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Do You Need a Niche?


Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic series, has this advice for people looking to be truly successful in this world:

If you want an average successful life, it doesn’t take much planning. Just stay out of trouble, go to school, and apply for jobs you might like. But if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths:

1. Become the best at one specific thing.

2. Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.

He goes on to say that if you choose the first path, you will find that being the best at anything is a feat mastered by very few people (obviously, not all of us can be the best runner in the world). The second path, however, is one that each and every one of us can aspire to.

While this advice is meant to be accessible to all professions, I think it is especially important in the freelancing world. No matter how hard you try, you will probably never be the best at writing, designing, or consulting. You can certainly reach the upper percentages, but to be the actual best takes quite a bit of talent, hard work, education, and luck. And if you aren’t the best at what you do, you will probably find that the only way to ensure that you get a steady stream of jobs is to under-price your services. That does a disservice to you and your competitors.

However, if you carve yourself a niche, wherein you specialize in two or three areas, you may find yourself to be a great candidate for employment—to the point where people will do anything to get you on their team.

One of the biggest writing pitfalls is to adopt the role of jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none. This is the person who can take on almost any writing assignment, as long as it doesn’t delve too deeply into any overly specific territory. For example, if an employer wanted someone to write general introductory materials for a music appreciation website, a jack-of-all-trades might fit the bill. But if they wanted someone to discuss how the pseudo-emo genre relates to post-Beatles rock, they would have to search somewhere else. Somewhere where the rates of pay are likely to reflect the type of specialization needed for that article.

I can guarantee you that somewhere out there, there is a writer who could write that article without even batting an eyelash. Either that writer has plenty of spare time on her hands to research for weeks, or she has found herself a niche. And within that niche, chances are that writer will find plenty of work, as long as she sells herself to the right crowd and continues to focus on what she knows best.

Most employers prefer to work with freelancers or organizations who can demonstrate their experience in a specific field. To be confronted by someone who enthusiastically claims their ability to write or design anything the employer needs is actually more of a turn-off than anything else. It undermines your professionalism to pretend that you can do everything; the employer will be likely to assume that you are either lying or boasting about your abilities as a freelancer.

There is a scene in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar where Esther, the main character, imagines her future like a giant fig tree. She stands at the base of the tree, and the various branches represent the different paths she could follow in life; each branch has a plump fig of a future just ready to be plucked. She hems and haws at the base of the tree, avoiding making a decision about which branch to climb because that would necessarily preclude her being able to eat all of the figs. Instead of selecting just one, all of the figs dry up and she is left with no opportunities at all.

If you want to be successful as a freelancer, you need to pick a branch, climb it, and get to that fig before it is too late. Although it may seem that narrowing yourself down to one or two categories of work means that you reduce your future opportunities, think again. In today’s world of global commerce and internet communication, there are enough people out there in need of your services that your specialty will lead you to a very profitable future.

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    On October 8th, 2007 at 4:31 pm, holli jo said:


    I hate hearing this! Your article is great, and what you’re saying is true - I’ve heard it elsewhere. But I have such a hard time narrowing down my interests.

    I’m new to the freelancing field as it is, so right now I’m just trying to build up enough work to pay the bills - I haven’t really been concerned with the type of work or if it fits my niche (which I don’t have yet…)

    Anyway, I guess I could use a few pointers on how you narrow down your interests and specialties. I mean, some niches are surely more lucrative than others. Do you simply try different kinds of writing and niches until you find what works for you?

    Thanks for sharing this article. Sorry my thoughts are so scattered.

    On October 8th, 2007 at 4:46 pm, Tamara Berry said:

    Holli Jo - In all honesty, Lorna and I are also still working on finding a niche for ourselves and our company. (We are also in the “pay the bills” phase.)

    I think I will tackle the subject of finding your niche later this week. Thanks for the idea!

    On October 8th, 2007 at 10:13 pm, holli jo said:

    Thanks for your response - I look forward to that article.

    p.s. I hope you don’t think I was criticizing your article. I loved it! I’m just lamenting the fact that I’m personally so indecisive and have broad interests rather than deep. :)

    On October 9th, 2007 at 4:25 am, CraftBoom! said:

    Hi Tamara,

    Great post!

    I completely agree with finding your niche a pursuing it. I think it is tricky at first because you might simply not know what you want to do, and it’s also scary because it’s natural to want to please the majority rather than the minority.

    I haven’t read the Bell Jar, and the fig tree analogy is perfect, thanks for sharing it :)

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    1. Finding Your Niche | Freelance Parent on October 9th, 2007 at 1:14 pm

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