Why freelance writers don't need a niche
I know. It’s a big call. Everywhere you look you’ll read blog posts about finding profitable niches, podcasts about finding a lucrative specialisations and Facebook groups crammed with writers trying to pick a niche. I get it. Over the past two years it’s been my main concern. But I’ve come to one conclusion: freelance writers don’t need a niche. And this is why.
Why freelance writers don’t need a niche
But first let me go back to the end of 2016.
I was absolutely consumed by finding my niche. I agonised over it. I made lists. I brainstormed. I listened to podcasts where niche became a verb (hello ‘niche-ing’ down). I even wrote letter to Leo of Rachel’s List asking about whether freelance writers need a niche. I probably should have just listened to her advice (summary: you don’t need a niche!), but I guess I had to figure it out for myself.
In my review of 2016, this is how I answered what I had worried about most last year:
My top worry for 2016 was around trying to narrow down and find a niche. It wasn’t that productive – but I did do a lot of thinking around it – but I am still not any closer to finding a niche.
Embarking on a year of full time freelancing without a niche terrified me.
I wanted that short, snappy elevator pitch about what I do and who I do it for, but it just wouldn’t come.
Years ago I went to a beauty therapist who only waxed eyebrows. That’s all she did. She was, as her signage said, The Eyebrow Queen. And lord, did she do a good job. And she seemed to be raking in the cash. She charged $50 for about 5 minutes of eyebrow waxing.
I could see that she was the go-to person.
I got the theory. I understood it. If you niched down and specialised, it was lucrative and you’d be the writer for people in that industry.
But I still couldn’t pick a niche.
I didn’t have just one thing I wanted to write about.
So at the beginning of 2017 I decided to put my niche-related fears aside and just write what I was interested in. I pitched editors stories that I was curious about and wanted to write, and connected with potential clients who worked in areas that I felt connected to.
At the start of this year I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I needed to have a niche, but it's now December and I’ve barely given it a second thought.
I've realised a few things.
I don’t have a niche and because I don’t have one I haven’t excluded myself from potential jobs.
I write for magazines, newspapers and corporate clients on a whole variety of topics - food, travel, parenting, business, lifestyle and more. You could say they are my niches, but I think I have too many to be considered a specialist.
This year I’ve started writing more about food and dipping my toe into travel writing waters. If I had picked a niche that I made myself to stick to then I would have had to say no to opportunities and press trips that have came my way.
If you're a freelance writer or journalist and you have a niche, that's great. There are lots of advantages to having a niche – writing articles takes less time because you know your subject matter, who the experts are, what the latest research says and so on. That means it’s potentially more lucrative because you’re quicker at producing the content. People also easily understand what you do – “I’m a health writer who produces content for insurance companies” is instantly comprehensible. And having a niche means that people can find you easily – you can optimise your website, LinkedIn profile and social media platforms with keywords for your area or areas of specialty.
But I think the pressure and emphasis on having a niche is unfounded. Especially if you’re in the first few years of your freelancing career and especially if a niche hasn’t made itself apparent to you.
If you don't have a niche, don't panic.
If you don’t need a niche, what do you need?
If you don’t have a niche, you need clients.
Freelancing is fickle. It's up and down and in order to ride the waves you need to make sure that your boat is weighted equally. Ok, that may not be the best analogy but you get where I'm going.
If you lose one editor or client, you don't want the whole ship to go down. You want to be able to lose an editor or two and still have the ship be steady.
This post is not about how to find clients, but if I've learnt anything this year is that there are so many publications and organisations out there that are hungry for content. Whether you want to write for magazines and newspapers or produce content marketing materials for corporates, or a mix of both, there is plenty of well-paying work out there. And you don't need a niche to do so.
The advantages of not having a niche
Not having a niche means that you don’t get into any (or many) difficulties writing for competing agencies or publications. Even if you are a writer who specialises in B2B content for technology companies and are in high demand, you may have to be careful that the companies you are writing for are not in direct competition.
I write for two of Australia’s newspapers. Usually this would be a no-no, but because I write distinctly different content for each publication (for one I write food articles and for the other I write predominantly lifestyle and health pieces), I can get away with it.
I see way too many writers, especially in the early stages of their career, worry about picking niche. I was one of them. But it’s not like turning on a light switch.
Not having a niche doesn’t mean you are a jack-of-all-trades with your attention split in a hundred different directions. It means that you are curious, adaptable writer. And being a generalist can be lucrative. Kevin Casey, is a copywriter who is a generalist and is pretty much living the dream. He only works two-thirds of the year and travels to exotic and remote locations for the rest of the year.
For me, what has worked is focusing on building relationships with editors, content managers and other clients. That is what has been lucrative.
Rather than asking what your niche is, it’s time to start asking:
What work do I want more of?
What work do I want less of?
What kind of people do I want to work with and write for?
The answers to those questions may offer you much more than a niche ever would.
What do you think? Have you felt that you need to ‘niche-down’ in order to be a successful freelancer?