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Ah, the life of a freelance writer. One day, you’re writing about traffic laws in Spokane, Washington. The next day, you’re writing about baby-proofing your home. A different week, you’re covering the most common signs of IBS. “Write ALL the things!” seems to be your life’s motto — but it doesn’t have to be, nor should it be. Let’s talk about picking a freelance writing niche — why you need one and what to look for.
Wait, Why Do You Even Need a Freelance Writing Niche?
In order to make more money, you need to focus on less.
I know it might seem counterproductive, but let me explain. When you write about everything, you’re an expert on nothing. Nobody can be an expert on 20 different things. Merriam-Webster defines “expert” as, “One with the special skill or knowledge representing mastery of a particular subject.”
Did you catch that? Of a particular subject. Thus, by definition, you can’t be an expert on a bunch of different topics.
But why should you care about being an expert anyway? I mean, you’ve made money thus far without having a freelance writing niche, so who cares?
You should care because if you want to make more money (which I’m guessing you do), one of the easiest, most logical ways to do it is to pick a niche. Experts make more than generalists, period. Experts charge more, and people will willingly pay it because they know that this expert has knowledge and expertise that others don’t.
I’m able to charge my clients what I charge them because I have extensive knowledge of their industries. They can expect the quality and thoroughness of my work to be pretty darn good because these are topics I’ve been following and studying for years.
This is why you need to pick a niche. Let’s keep going.
What Makes a Good Freelance Writing Niche?
So, how can you go about finding the right one for you? A niche should meet three requirements.
Requirement 1: It Should Be Something You Love
This is a simple one. Why purposely choose to write about something that doesn’t get you excited?
Most people — if not all — go the freelancing route because they want more control over their careers and their income. You can absolutely have that, and you can start by picking a niche that you love.
Maybe you love fitness, or perhaps you’re obsessed with fashion. Do you enjoy geeking out on technology? Or possibly, personal finance is your jam.
Pick something you’re confident you’ll enjoy writing about.
Requirement 2: Your Freelance Writing Niche Should Be Something You Know a Lot About
You certainly can’t position yourself as an expert to potential clients if you don’t have a very deep understanding of your niche. Therefore, Requirement 2 is that you know a lot about it — or you’re willing to learn a lot about it.
I’ve heard a compelling and valid argument that you only need to know more than your fellow writers in order to come across as an expert authority. I can say that I agree with this to an extent but look at it this way. Your clients eat, sleep, breathe, and poop their business. You’re not going to fool them into thinking you’re more knowledgeable than you are.
Plus, you want their reaction to you to be, “Holy sh*t, this writer is exactly what we need!” not, “Meh, they’re okay, I guess.”
Pick something you love and become a student of it (the kind of student who gets straight As and wins scholarship money, not the kind who gets caught smoking pot behind the building).
Requirement 3: It Should Be Profitable
This requirement is extra important, because if your niche doesn’t meet it, then the previous two requirements are a moot point.
For the love of God, pick a freelance writing niche that will make you money.
To determine if your potential niche is profitable, ask yourself these two questions:
- Is there a demand for content in this niche?
- Do businesses in this niche have the money to pay me what I want?
Is There a Demand for Content in This Niche?
To start to get a feel for this, do your research and figure out if other brands are already writing in your niche. Do you love arts and crafts? Fantastic. You need to see if brands in this niche have active blogs.
If you’re largely finding that they’re not blogging, then that’s a good indication that this niche might not be all that profitable.
Do Businesses in This Niche Have the Money to Pay Me What I Want?
This one is a little more tricky. Let me start with an example to better illustrate it.
The niche I started out with was fitness. I immediately thought of CrossFit. I had personal experience with it and also knew that there are thousands of CrossFit gyms across the globe. I assumed it was a goldmine.
Source: Morning Chalk Up
So, I wasted only God knows how many hours cold emailing CrossFit gyms and didn’t close a single one. Not one.
NOT ONE, you guys! I felt like the smelly kid in school who nobody wanted on their dodgeball team.
Finally, I made a point of befriending a few gym owners and asked them, “WTF? Why don’t any of you people pay someone to blog for you?” The answer was unanimous: They didn’t have the budget for it.
CrossFit blew up so fast, and gyms opened up so quickly. The sad and unfortunate part is that many of them are apparently struggling to get by. Do you think that paying a writer was even on their radar? Not even slightly.
In other words, the time I spent cold emailing these businesses was completely wasted. If I had done my homework, I could have figured that out sooner.
One of the best tips I can give you is to start looking at brands in your niche and check out their website and social media. Is there website current, attractive, responsive on mobile? Is their social media active and engaging?
What I’m asking is this: Does it look like the brand actually cares about their online presence and is seemingly investing money in it? If so, you might be on the right track.
On the other hand, if their website is crap and they haven’t posted on Facebook since Obama was in office, move along.
Final Notes About Picking a Freelance Writing Niche
I want to leave you with three important reminders.
Your Niche Isn’t Set in Stone
I see writers agonize over their niche for weeks. Yes, absolutely take the time to do your due diligence — but don’t stress yourself out. If you try a niche and it doesn’t work out for you, you can always switch. Easy peasy.
Yes, You Can Have More Than One Niche, But…
… not so many that you’re spreading yourself too thin and can’t hit expert-level status on each! Personally, I have three niches, but I started with one before adding the other two. And the third came very naturally — kind of accidentally, even.
My third niche is digital marketing (as in, I write about digital marketing). It’s something I know a lot about because (a) I do it for my clients and (b) I do it for my own business. It made sense to include it as a niche of mine.
When in Doubt, Start Broad and Go Narrow
Full disclosure: People have different opinions on this. The right answer for you will depend on the results that you get.
Some will advise picking a hyper-specific niche, and for a good reason. In some cases, having a very specific niche ends up being the most profitable approach. Here are a few examples (and these are purely hypothetical — I don’t know if these are true or not).
Instead of being a fashion writer, you might find it more beneficial to be a pre-teen fashion writer or a maternity fashion writer.
Instead of being a mental health writer, maybe you niche down to become a depression and anxiety writer geared toward middle-aged people.
Or, instead of being a cooking writer, you position yourself as a writer who specializes in cooking on a budget when you have a family to feed.
The reason for going as narrow as possible is because the more specific it is, the rarer of a writer you will be. Read: You can charge ridiculous rates. Does this happen? Yes! Will it always be the case? No.
In my experience, writers have had difficulty going straight for the more narrow niche, which makes perfect sense. If you’re just trying to find your way, getting hyper-specific right off the bat is going to make things harder on you. This is why I typically recommend to start broad and then go narrow.
First of all, this approach makes it easier to narrow your niche down, if you want to. But also, you might find that staying broad is in your best interest. That ended up being the case for me.
Start broad, and then go narrow.
I was once communicating with a writer online, encouraging her to pick a niche, to which she said (exact words), “No thanks. I’d rather not limit myself like you do. ;-) “ A single tear slid down my cheek, because damn, is she missing out. I can’t urge you enough: At least try. The results could change your career.
Psst! Want to learn even more about picking a freelance writing niche? Check out the video below.