One of the biggest challenges as a freelancer is finding a constant stream of work. Have you ever noticed that the busiest freelancers always seem to be the ones with a specific set of skills?
These freelancers are successful because they focus on a single industry, product, service, or market – a niche.
It may seem counterintuitive to limit the scope of your services/client list in order to improve your finances. But it works. By carving out space for yourself in a specific area, you create a clear and specific reason for clients to seek you out. You’ll focus your marketing on one area, and will be more likely to receive referrals from within your niche. As an expert in one thing, you’re able to command higher prices than if your focus was more general.
But, how do you identify a niche and find stable work?
Identifying a niche
Most freelancers who work in a niche do so because they have a set of specific skills that make them uniquely qualified for their work. They will have a particular passion for a certain subject, or their career will have led them to spot an opportunity they’re qualified to fill.
Your niche may be obvious from the onset, based on work you’ve already done or work you’re passionate about. You may uncover a niche during your everyday life – maybe you’re an interior designer who notices flawed spatial planning in shops you visit, and you offer to improve profits by working on the design. Or, you may need to search for a niche.
Study the clients you’ve worked for previously and see if you can spot patterns. Look back over your favourite projects and ask yourself how to focus on getting more of the work you love. Reading interviews about freelancers who work in an industry that excites you can help you figure out how you can join them. Use surveys to ask clients/companies what they need. You can also use keyword tools to look for search terms potential clients are using to hunt out niche freelancers.
Your niche should be focused, but broad enough in terms of scope and workload to enable your business to grow. A lot of articles talk about niches in micro terms – for example, a copywriter specialising in ‘about pages’ for businesses, or a videographer specialising in ‘product intro videos.’ To me, these ideas are too small and stifling. You’re going to get sick of writing ‘about me’ pages after a while. There also needs to be enough demand for what you’re selling that you can carve out a sustainable career. Generally, if I was a business, I wouldn’t hire a copywriter specifically for an about page, I would want a freelancer who could tackle my whole website, and my catalogue copy, and my press release, and my marketing emails.
The most important thing to remember when identifying a niche is that you’re looking for a perfect intersection between your skills, your passion, and market viability.
Pitching yourself as a niche freelancer
Choosing a niche market gives you the ability to focus on a narrow range of people. Study your market closely and identify where they hang out (online and off), the communities they participate in, their pain points, the messaging/language/jargon they use, and other unique facts a generalist wouldn’t know.
Insert yourself into their spaces. Read the news articles they read, comment on their posts, participate in their events. Learn about trends and conventions within the industry, and make yourself known as someone who is smart, clued-in, and passionate. Offer to help others with questions they have, share valuable resources, and pitch yourself as someone who could speak at industry events or offer workshops on a topic.
Put together a portfolio of work and a website that will appeal to their specific needs. You might need to do some sample work or a small amount of spec work in order to showcase your talents. Now you have a calling card you can share with potential clients.
Pull all your marketing efforts together. For example, maybe you’re a graphic designer who’s decided to specialise in book cover design. First, create a website and social media to showcase your designs. Next, find online forums where writers hang out. Join up and start commenting on posts about cover design. Attend writers conferences and add your details to vendor directories or goodie bags. Approach publishers and offer to take on any work they can’t handle in-house. Offer a discount as an opening sale, and for commissioning a series of books. Watch your calendar start to fill up.
Become a thought leader
As you build your niche client base, you can start thinking about attracting clients in the long-term by building a reputation as a thought leader. You’ve already started down this path by attending industry events and answering questions online. You might like to start a regular newsletter (I see lots of freelancers are enjoying Substack), contribute to an industry magazine, or produce Youtube videos about your niche.
The more you share information freely with your niche, the more potential clients see you as friendly and knowledgeable. This will translate to more work at a higher rate.
Spin niche knowledge into other opportunities
Another advantage of focusing on a niche is that you can use your extensive knowledge of an industry or specialist subject to create other opportunities.
For example, if you’re a web developer who specialises in accessibility, you can get paid to speak at conferences about your speciality. Magazines and blogs will pay you to create articles and resources. You can speak to the media as an expert and appear on TV, radio, and in print. You may even be able to write a book about your subject or work as a consultant at startups and corporates wanting to improve accessibility.
Focusing your freelance efforts on a single niche doesn’t mean you get stuck doing the same thing over and over. By finding that perfect intersection between your skills, your passion, and profitability, you’ll be able to pick and choose the work that excites you, increase your rates, and build a steady stream of business that will keep you busy for years.