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If you’re pursuing a paid writing career, the last thing you’d want is to be writing all the time without building a decent income. Yet I’ve seen it happen when writers fall headlong into the trap of taking every project that comes their way and doing it for low fees — much like a factory churns out product at the lowest-cost possible.
That’s what I’d call the “Anti-Writer’s Life Lifestyle.”
To avoid it, you need to set yourself apart from all the other writers out there … and you need to establish a high value.
There’s a very easy way to do this. Better yet, it makes you a virtual client magnet — meaning you attract clients desperate to have your services, and willing to pay top fees.
Still with me?
I’m glad, because I’m about to tell you how a few simple decisions you make today could lead you to a long-term business of profitable writing and freelancing freedom.
The Power of Specialization — and How to Focus Your Writing Goals
Many new freelance writers default to being writing “generalists.” They’ll take any kind of work that comes their way, from any kind of industry.
Granted, there’s some value to that approach. After all, you get to sample different types of writing projects and try your hand at new subjects.
But the value is extremely limited. And over the long term, you shortchange yourself. No matter how much experience you build as a generalist, you’ll never be considered an expert. You’ll never be the go-to person for certain project types. And your fees will suffer, because you’ll be competing with all the other generalists out there — including writers willing to work for $5 an hour.
A much better approach is to specialize.
If you want to stand out from other writers and charge well for your services, you need to consider two things: Your value and your direction.
If you think about it, those two things go hand-in-hand. Because if you steer your writing business in one direction or specialty, you’ll steadily gain credibility and become a known expert in that field. As an expert, you have a greater value and can charge higher fees.
Which leads us to one of the top questions I’m asked by writers: How do I choose a specialty or niche?
There are two approaches you can take to picking a niche. One is to choose based on industry, the other is to choose based on writing specialty.
For example, let’s say you have a background in landscape design. So you decide to target the landscape and gardening industry. Your writing services include web copy, emails and autoresponders, case studies, and Search Engine Optimization. But you offer those services only to landscaping and gardening businesses.
On the other hand, maybe you’d rather focus on a single writing specialty — like email newsletters. In that case, you make it your goal to know as much as possible about writing newsletters and using them to connect with prospects and convert them to customers. So you offer your newsletter services to mid-size businesses — regardless of industry.
You can also combine the two approaches. For example, you could write newsletters exclusively for the landscaping and gardening industry.
Niche Specialization = Higher Fees Across the Board
The biggest reason to choose a niche is simple — it means more money. After all, it goes without saying that specialists in any industry charge more than generalists. For example …
- A shiatsu massage costs more than a basic massage
- An orthodontist charges more than a dentist
- An engineering psychologist makes more per hour than a counseling psychologist
- A lawyer who specializes in intellectual property law earns more per year than a general practice lawyer
Do you see where I’m going with this? Writing is no different.
But there’s more to it. Once you’re established in a niche, not only can you charge higher fees, you’ll also find it easier to get hired in the first place.
Think about it. If you owned a business and wanted to update your website copy, which writer in the examples below would you be more likely to hire?
Example 1: “Hi, I’m Amy. I’m a freelance writer, because I like to write. I’ve been writing things for years, and I’ll write whatever you need.”
Example 2: “Hi, I’m Jill. I’m a freelance copywriter who specializes in content marketing. I can rewrite your website so it ties to a lead magnet that attracts prospective customers and helps you build your list.”
You’d hire Jill in a heartbeat, right? And because she seems very aware of your needs and knows how to address them, you probably wouldn’t even question her fee. (By the way — the first example is almost identical to pitches I’ve heard from writers over the years. It really does happen!)
Why Specializing in a Writing Niche is Easier Than You Think
A common hesitation I hear from writers is that they don’t feel like experts in any single industry or specialty.
Here’s some good news: It’s not hard to become an expert if you’re willing to put in the effort.
Because really, what we’re talking about here is knowing slightly more than your client about the service you’re offering. You don’t need a decade of work experience under your belt to call yourself a specialist. It’s really as easy as deciding what you’ll specialize in, and then putting that into practice.
Let’s say you sit down tonight and decide you want to specialize in writing for the home construction industry. Tomorrow morning, you could make five calls to contractors and tell them, “I specialize in home construction businesses and I’d like to share some ideas about how to improve your website bounce rate.” (Side note: A bounce rate is the length of time a prospect stays on a website.)
Notice, you’re not calling yourself an expert yet. And the goal here isn’t even to introduce yourself as an expert. The goal is to build up a portfolio of examples and a knowledge base in a certain area so others in that field see you as the expert.
Once you’ve chosen a niche and landed a few clients in that area, you can build your expertise from there. Along with consistently targeting clients in your chosen niche, here are four other ways to build your credibility:
- Join a professional organization related to the industry or specialty you’ve chosen
- Write articles for magazines or other publications in the field you’ve chosen
- Ask your clients for referrals to other clients in the industry
- Build up a library of blogs on your professional website that showcases your knowledge of your chosen niche
Expert status — and the accompanying high pay — will come quickly when your name is tied to informative articles in your niche and when you start getting industry-relevant referrals.
Top Strategies for Picking the Right Niche for You
Now that you understand the importance of choosing a niche, let’s get down to the task of actually picking one. There are three approaches you can take when you sit down to choose a niche:
- Think about industries in which you’ve worked, where you have professional knowledge and contacts
- Consider hobbies and passions you’d enjoy writing about
- Look at trends in business and see what types of companies are growing (but take note: only choose a niche this way if you’re sure you’d be comfortable writing about it for the long term).
Make a list of three to five possible industries or specialties. From there, ask yourself the following:
- Is it easy to locate potential clients? Could you connect with them through a membership organization, or an annual trade show?
- Is there a lot of competition from other freelancers? Answer this question with a few simple keyword searches. If there is a lot of competition, drill down to a more specific specialty. For example, hundreds of other freelance writers target the complementary health niche. But what if you decide to take it one step further and immerse yourself in the world of acupuncturists and related services?
- Do these potential clients value persuasive writing? Small, local businesses may not have the budget to support your fees. Look for clients who already have quality persuasive writing on their sites.
Another approach to choosing a niche is to pick a larger area you’re interested in and then explore opportunities within that sector.
For example, let’s say you know you want to write for the Christian niche. You could start by helping local churches with marketing campaigns. Or you could approach faith-based businesses about improving the reach of their websites. You might find that one area of focus suits you more than another. Or, you might find you prefer to keep your focus broad but directed toward the Christian industry at large.
Same thing with the financial niche. Perhaps you’d like to work with information publishers who focus on investing. Doing so could lead you to helping financial literacy centers promote their educational programs.
AWAI member Dan Magill chose to pursue charities and nonprofits. He now writes web content and fundraising letters for local charities.
Michele Peterson says she saw a huge leap in her writing business when she quit trying to appeal to everyone and devoted her writing services to the wine industry.
And when Pam Foster chose to write for the pet industry, she not only landed seven ideal clients in seven weeks … one of those clients boosted her business by a whopping $30,000!
Why You Really Can’t Get This Wrong …
One final note … don’t make the mistake of worrying that you’ll choose the “wrong” niche. There’s no such thing.
Ideally, you’ll choose a niche and stick with it for a while as you steadily build your credibility and income.
But if you ever feel like you need a change, or want to try your hand at something new, it’s not a problem. Simply go back to the drawing board, pick a specialty or industry, and build yourself up again.
Any work you did in a previous niche can still serve as a viable portfolio example. Plus, with a little experience under your belt, there’s a good chance you’ll achieve expert status in your new niche much faster than you did the first time around.
And if you really have a hard time choosing, you could always specialize in two niches. Top copywriter Carline Anglade-Cole writes most of her projects for the alternative health industry. But now and then, she enjoys writing for the fundraising market. It gives her something different to focus her energies on and keeps her from getting burnt out with health-related writing.
Long-Term Writing Satisfaction That Comes Easy
Remember, though you can work successfully as a writing generalist, it’s nearly impossible to stand out from the crowd — let alone charge high fees! But as a specialist, you’ll not only stand out from the crowd of other writers, you’ll also attract better and higher paying clients.
One more reason to specialize — and possibly even a better reason than steady clients and high fees — is this: Choosing a niche makes every part of the business process come easier.
Think about that.
As a generalist, you have to put a lot more energy and attention into finding writing work and negotiating fees. It takes a lot of persistence, and could be a quick path to burnout.
As a specialist, clients are easier to find and high fees are the norm. Which means you get to do more writing, for more money, leaving you with more free time to pursue other interests and live the freedom-filled life of a Barefoot Writer.
I should note that this essay originally appeared in AWAI’s Barefoot Writer Magazine …
Each month, we include instruction on making a living as a writer, as well as advice on getting clients, insights from successful well-paid writers, and help navigating the vast sea of well-paid writing opportunities
I must also note that this blog will be coming to an end at the end of the month. But before I sign off, I promise to load you up with free tips and tools for turning your financial writing dreams into a reality.
Next week I’ll even have a very valuable surprise … and I’m going to give it to you at no charge. (Totally free!)
P.S. To learn more about how to launch your own successful niche-based writing business, check out Pam Foster’s How to Choose Your Writing Niche program. Pam’s writing business was doing “ok” … and then she specialized and her revenue took off like a rocket.
Since then she’s helped hundreds of AWAI members choose their own profitable writing niche, with this easy to follow, step-by-step program.