Picture this. You’re making an epic dinner. The recipe calls for an obscure ingredient, so you slide into your shoes and head out to do some shopping.
There are general groceries all over, but as you turn the corner, you see a different kind of store.
It’s a specialty grocery—slightly more expensive, a little further from your apartment. But in the window, there’s a poster featuring the obscure ingredient you need.
Are you going to waltz into the local Key Food or are you hauling ass to that specialty store to get exactly what you need?
I think you see where I’m going with this. When we have a specific need or problem, price and other factors become less important than securing the solution.
This is true in virtually every industry, from home goods and clothing to medical services and hospitality.
This concept is the reason writers who specialize—or find a niche—end up making more money than those who offer broad writing services.
Today I’m going to break down this concept a little further and show you how to choose your own niche.
Because, yes, you need a writing niche.
“But I have so many skills!”
(A.k.a. Just because you can… doesn’t mean you should.)
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say most freelancers have multiple talents to wield. In fact, one of the first things that drew me to the freelance life was that I could experiment with so many different passions and interests.
After all, I rejected the traditional 9-5 right out of school because the thought of working for one company made me cringe.
In my mid-twenties I was the queen of sporadic gigs. By day I was furiously typing up e-commerce flash sale copy and writing blog posts for vintage clothing shops. On the weekends I was a fashion stylist’s assistant.
When I had downtime I was using my amateur graphic design skills to make fliers for bands and nightclubs. I also booked music gigs, managed an online vegan marketplace, re-sold vintage in an Etsy shop, and grabbed any project I could find!
I even got my name listed in a fashion show program as a photographer next to Patrick McMullen by offering to run around with my little digital camera, taking snaps.
Sometimes I can’t even fathom the guts I had back then to sink my teeth into life that way.
I mean, I actually interviewed one of my idols, Waris Ahluwalia, twice!
(Now I’m just bragging.)
Allow me to get to the point:
Doing all of those things was exciting, no doubt. But do you know what happened when someone asked for my business card or asked, “What do you do?”
I usually launched into a confusing description of all of my projects and interests and watched their eyes glaze over.
During that time it was pretty hard to land recurring projects that promised more than a month’s rent. That’s because, while people were impressed by my constant hustle and creativity, I couldn’t even explain to someone what the hell I was doing.
To be fair, this was a good way for me to test the waters with a few different career paths. And if you can afford to spend a couple of years playing whack-a-mole with interests and seeing how everything feels, go for it!
But if you’re reading this, I’m betting you’re more interested in figuring out how to buckle down and make some serious money writing.
So! How does my little trip down memory lane relate to you and your niche? It boils down to picking one thing and being really, really good at it.
Imagine if, instead of doing a hundred things each week, I focused on one thing—all the way. I could have become a well-connected fashion stylist within a couple of years, or an international booking agent, or grown my Etsy shop into a full-blown business. I could have become “the #1 go-to writer for French antiques”—or whatever.
It took me a long time to figure out that I wanted to narrow down to writing, and then more time to realize I had to narrow that down, too.
After barely making rent as a catch-all content writer, I chose a niche: women’s fashion copywriting. As if by magic, I started seeing major traction with my client acquisition.
You may have many talents. In fact, I’m willing to bet money that you do! But just because you can write for a handful of different industries, doesn’t mean you should. Doing so may water down your perceived value.
[bctt tweet=”Just because you can write for different industries, doesn’t mean you should. Don’t water down your perceived value.” username=”dayjoboptional”]
The moral of this story?
Doing a little bit of everything makes people’s eyes glaze over.
And then there’s the whole internet thing.
Sitting in front of someone and convincing them that you’re worthy of a job isn’t easy. Ever been to a job interview? Ugh.
But despite your worst memory of being sized up by a CEO or accidentally interviewing with something stuck between your teeth, there’s a place where it’s even more difficult to win clients over.
Yep, you guessed it! The internet.
We know, in theory, that we’re all humans sitting behind computers or tap-tap-scrolling on our phones, but there’s something about portraying yourself in text form that disconnects you from an IRL persona.
It’s already tough to convince someone to trust you and hire you in person, but it’s much harder online.
Decisions about whether you’re trustworthy and likable (the two most important factors in getting hired on the internet) happen in a split second. If a client can’t assess your area of expertise immediately, they’ll move on to the next candidate.
It’s as simple as that.
If you’re not ultra-specific about what you do, you’ll miss out on opportunities as quickly as they come your way. Even if you have years of experience and solid samples, you’re likely to lose the job to a writer who is specializing in the kind of writing the client is looking for.
So, do you want the secret to getting writing clients? Get specific or get passed over.
One sec, let’s tweet that:
[bctt tweet=”Want the secret to getting writing clients? Get specific or get passed over.” username=”dayjoboptional”]
“But… but… I’ll be narrowing my prospects!”
Ugh, friend. Let’s talk about this.
This concern stems from the idea that the freelance talent pool is growing and the client pool is staying the same.
The scarcity mindset is something many freelance writers deal with, especially since our industry is booming at an unprecedented rate. I get it! You can’t stretch your arms out without hitting a fellow writer these days, so it’s natural to be concerned that there aren’t enough clients to go around.
But the truth is, new freelance writing jobs are popping up every day.
Remote jobs are becoming more popular by the week as an entire generation realizes the 9-5 life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s not just a trend, but an evolution of the way we work, fueled by the internet.
Another thing to keep in mind? Writing itself is becoming more important!
Good content and copy isn’t a luxury anymore. It’s essential. Freelance writers are becoming more appealing to businesses as they realize how crucial good writing is to modern marketing.
And don’t forget: clients have an endless cyclical need for new assets to be written. Most businesses need recurring marketing materials written every single week.
Aside from the fact that writing jobs are increasing in number, there’s also the fact that most writers aren’t even going to niche. Most won’t position themselves to target high-value clients. Most will do the bare minimum and scramble to get low paying work because this whole process is a liiittle counter-intuitive.
Ever wonder why most people complain about Upwork while some make thousands there?
You’re smarter than that, obviously, because you’re here.
In short, clarity = clients.
As soon as you niche down you narrow your client pool to better business relationships, namely clients who want to pay a premium for good writing.
It’s a smart move if you really want to make this a long-term career and not just a here-and-there side hustle.
“Okay, fine. But what if I pick the wrong niche?”
This is another fear I see expressed pretty often in the freelancing community.
Niching down means getting specific with how you represent yourself online, so changing your niche means changing your headline on social media, updating your website, rewriting… your… bio…
It actually shouldn’t be a concern, because it’s not that hard!
If you decide your niche isn’t working out, you can change it. We even made a video explaining how to change your niche without suffering from a big pause in your workflow.
Since we work on the internet, we can completely update our entire professional persona and brand in a relatively short amount of time.
No one arriving at your financial writing services website is going to know that you were a cheese product description specialist last week… if you don’t want them to.
Perhaps your next concern is, “but what if all my samples are from my old niche?”
There’s an easy way to get around this. Just make new samples for your new niche.
You don’t need a full-blown portfolio to start out. Just create a sample or two and get moving on finding gigs. You can even wait until you find a job you want and then create specific samples that will appeal to that client.
And if your new niche isn’t too far flung from the old one, you can also use those old samples to prove you know how to get the job done.
I want to encourage you to problem-solve your way through your freelance career growth instead of finding reasons to panic or assume it’s not going to work out. You’re the architect of your own freelance career! You get to make the rules.
Make it work in your favor.
“Alright, I’m ready to pick a niche. How do I do it?”
Yay, we’re finally here! This is the part where you get to decide what kind of specialist you want to be.
It’s tempting to search for something like “what is the best niche?” and just go with the top-paying gig. To do so would be to fail yourself as a writer.
Dramatic, I know. But true.
You got out of the corporate grind (or you’re trying to) because you’re the kind of person who wants to design their own life, right? You want to be your own boss, make your own rules?
Then you’re going to pick your own niche, too, and you’re going to do it the right way.
We’re going to dig deep and answer some questions. I advise that you block out substantial time for this exercise, or even do it gradually over a few days. You can return to it during your commute, over coffee in the morning, or late night with a glass of wine.
Also, a little warning before we proceed: This process can trip you up, but stay cool.
It’s scary to realize you have limitless options before you! Just be patient and trust that you will eventually arrive at your niche-tastic destination.
(And by then, you’ll be pretty sick of the word “niche”.)
First, open up this Writing Niche Worksheet. We made it just for you. Make a copy and save it to your drive.
Start by asking yourself the following questions, and write down anything that comes to mind:
- What am I interested in or passionate about?
- What industries are intriguing to me?
- What websites or magazines do I love to read?
- What have I always wanted to write about?
- What do I want to be known for?
These baseline questions can help you identify some of the interest and passion-driven layers of your niche. Don’t hold back! This is not the place to narrow down. Try to fill a page or two with your answers.
To give you a quick example, here are some of the rather random things I wrote down when I first did this exercise.
Remember, it’s whatever pops into your head—not everything will be career-related or seemingly relevant:
Design, aspirational style blogs, art blogs, edgy fashion, luxury Instagram accounts, indie clothing companies, loungewear, resort wear, travel, luxury clothing and jewelry companies, lifestyle brands, brands with a rich story, vivid target customers, storytelling in general, etc.
Next, you can ask yourself the following:
- What do I consider myself good at?
- What do other people tell me I’m good at?
- What do I already have some experience in?
- What writing have I done for previous (or current) jobs?
- What did I major in?
- What am I willing to study or learn about?
Here were some of my answers for this section:
Creative writing, descriptive writing, curating and decorating, making ordinary rooms or objects more pretty, styling, blogging, doing photo shoots for my blog, creating connection/a friendly atmosphere, socializing, coming up with ideas, planning parties, fashion design, helping friends pick out clothes, telling stories, painting a figurative picture of something with words, etc.
Finally, answer some of these questions to round out the exercise. These get a little more random:
- What brands or companies have I daydreamed of working with?
- Who do I want to help/serve?
- What kind of client do I want to collaborate with?
- How do I want to dress for video calls or in-person meetings?
- What do I want my workspace to look like?
- How do I want to feel when I wake up in the morning?
Some of my answers were:
Bohemian clothing brands, edgy lifestyle companies, luxury and contemporary jewelry brands, Free People, companies with a creative product, story-driven brands, creative people, inspired people, women with unique style, women with a story, women who own businesses, tropical print robes, outdoor office, hammock, cafes, tea breaks, (more) travel, I want to be refreshed, organized, inspired, etc.
Yeah, that one is all over the place. Stay with me.
The next step is deciphering your answers. Each group of questions is designed to round out your niche by addressing your interests, your skills, and your lifestyle goals.
The interests group is pretty straightforward.
It’s all about what excites you and what you’re passionate about. If you’re reading it back and you notice that you wrote down something you’re not actually interested in—maybe you felt like it was a smart, cool, or responsible thing to write down—cross it out!
Don’t try to prove anything with this list. Keep it as honest as possible. It’s the bottom layer of your niche cake.
The skills group is also pretty straightforward, but with two fun twists.
First, aside from your obvious skills and experience, you get to ask friends and family what they think you’re good at. Sometimes you don’t even realize you’re awesome at something until someone says it.
Second, you get to add things you’re willing to learn. For example, you may have recently become enamored with the idea of ghostwriting wellness eBooks, but your background is tech. If you’re willing, you can dive into that industry and learn on the fly (as long as you’re honest about your experience or lack thereof).
As a writer, you’re not limited by what you know, but only by what you’re willing to learn.
Woah. Should we tweet that?
[bctt tweet=”As a writer, you’re not limited by what you know, but only by what you’re willing to learn. “]
Moving along, the lifestyle group is definitely the most abstract, but also absolutely crucial.
Your niche impacts your lifestyle in subtle ways. Writing for a non-profit that’s changing the world is different from writing content for a bikini brand. Your client base even impacts the way you show up online.
For instance, I dress up for video calls with my fashion clients and try to make sure there’s a stylish vibe on my portfolio site.
If you’re in the pet care niche, it’s probably cool if your dog interrupts your video call, or your client may understand if you schedule your working hours around your pet’s needs. If you’re in the yoga niche, you might get to consume your clients’ content as a perk.
These are random examples, but I think you see where I’m going.
And yes, you can BS an essay on virtually any topic by hopping on Google and doing some light research, but we’re talking about a career. We’re talking about building something solid, something long-term. Something you’re excited to wake up to each day.
You’re painting a picture of the kind of life you want to have.
Alright, so now that you’ve filled out your answers, take some time to look them over. Highlight some of them. Cross out others. Add more.
Notice when you start to feel inspired and motivated by certain phrases you wrote down, or when you second-guess others.
Pay attention if you hear intuitive direction popping up in your mind. Then take the strongest phrases you’re responding to from each category, and put them together.
Here are a few of mine:
luxury clothing and jewelry companies
brands with a rich story
creating connection/a friendly atmosphere
companies with a creative product
Some of your phrases may only make sense to you, and that’s okay.
From my list, I knew that I wanted to work with higher price point brands who were offering a beautiful product (I am especially into loungewear and clothes that make you feel good).
I also knew I was into descriptive writing with a lifestyle element (which lends itself to creative product descriptions, brand stories, etc), and that I’m partial to brands with a rich story (which makes for strong positioning and thus, more natural copywriting).
Finally, I added the robes because they make me happy, whether I’m wearing one or writing about one.
Alright, I know this is getting long, so let’s land this plane.
From all of this information, my niche emerged: women’s luxury fashion copywriter for story-driven brands. I shortened my title to “women’s luxury fashion copywriter” so it’s easier to say/read. The story-driven part comes in when I actually begin talking to potential clients.
I could have stopped at “I’m a fashion copywriter” or “I’m an e-commerce copywriter”, but in hindsight, I know that would not have been specific enough to appeal to some of the clients I have worked with. I specifically write for women’s fashion at a high price point, and that’s worth mentioning.
I may go broad in the future if that makes sense for me, but with my current target client in mind, this is working for me.
And yes! I do other projects that seem interesting, but this ultra-specific niche has branded me as a go-to writer for my ideal client, and that’s the whole point. You don’t have to deny a project on the grounds of your ultra-specific niche.
Do what feels right. Experiment. Repeat.
All of that to get to a niche?
I know it’s a lot, but trust me. It’s worth the time and brain power. You’re designing a lifestyle-based career that will make you feel fulfilled and sustained. You want to dig deep into the core of what really turns you on in life, and then use that as the basis for your niche.
Finally, here are some quick tips to remember:
- As a general rule, the more you narrow, the more you can make. Writers love arguing this point, but I’ll stand by it because I’ve lived it!
- There needs to be demand for your niche. Do your research. Don’t try to create a niche that doesn’t exist (unless you’ve got the luxury of time/money to experiment a bit—if so, go for it.)
- Know your income goals and charge accordingly. You’re a specialist, after all.
- If your niche doesn’t come to you right away, don’t panic. Choose something semi-specific, and narrow it down as you work. Sometimes it’s hard to uncover your specialty before you get your hands dirty and try different things.
- If you choose a niche and it doesn’t work out, you can always change it. Your career will evolve, so plan on it!
You’ve got this, my friend!
If you’re having trouble picking a niche or you just need some support with your writing career, you know we’ve got your back. Come hang out at the Wi-Fi Writers Club Facebook community (I am literally in there so often it’s almost embarrassing), and let’s work together to make sure you find the success you deserve.
“These types of people are highly paid. Why? Not specifically because they have a bunch of letters after their names, or because they are fine and decent people, likable folks who everyone wants to throw money at. No, it’s because they do jobs that very few other people are able to do.”—Lean In
Want to hang with other writers like you? Join us in our Facebook group, Wi-Fi Writers Club.