have worked in public relations in the past.

This category isn’t restricted to just professional past. What about your education? Did you get a degree in art history? Even if you never directly used the degree, having it might make you a good candidate for writing catalog copy for a fine arts retailer. Have you volunteered with a local nonprofit organization? You could funnel that experience into writing fund development letters.

No matter what makes up your resume, it is unique to you. These experiences can go a long way in getting you on the path to a profitable niche.

Find What Inspires You

One of the best things to consider for a freelance specialization is simply what you enjoy doing. There is a saying, “if you find a job you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” There is quite a bit of truth in this statement. I have worked on several freelancing projects that were very far from my ideal life’s work; they dragged on and on, and I didn’t enjoy doing them. Other projects that really capture my interest (this blog, for example) feel more like a recreational activity than a “job.”

If you love gardening, try to find ways to use those skills to write articles. If sports are more your thing, you may be able to find work either doing written commentaries or comparing sports products currently on the market.

A personal interest in your subject matter is going to make you more enthusiastic, more knowledgeable, and more confident in your freelancing skills. Employers will pick up on these qualities and be more likely to hire you because of them.

Consider Your Personal Library

If you’re like me, you have more books than you do shelf space for them. I love to read books, to buy books, and simply to look at books. Although they span a wide variety of topics (and how could they not, given how many I have), they do follow a common theme.

A quick overview of my personal library shows me that I enjoy historical fiction, books on raising children, the classics, and chick lit. Unless I become a book reviewer, most of these aren’t going to help me further my professional career. However, my interest in early childhood development gives me a pretty strong background in understanding children; I may be able to use that to write for parenting journals or websites. My interest in chick lit makes me pretty current on the dating and marriage scene. I have already used these skills to write some articles on dating and relationships.

Maybe your bookshelf has a large number of self-help books. There is a huge market for e-books and articles in this field. Or perhaps you like to read cookbooks; you may be able to channel this into writing articles on dieting and nutrition.

Follow the Dollar Signs

Most people in the freelancing arena are looking to make money. While being your own boss and working from home is incentive in and of itself, bringing in a little money is the main reason we are all in this game.

Some fields are going to pay better than others. Technology-based industries, the financial world, and large corporations are more likely to be able to meet your financial demands than your local gardening store. And while becoming an expert in investing for retirement and portfolio development may not be what you envisioned for yourself, you may find that this is where the bulk of the jobs are.

Web content is a particularly hot field right now for freelance writers, so simply being able to write effective, SEO-rich content can give you an edge. It is important to stay abreast of the internet world and how websites market their materials in order to compete. It certainly isn’t glamorous, and you probably won’t send links to your whole family when you write the introductory page for a wedding ribbon retailer, but if you can write the kind of material that will get hits on Google, you will become a pretty hot commodity.

Who Do You Know?

I’ll let you in on a little secret. All of Lorna’s and my non-Guru clients so far are people we already know. We even offer a “family and friends” rate to encourage the people we know to hire us. Not only is having a personal relationship with your potential employers going to get your foot in the door of subject areas you may not have had access to otherwise, but they are more likely to recommend you to others if you do a good job.

As is the case with most things in today’s business community, who you know is almost more important than what you know.

Keep a Record of Your Clients

From the get-go, Lorna and I have created a database of all of our clients. We list their name, location, contact information (all that vital stuff) as well as their general business field. For example, we used “Law” for the promotional materials we created for a law firm. We used “Online Retail” for a number of catalog descriptions we were hired to write. In our business plan, we have it laid out that we will continue this practice for three months before we review the list. At that time, we may be better able to discern where the bulk of our work is coming from and market our services accordingly.

This practice is already coming in quite handy. A quick overview of this database shows that I currently have three clients from non-English-speaking countries. I write for companies in Hong Kong, Prague, and Japan. Although what I actually write for each of these companies varies, the underlying premise is that they want to appeal to an English-speaking (primarily American) audience. To do so, they want to hire someone who is a native English speaker and who is willing to work through the inevitable communication barriers between an employer and a writer who speak different languages and only communicate through email. I am both of these. These employers are willing to pay U.S. dollars at a fairly higher rate than what they could get in their own countries simply to have the expertise of my language.

The trick to finding a profitable niche is to market yourself to the right employers. You may find it fairly easy to find a field that interests you, but unless you are making an active effort to advertise your services, it can be fairly difficult to turn that into a paying gig.

However, you can turn finding a niche into an advantage. Compile a list of all the subjects that interest you, that you are experienced in, or that you think will pay well. Pursue each one, determining whether or not you will be able to find employers and land jobs. If you start to have success in any one or two of the subjects, spend a little more time each week trying to grow that part of your project list. Over time, you may discover that you have become a pseudo-expert in that field!

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    On October 9th, 2007 at 2:19 pm, Lorna Doone Brewer said:

    Is it cheating if I pipe up and say that I really like this post? I love how writing this blog makes us have to think through our own strategies and practices!

    On October 9th, 2007 at 9:10 pm, Grant Griffiths said:

    Finding a niche is exactly what bloggers should do. They could take your key points and they would be closer to discovering what they should do a niche blog on. Great post.

    On October 9th, 2007 at 9:21 pm, Laura said:

    Great post!

    One of the question I here all the time is “how can I find my niche?” You’ve given clear, step-by-step directions here that anyone should be able to follow.

    On October 9th, 2007 at 9:54 pm, holli jo said:

    Wow, there are some really great ideas in here! Thanks for putting a lot of thought into this. I hadn’t thought of using the books I read as freelance inspiration.

    You’ve definitely given me some great ideas to start with. Oh, and I’m creating a client database right now! I can’t believe I didn’t think to do that before. (Maybe because I just started and I have only one client at present…)

    On October 10th, 2007 at 5:31 am, Robert M. Salazar said:

    Hello Ladies! What perfect timing to read finding a Niche as I’m presently exploring, evaluating, re-inventing and yet, aggressively pursuing multiple work opportunities! Your message validates what I already knew, however, the fact that finding your niche relative to chosen field of work is precisely what I’ve been planning for and eventually implementing into my career strategy.

    I’m an Business Professional, retired IBMer with solid credentials (MBA, Executive training at Harvard, etc.) and am currently transitioning from Family Sabbatical and back to work. As I interview and work with various Recruiters, the premise of your article comes to life albeit targeting a large corporate environment or planning for taking the “plunge” into Entrepreneurship (irregardless of business type or industry).

    Thanks for a well written and sound article! It reassured me that my thoughts about where I want growth career-wise are truly valide and that nd answering that question > what do I want to be when I grow up? has a lot of merit when it comes to your basic interests and how building career path or selecting your job with those in mind would be a Win-Win scenario.

    Once again, I appreciated reading your message particularly in the context and examples you crafted.

    Mr. Robert M. Salazar
    San Jose, California

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