Should You Niche as a Freelancer?
Many of you know that I have a pretty solid niche that I work in quite often but I also take projects outside of my niche and I coach freelancers, beginners and those working to get to the six-figure level.
You can go either way, being a generalist or being really specialized in a niche. In this post, I’m going to explain what a niche is, the pros and cons of niching as a freelancer, why it can be helpful to start as a generalist before moving into a niche, and my three part winning formula for choosing your ideal niche.
Watch the training session from my YouTube channel, or continue reading below for all of my tips about niching as a freelancer.
What exactly is a freelancing niche?
Let’s start right here: what is a niche? What does it mean to say that you are working in a niche? It is essentially a way of narrowing down what you work on and who you work on it for.
A niche is a way to differentiate yourself from being a generalist.
Most people start off their freelancer career as a generalist because they don’t know yet what their niche is, and that's okay. You can work as a generalist for years and never move into a niche.
Or, you might find over time that patterns emerge and that you want to focus in on particular types of projects work for very specific clients. That's essentially working within a niche.
You will see people across the board who niche and those who don’t. You will hear advice from people who tell you that you should never work in a niche. I don’t like to say “never” in business. There are exceptions to that rule.
I have been working in a well-defined niche now for six years. It’s been instrumental in helping me grow my business very quickly. That doesn’t mean I can't take projects outside of my niche or work with people outside of my usual industry -- I do. But having a niche has done a lot of very cool things for me.
Why I Love Working Within a Niche
Working in a niche, I get really fast at what I do. It makes a lot easier for me to work within a niche when I have speed at my hands. I know all the leading resources available to me and to my clients. When they ask me questions on the phone I am not put on the spot because 99% of the time, I've heard what they are talking about before. As an SEO writer, I often have to jump on calls with a client’s SEO or backlinks person. I have been doing it for so long and can get up to speed quickly or I already know what they are talking about. That puts me in a better position when I have those calls as well.
How Starting as a Generalist Can Help You Find Your Niche
When I started working as a freelancer, I didn't know what I would like or didn’t like. If you are at the beginning of your freelance journey or even if you are months or years into it but don’t have a niche, that’s okay. It really needs to come to you. Don’t select a niche just for the sake of selecting a niche.
When you first start out with your freelance business, being a generalist is a great thing. As a generalist, you will get experience working with different types of clients. You learn how long it takes you to do certain things. You find out what it means to market yourself in particular categories and industries.
Find Out What You Like…And Don’t Like
Sometimes, until you’ve gained more experience, you don't know if you'd hate or you'd love different kinds of projects. Starting off as a generalist is your opportunity to figure out what you do and don't like. During these initial projects, or even if you've already had quite a bit of work, you have a great chance to step back and say, “What did I enjoy doing the most? What projects felt the most seamless to me? What projects was I passionate about while I was working on them?”
It's very interesting to be able to experiment and try different kinds of projects. Once you try something, it will be so obvious to you whether you like it or don’t like it, even something that you thought might be great. You might think, “The pay is going to be great if I take on a project as a voiceover artist in the medical industry. That's going to be my niche.”
After you're reading your hundredth text about the best hip implant medical device and you're bored to death, totally faking it trying to make it sound exciting, it just doesn't feel genuine anymore. As you gain more experience, it'll be obvious to you what you do and don't like. If you’re an established freelancer, I bet you've already had those projects where you’ve learned, “Never again will I do something like that.”
Likewise, you'll find things that you really enjoy doing. For me, that was blogging.
Build Your Portfolio
At first, it's not a bad thing to be a generalist. Use it as a learning experience. And while you're in there being a generalist, get your samples done or your testimonials from your initial client.
If you're a virtual assistant or a project manager where it's hard to have samples, you can create testimonials while you're working on these initial projects. Use them as an opportunity to launch the rest of your freelance career.
If you're starting off as a designer, a web designer, a writer, anyone who's a freelancer who produces an actual finished product, use this as your chance to get the samples done.
When you're starting off, you might not know what your clients want. But as you get feedback from your clients on actual projects, you can use that as a template for creating samples.
I didn't know what I was doing when I was starting either but I used the feedback that I got from clients in my initial work to tighten things up in my own samples to land me future gigs.
Then, of course, use that feedback to land other jobs. You can have that as testimonials on your website. If it's an Upwork job, it might be feedback on your Upwork profile. If you're active on LinkedIn, you might ask the client to leave a testimonial on your LinkedIn profile. Use this as your chance to get your samples done for the niche that you feel yourself gravitating towards.
If you think that you've discovered something that could be a possible niche for you, you now will have a little bit of a better understanding about what that niche is and what it looks like and what a finished product looks like. If you don't produce a product, you'll have an idea of what the client is looking for and you'll be able to get a great testimonial out of it for the future.
Let's walk through an actual example of what it looks like to go from being a generalist to being super narrow. I'm going almost as narrow as you can, short of saying you only do this for someone in a geographic area or a very particular size of business.
Perhaps a person starts their freelance career and they say, “I like writing so I think I'm going to be a freelance writer. I really like writing long articles. I love getting in the zone and producing about 2000 words. That's really enjoyable. That feels like a good amount of a time commitment. I used to work in a dental office as a hygienist, and I also like creating content that sells.”
Maybe the first couple of projects this freelancer worked on were sales copy or trying to sell the teeth whitening services of a particular dentist. Then the freelancer realizes, “I'm really interested in this. This was a fun project. I really enjoyed doing it and it paid well.”
They went from starting as a writer, taking on a number of different projects. They realized that they are really good at writing long articles, they have a background as a hygienist and sales copy is really their thing, so they're going to write custom landing pages for dentists.
Why Should You Niche as a Freelancer?
Let's talk about the reasons why you'd want to niche at all, aside from making your life easier.
You’ll Be More Productive
One of the reasons that I love goes back to one of my favorite general productivity hacks: keeping your brain in one lane at a time. Will you ask your brain to do 15 different things during a given day? It's exhausting, right?
When you think about people like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, they always wear the same clothes every day, right? That’s because of decision fatigue. People in CEO roles and high-level roles within companies have to make massive amounts of decisions and process a tremendous amount of information every day.
As a freelancer, you kind of have to do that too. You have to get to know clients very quickly, you have to decide what’s in their best interests, you have to put your best foot forward and produce an amazing project every single time. If you're lucky, you get to continue that relationship with the client. That can be really tiring.
I found that for me, as a writer, writing about gardening tips and then jumping over and talking about property division and divorce, and then going over and talking about the top five reasons your car might break down, was really chaotic. It was way too much information to process and it made my research and writing process super slow.
I started to niche by projects -- only writing blogs, no more whitepapers, no more long-form copy, very few emails written for clients. I focused on blogs and web content for attorneys for the purposes of helping to rank their websites. That meant that every day when I was writing about different topics, I was still asking my brain to do the same thing. It was all geared towards the same process. I was working with attorneys all over the country and they all had the same primary goal and expectations in their work. And that made it a heck of a lot easier for me when niching.
Better Results for Your Clients
You get better results for the client because you care about the topic and you have experience in doing it. And the longer you do it, the more that experience builds on itself. So, whatever the final product is or whatever you're doing for that client as a service provider, the results for them are better as you have been doing this for some period of time.
It’s Less Work for Your Clients (and You)
Clients also love that they don't have to educate you. If you're that former dental hygienist that's writing that sales copy and the dentist hires you, 1) they're thrilled that the dentist doesn't have to learn or teach you how to write sales copy, and 2) they're really thrilled that they don't have to teach you anything about dental health because you probably already know it. They may give you some tips and pointers but they're not going to start at square one because you already know the basics. So, it's less work on their part because you get brought up to speed that much faster.
Become an Expert in Your Niche
Whatever freelance skillset you have, it's a muscle that you're flexing. The more you flex that muscle and focus on getting better, the more naturally it will come to you. You'll get better and better at it. You'll know all the tips and tricks. You'll know the tools you can use. You’ll know the common pitfalls to avoid. You’ll be very familiar with it.
This allows you to position yourself as an expert in that industry. When you claim expert status of an industry or a particular type of project, people who are looking to hire a freelancer for that specific industry or project, are naturally drawn to you.
One of the reasons that I see people who are in a really well established, where they're marketing regularly and getting good results for clients is because they're an expert.
As a highly niched person, you'll know all the dos and don’ts. You'll know where other freelancers fall short and how you can surpass them. You'll know where most other freelancers or where most of your clients are screwing things up. When you own that expert status, your clients will trust you instantly. Your experience and the words you use and the way you have presented yourself on your website and your LinkedIn profile lead to instant trust development with their clients.
If you've been a Pinterest virtual assistant for the last 5 years and you are an expert Pinterest VA, you really know what you're doing. You're aware of all the changes with that social media platform. You're on the cutting edge of the technology. You use the best software programs to pin to group boards.
Being established as an expert like that makes it a lot easier to convert clients because not only do they not have to educate you, but they fully recognize that you know more than they do and they're happy to offhand the project to you.
Therefore, there is a reduced chance that your client will be a micro-manager. When you have expert status, they are thrilled to just say, “Here's the details. Please do this for us. We don't need to know every single fact about how this is being conducted. We trust you. You're the expert.”
Marketing Becomes Easier
And, of course, it's easier marketing because you are laser focused. Because you have a very specific niche, either by the type of project or by the industry, it's much easier to market yourself because you know exactly who you're talking to.
If you've ever received an email from someone who's selling something and it feels like they're speaking directly to you, it's because that person has a laser-focused niche. They are talking directly to new moms who are getting ready to have a baby in the next three months and they're talking to the exact pain points and questions that a person in that position has.
A used car salesman is going to be speaking specifically to someone who is not in the market for a new car and wants to buy a used car and wants to get a good deal and get a high-quality car as much as they can in the used marketplace.
When potential clients come across your website, your LinkedIn profile, your Upwork bid, they feel like you are the expert and that you are speaking directly to them and in fact, that you might be the only person who can solve their problems -- which is huge.
Downsides of Niching as a Freelancer
Niching is not perfect and it is not for everyone. Be aware of some of the downsides of niching, so you can take steps to make your niche work for you.
Missing out on Other Opportunities – Unless You Keep the Door Open
If you niche and close yourself off to every possible opportunity in the freelance world, you could miss out on great options. So, you want to leave the door cracked open a little bit just in case something piques your interest.
About a year or a year and a half into my freelancing journey, I was contacted by a recruiter who was working for Elance/Upwork and she said, “We really think you would be good as a project manager.”
I had no training as a project manager, I don't have the certifications, I wasn’t even 100% sure what to do. She walked me through it and said, “We have this great well-known company that's looking for a PM. I think you could take your VA skills and make it work as a project manager.”
If I had completely stayed within my niche and said, “All I really do is write SEO blogs for lawyers, and that's what I'm going to stick with,” I would have missed out on the opportunity to work as a project manager. That project led to a gig working for another company as a project manager and then for Microsoft as a project manager.
If I had said no to something outside of my niche, I would have blocked myself from those opportunities. You can always make exceptions to your niche if an amazing project comes down the line that you really want to try and think you can do well with. You want to make sure that you have left that door open just a little bit.
You spend all this time establishing a niche, making a website around it, and fine-tuning your LinkedIn profile for this niche. All your samples and testimonials are related to what you do in this particular niche. And then you just get tired of doing it.
Well, you can start over and choose something different or go back to being a generalist. It would be some work to go back to that point. You have to reboot and refresh all of your marketing materials. So, that can be a downside to niching.
Your Niche Gets Saturated
Sometimes I hear this from people but I don't really buy it - your niche could get saturated. I feel that this is unlikely because for freelancers today because that there's no way that every single client has been served. Think about how many people run their own businesses and how many people open medical, dental, legal offices every single day.
You have more professionals entering the marketplace. You have people who are leaving their full-time jobs to pursue their entrepreneurial dream. There are plenty of clients out there. Even if you only target Fortune 500 companies, you're not going to land a gig with every Fortune 500 company. Even if other freelancers are pitching those major companies, they aren’t going to land all those great gigs.
The bottom line is that there are a lot of options out there. I don't know of niches that are saturated because freelancing is still so new and there are still plenty of opportunities.
Not Enough Demand in Your Niche
There can be niches that there's not enough demand for, which is a different thing in and of itself.
For example, if you are an artist who draws comic books that are female powered, historical manga novels – there may not be enough clients out there for you to rock that niche day in and day out.
But you can always take a step back. Remember, you can always go one step up that ladder. Don't avoid getting into a niche because you think it's saturated. There are lots of opportunities if you're good at what you do.
What to Look for In a Niche
How do you know if a niche will be a good choice for you? Here are some good reasons to choose a freelancing niche.
You have a particular expertise or interest in a certain field or type of work. You are really drawn to editing romance novels. You really feel like you could kill it. You have that passion for reading books like that; you’ve been a reader of the Harlequin series for years and you would love for that to be your side gig or your full-time gig. If you can find a niche where you have interest and expertise; awesome. You can really do well there.
You'll also want to look for a niche where the demand is high, pay is solid, and the desire remains steady. That can be a little bit more difficult to figure out, but you can do some research before you claim ownership of your niche. Try out some jobs as a freelancer to see if it’s the right fit for you. Do some research on different freelancing sites or LinkedIn to see if there are opportunities out there.
How to Determine if There is Demand in A Niche
How do you know if there is demand in a particular niche? I like to check LinkedIn for actual job titles and keywords. Now I am talking about full-time jobs. You will see recruiter ads on LinkedIn. You can check out places like Indeed as well just to see what the demand is for the full-time market in your particular niche. You might find on LinkedIn that there are pro-finder posts as well. You can see what’s out there that people have looked for or are looking to hire. That indicates that there is some demand there.
Even if you are not planning to use Upwork as part of your marketing strategy, go look for those keywords on Upwork to see if there is enough demand. Are there jobs posted every day for that particular skill set? If you are a Twitter manager, do you see a lot of posts on Upwork where people are getting hired and new posts are being put up every day for a Twitter manager? This is a good indication that the demand for Twitter managers is strong. On Upwork you can get that added bonus of seeing what the person was hired for if you have the right account.
Don’t Choose a Niche for the Wrong Reasons
Here are some bad reasons to choose a particular niche.
Maybe you think, “This is going to make me a ton of money. It’s not my favorite thing in the world, but it’s really well paid. I’m going to develop a software how-to manual. It’s going to take me 12 days and I am going to be bored the entire time I do it. It really pays well, I should just stick with this niche.”
Bad idea. You will get sick of it.
You Don't Know Your Niche Well Enough
Another reason not to niche is you don’t have enough experience in the field to market yourself as an expert. If you are going to niche, you need to make sure that the quality you provide is outstanding.
If you are brand new to this and you are claiming expert status at being able to run Google AdWords or a Facebook Ad, but you don’t give the client a premium experience, that's not a good choice for you as a niche.
There is nothing wrong with branding yourself as a Google AdWords person or as a Facebook Ads person but be careful about making clients think that you can do more than you can do.
As you are learning, you'll eventually grow into that expert status and you'll have lots of other things to support you being an expert, like testimonials from clients, case studies, and actual experience to back you up.
Now, can you learn quickly? Of course, but don’t set yourself up for failure by saying, “I am the best website designer in the world,” and then you have no idea why there is malware all over the site you built. It isn’t very professional.
You can build that confidence up and build that expert status up as you get experienced. Ultimately, what’s going to keep you going during those challenging times when you are drumming up business or when you are encountering challenges in doing projects for clients, is going to be that passion, that expertise, that underlying interest that's there will keep you motivated.
It's an In-Demand Niche
Another reason I would discourage you from doing is choosing a niche because it seems like a lot of people need it.
Maybe you’ve seen that a lot of people on Facebook are looking for a social media manager. Social media management requires instant responses. If this style of working isn’t a good fit for you, it doesn’t matter that there are a lot of people looking for social media managers.
Don’t choose something just because you think there is a high demand, but you don’t enjoy it, or you have no experience in it. You don’t want to set yourself up for failure.
Someone Else is Doing It
My last reason to not choose a niche is because you heard from some other person once that it was a good one. That's not a good choice. That doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily the right fit for you.
If someone else is really doing well in that niche, that’s not a reason for you to launch your freelance career doing it. They may have a totally different approach to it or perhaps they are just lucky, and they have a big network, or they have been at this for 25 years, so they really know how to sell it.
Never choose someone else's niche as your own if you don’t have that underlying passion.
Choose Your Ideal Niche – My 3 Part Winning Formula
So how do you know if a niche is right for you? Based on my years of experience as a freelancer, here is my three-part winning formula for choosing a niche.
1. You like the topic and you are knowledgeable about it. This is not the first time you have ever talked about it, read about it, and been interested in it. You like it as a core element of who you are. You are interested in this industry or in this type of project.
2. There is a demand in the market for it. Somebody out there wants to pay you to do it. Awesome, right? There are already two winning components that you like it, and someone wants to pay you to do it.
3. The last winning element is that clients are going to pay you well to do it. This isn’t something where the price has been driven down and you are going to have a hard time pitching to premium clients. Even with niches where the price has been driven down, you can position yourself in a different way and land those premium clients.
If you choose a niche that fulfills these requirements, you will have a winning niche.
- You won't get bored.
- You will have a steady stream of potential clients to talk.
- You will be paid well to do the work.
That is the exact perfect win-win-win situation that you want to be in as a freelancer.
Quick Tips to Get Started in Your Freelance Niche
If you are thinking about niching, a good way to start is to write up a quick couple of paragraphs about all your experience or passion in a particular type of project, content or area. What is it that attracts you to that? Why do you like doing it?
Not only is this a good way to start to get clear on what area you might choose as a niche, but you can also include this in your pitch. For example, you might talk about, “I worked for ten years as a teacher and I really care about writing amazing curriculum for students.” That's something that would attract ideal clients and help you land gigs in that niche.
Then create samples in that niche or take on a couple of projects to get experience and testimonials. Create samples in that niche. It doesn’t matter if they are not real or if they have not been sold to an actual client. What matters is that they are good.
Next, make sure that you have a website and LinkedIn profile that match the niche that you have selected. Use the keywords that talk to your ideal clients, showcase the true passion and experience you have for this niche.
These are great steps to take to get started in your niche and help you stand out from other freelancers when marketing yourself to prospective clients.
Looking for more tips on creating a successful freelancing career? Check out my YouTube channel, Freelance Freedom.