What to do if you don't have a niche
Most of you know that I don’t believe that freelance writers need a niche. I’ve seen lots of freelance writers be derailed (me included) when they try to work out what their niche or specialisation is, especially in the early days of establishing their career. But what do you do if you don’t have a niche or a specialisation? Well, I’ve got the answer for you.
What freelance writers need if they don’t have a niche
It’s not that I’m anti-niche.
I can definitely see the benefits of having a specialisation – you become the go-to writer for clients or editors in a particular industry, you spend less time researching, you have ready-made connections and it saves mental space because you don’t have to keep wrapping your head around new concepts.
But what if you’re a generalist and want to stay that way? At least for the time being?
For the first half of 2017 I read so many articles about the importance of having a niche, listened to podcasts about choosing a high-paying specialisation, researched the most profitable freelance writing niches and agonised over what my niche should be – what was my Unique Selling Point (USP)? What did I offer that set me apart from all the other freelance writers in the world? How was I going to summarise all my interests and experience into a succinct and snappy sentence for my LinkedIn profile?
But actually, it’s really quite simple.
I realised that instead of having a niche, it’s about how you position yourself.
I tend to write about food, travel and health. But that said, I also regularly write about insurance, recruitment, small business, lifestyle and increasingly, finance.
My ‘clients’ are editors of major newspapers and glossy magazines, digital content managers of popular online sites, editors of inflight magazines, communications managers at big corporations, content managers at agencies and heads of commercial content at media companies.
I write all kinds of content - feature articles, front of book pieces, Q&As, listicles, investigative pieces, reported articles, blog posts - the list goes on.
At the start of last year, I was wondering how on earth I could present myself to clients and editors when I had such a varied background and an interest in so many different things.
But as I started to pitch more and more, I realised that I naturally began to position myself in a certain way depending on who I was communicating with.
For food publications, I introduced myself (and my clippings) as a food writer, for travel I’m a travel writer with an interest in food.
For my corporate clients in the health space I emphasis my PhD and my health research and writing experience.
Positioning is really about shining a spotlight on the areas and experience I want to highlight for particular editors or clients.
It means bringing forward the skills, experience and ideas that are going to be most useful to that editor or client at that time.
Of course, your positioning may not be about a particular subject, but about the type of readers or the audience you serve.
When I realised that it came down to positioning, I learnt to relax.
Around the same time a friend mentioned that she had finally realised that she was a polymath, and thought I was one too.
I loved the idea of a word that described someone who has an interest in, and knowledge of, many areas.
To my ears, being a polymath sounded much better than being a ‘generalist’.
And I loved that polymaths use their knowledge to address and solve problems, because I really feel that is at the essence of much of what we do as writers.
I’m the first to admit that positioning yourself in a particular way depending on the editor or client is not as nice, neat or stable as being a “freelance beauty technology writer” (I’m not sure if that exists – I just made that up), but it’s a bit more reflective of who we many of us are as freelance writers -
And that is, that nothing is set.
That’s the beauty of being freelance and a micro-business – you can pivot quickly and change direction. We get to draw on all our previous experience to shape what we want to do right now.
I recently changed my LinkedIn profile to reflect my increased focus on travel, food and lifestyle writing, and I’ll be honest, I’m not getting as many nibbles or interest as I was before but I feel like this iteration is more coherent with the kind of writing I’m currently doing.
And when I did present myself on LinkedIn as a researcher and business writer I regularly got people contacting me, but often they weren’t the kind of clients I wanted, so there’s really no point in being popular if it’s with the wrong crowd.
I don’t have all the answers, but I have learnt that not having a niche is not the end of the world.
You can still earn a great income as a freelance writer even if you are a generalist.
In fact, I would argue that being a generalist (or shall we call it being a polymath) puts you in an ideal position to play to your strengths and tap into what editors and clients needs at any one time.
Are you a generalist/polymath? How do you position yourself?