When you start as a freelancer, the pressure to choose a niche and master it is REAL. And sometimes, it’s easy – especially if you have a degree or experience at a skilled job. But if you don’t have a strong academic background or work experience – what are you supposed to do then?
This is the real problem with trying to niche down as a freelancer – it just doesn’t work for everyone.
What’s the hype with niches?
There is some solid logic behind niching down. You can optimize your website and social media, and you know exactly who to pitch when the time comes. People remember you as THE expert, and you stick in people’s brains.
But this just doesn’t work for everyone – and niching down doesn’t mean that there’s no competition. I sometimes write copy for coaches – but a quick scan of Instagram will tell you that SO DOES EVERYONE ELSE.
And when you’re new to freelancing (aka, you have zero clients, zero testimonials, and no portfolio to speak of) it can be really hard to push past the competition into a profitable niche.
Is trying to find a niche actually holding you back?
The ‘niche paralysis’ is a common phenomenon amongst new freelancers.
It’s that overwhelming fear of choosing the wrong niche that leads you to lose sleep AND two months’ worth of sales while you postpone your launch until your niche is perfect. Trust me, I’ve been there. When I first started writing I’d never been to uni and my work background was pretty inconsistent. I also didn’t have any particularly profitable hobbies, leading me to make the HORRIBLE mistake of focusing on a niche I thought was profitable, instead of one that interested me.
I still got some work – but I HATED doing it.
And no matter how hard I tried to niche down, I kept landing jobs in other niches – because they were available, I knew I could do them, and honestly, I needed the money.
Enter the OTHER option – generalist writers.
Can you be successful as a generalist?
One of my favorite writers, and coincidentally one of the most successful ones I know, is Lindy Alexander of The Freelancer’s Year. She writes as a generalist, pitching magazines in multiple niches, and she makes six figures doing it. Like myself, and probably most of you, she tried to niche down at the start, only to find that it was just wasting her time. She says ‘For me, what has worked is focusing on building relationships with editors, content managers, and other clients. That is what has been lucrative.”
Another great example of someone who’s found success as a generalist is Julie Workman of Make Your Own Rules Marketing. Rather than having no concrete experience in any industry, Julie had the opposite problemd – she’d worked with so many different types of clients that she couldn’t choose just one niche to focus on. She now runs a successful marketing and content creation agency, and when asked about why she hadn’t niched down, she said “I feel qualified to help clients in just about any industry.” Being a generalist definitely comes with its own challenges – but if you’re someone with a lot of experience or just a wide range of interests, you’re more likely to thrive as a generalist than you are if you limit yourself.
Why not niching down can be better in the long run
Aside from giving you the freedom to work with lots of brands, writing as a generalist gives you the chance to work out what you like. When I first started freelancing, I made two BIG niche mistakes. One – I wasted months trying to find the perfect niche and Two – I forced myself to niche down into a topic based on profitability. (Spoiler alert – don’t do this!) Yes – my niche was profitable, and I got a couple of high-paying clients from it. But I really didn’t know that much about it, and once I started writing, I realized that I actually found it really boring.
I started to branch out and write in different niches, until a few months later, after working on some content for a B2B brand, I realized that I actually enjoyed writing about marketing and entrepreneurship. I decided to start my own blog, and trust me – the difference between writing about something you love vs something you hate is night and day. So much so that when I applied to ghostwrite for some of my favorite blogs (including Crazy Egg!) my own blog posts were the ones that landed me the job – not the impressive bylines I’d collected when I’d niched down.
The moral of the story is – if I hadn’t taken a few months to write as a generalist and try out different niches, I never would have found the one I write in now. And I might not have gotten the chance to write for some of my favorite blogs.
How can you find clients without a niche?
The most difficult part of finding clients as a generalist is knowing where to look. You can’t attract them through an optimized LinkedIn profile, or a clear sales funnel – you have to actually reach out and think outside the box.
Lindsey Alexander reached out to editors of magazines, and on the strength of her story ideas, was able to build strong relationships with them.
Being active on social media, building genuine relationships, and looking through job boards is a great way to find freelance clients without a niche. It also doesn’t hurt to create a few samples in different niches that interest you – so if anything comes up, you can show them that you’re capable of adjusting.
How will I know when I’ve found my niche?
There’s a chance that you’ll never find a niche, and that’s ok.
Or, like me, you might eventually realize that something you’d never thought of is calling your name. In that case, here are a few signs to look for:
- You don’t hate writing about it.
If the thought of sitting down at your desk makes you want to bang your head against it – that’s not the niche for you. If you suddenly realize you’ve been working for four hours without wanting to stop – BOOM – you’re onto a winner.
- You feel confident in your work.
As a freelancer, the reality is that you’ll probably NEVER be truly satisfied with the finished product – but if you can hand it in thinking “I know what I’m talking about!” then you need to be doing more of that.
- You get involved in discussions (online and IRL)
One of my good friends is a virtual CEO – and the last time we went out for lunch, we spent at least 30 minutes arguing over the pros and cons of Instagram’s algorithm changes. If you can’t stop yourself from talking about a topic or posting in Facebook Groups, chances are you’ll love freelancing about it.
If you feel like niching down will make freelancing easier for you – perfect!
But if not – don’t sweat it. You can still have a successful and lucrative freelance career without having to niche down. The most important part of starting your freelance career is to practice, which you won’t do if you’re spending all your time agonizing over your niche.
Do whatever works for you, and don’t be too hard on yourself!