Where do you stand on the specialist vs generalist debate?
Do you have a copywriting niche?
Or do you prefer to be — as my Twitter pal Jonathan Wilcock puts it — ‘A specialist, but not a specialist’?
According to the ProCopywriters Survey 2019, just over half of copywriters — 51% — specialise, while the other 49% don’t. I fall in that 51%. And, on the 28th August 2019, I got the chance to bang on about why I think niching down is the way to go as a freelance copywriter from the #ProCopyChat hot seat (If you’ve never heard of it, it’s an hour-long Twitter chat that happens every last Wednesday of the month at 11:00 am GMT, and you should definitely join in).
Here’s what went down.
Q1: What is a niche? How would you define it?
Most people associate a niche with specialising in a specific industry, but that’s only one of several options.
You could specialise in a particular type of copy, such as white papers or web copy. You could serve a specific type of audience only, for instance B2B only or B2C only. Or you could even do all three, so specialise in a particular type of copy for a specific type of audience in a specific industry.
As Louise notes:
Or both! Personally, I like specialising by industry, but getting even more specific works well for many - e.g. emails for SaaS companies, case studies for charities, Facebook ads for course creators... #ProCopyChat— Louise Shanahan (@LouiseShanahan_) August 28, 2019
This might look limiting to some (we’ll get to that in a minute).
But that’s exactly the point.
Niching down is a way to narrow your focus and target a specific audience. And we all know that getting specific with your targeting makes for more effective marketing.
Q2: What are the benefits of picking a niche?
As we’ve just touched on, picking a niche helps your marketing efforts, because it allows you to target a very specific type of audience.
It also has four other key benefits:
It helps you stand out
It gives you an edge if you’re looking to work in certain industries
You can charge more
You can give your clients more value
Niching down helps you stand out
Niching down helps you become known for doing a certain thing. This means people are more likely to remember you and hire you or send work your way.
In addition, it can give you a competitive advantage, because you’ll be marketing yourself in a less crowded space:
A2: Obviously it can be handy to be a specialist in a certain area so that it’s a USP, but also great for your own marketing. The more niche, the less competition for advertising and search when people start searching for someone with your skills. #ProCopyChat— Brew. (@hiwearebrew) August 28, 2019
Brew. hit the nail on the head here.
The pool of specialist freelancers is smaller than the pool of generalists, so you have a greater chance of getting in front of people who might hire you as a specialist.
And niching down helps from an SEO perspective too. You have a much better chance of ranking well if you pick a long-tail keyword such as “white paper copywriter for B2B fintech businesses” rather than a short, general one such as “freelance copywriter”.
Some clients want an expert
In certain industries such as finance or pharmaceuticals, clients tend to prefer a specialist. This is because the material is usually technical, so the client will want to set their mind at rest that you’ll grasp the nuances quickly.
It goes without saying, but having a niche is a huge selling point in these situations:
A2: You have dedicated industry/work type experince, which is more appealing to clients who fit that bracket. Would they rather work with a “I can work with anyone” generalist or someone who only works with the type of company they are / the type of work they need? #ProCopyChat— Steve Morgan (@steviephil) August 28, 2019
You can charge more
If you have a track-record of working successfully in a certain field, you can charge a premium for your expertise.
As Tom succinctly puts it:
And that’s something most of us can get behind, right?
Niching down means you can deliver more value
As a specialist, you can:
Keep abreast of industry trends more easily
Advise clients on what’s working for others in the same niche
Build in-depth knowledge you can use to create more accurate and persuasive copy
Get work done in less time, because you already have a good knowledge of the topic
Q3: What are some of the objections and misconceptions you’ve encountered about niching down?
The most common objection to niching down that I hear is that you’ll get pigeonholed. But that’s not the case.
While I specialise in finance, only about 75% of my work is financial. My niche hasn’t stopped me from taking on projects in other fields, including e-commerce, SaaS, travel and food and drink.
Hell, last year I even worked on an erotic advent calendar.
Other copywriters seem to have similar experiences. Louise, for instance, says that:
I used to worry about this, but it hasn't been the case. About 50% of my work is health-related, 30% third sector, and the rest is with other creative businesses. If anything, being seen as an 'expert' in one field is attractive to other industries too.#ProCopyChat— Louise Shanahan (@LouiseShanahan_) August 28, 2019
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which projects you choose to work on. Having a niche doesn’t mean you have to turn down jobs outside your niche.
As Tom rightly says:
I think it’s important to remember that you can control how you’re perceived. You don’t have to major on your specialisation in every setting #ProCopyChat— Tom Albrighton (@tomcopy) August 28, 2019
Besides, getting pigeonholed isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you enjoy your work:
A3 & if you've picked the right niche for you, & you have the amount of work you want/need, then is there any problem with being pigeonholed? Most niches have some stretch to them in my experience. #ProCopyChat— Helen Tarver (@HelenTWrites) August 28, 2019
Q4: How do you decide on a niche? Do you need experience?
Experience is a good starting point when picking a niche.
Before I became a copywriter, I worked as a lawyer in the financial services industry for 9 years. So, writing about finance seemed like a no brainer.
That said, you don’t necessarily need previous experience to pick a niche. While it helps, what’s more important is that you pick something you enjoy and are willing to learn inside out.
A4 - Pick something that interests you or that you feel that you can do a really great job with thanks to your previous employment/life roles! experience is helpful but definitely not the be all and end all! #ProCopyChat— Dee Primett - Wicked Creative (@Dee_WkdCreative) August 28, 2019
Or, to put it another way:
This seems to be a common thread, Steve. If you enjoy writing but are unsure of your specialism, a good starting point is what you enjoy. Everyone has •those• projects that make them groan - why not try to limit them? #ProCopyChat— ProCopywriters (@procopywriters) August 28, 2019
Q5: What if you can’t pick a niche?
A niche should hit three requirements:
It’s something you’re interested in, have experience with or are willing to learn about
It’s something you enjoy writing about
It’s profitable, that is there’s a market for that kind of writing
I think all three are equally important.
There’s no point niching down if you pick an industry or type of copywriting you don’t enjoy. That’s just going to make you miserable.
At the same time, we all need to put food on the table. As much as you might enjoy the art of bonsai keeping, it’s not going to be much good as a niche unless there are clients who are prepared to pay you a reasonable rate to write about it.
A5: If you have no natural inclinations towards a certain area, I don’t see any shame in just finding out what niches pay well (or are fun).
Perhaps look for a massively underpopulated niche so you can make a mark on it and really tie your name to a speciality. #ProCopyChat— Jake Keane ✏️💻🎮📚 (@Jakebrap) August 28, 2019
You could also just go with the flow:
Maybe just let your niche emerge from the work that comes along. Confucius said ‘You turn the handle the way it goes, not the way it ought to go’ #ProCopyChat— Tom Albrighton (@tomcopy) August 28, 2019
Q6: Can you have more than one niche? And how many is too many?
You can definitely have more than one niche.
At the same time, you don’t want to defeat the purpose. The point of a niche is to focus your efforts and target a very specific type of audience. If you have so many niches that this becomes difficult, you probably have too many.
A6: more than one? Sure. How many is too many? Not so sure! But be careful not to dilute your messaging (“I do this, oh and this, oh and this over here”) as that’ll go against all your hard work to build a niche in the first place. #ProCopyChat— Robyn Santa Maria (@RobynJaneSM) August 28, 2019
Q7: How do you promote yourself if you have more than one niche?
The trick here is to approach each niche as a different market with different needs and requirements. You could create a landing page for each of them. Or even separate websites for each niche.
And, of course, you’ll need a convincing portfolio of past work for each niche.
A7: Aforementioned multiple landing pages, a diverse, segmented portfolio, & a working knowledge of SEO and marketing.
As long as you actually know the industry you’re specialising in, & have a few contacts for each, your name will quickly start being mentioned. #ProCopyChat— Jake Keane ✏️💻🎮📚 (@Jakebrap) August 28, 2019
Q8: Should you refuse to take on any work outside your niche?
This is all about personal preference.
Personally, I often take projects outside my niche, and I relish the opportunity to do so. The way I see it, my niche does the hard work so I can afford to take on fun projects that might pay a bit less.
Going beyond your comfort zone is also a good way to keep your skills sharp and learn new things:
A8 Not if you want to continue to learn and evolve as a writer. Sure it might be harder at first, but it is a great opportunity to further your skills & you might find a new area that you particularly enjoy & want to develop in #ProCopyChat— Dee Primett - Wicked Creative (@Dee_WkdCreative) August 28, 2019
That said, others seem to prefer a more moderate approach:
A8: To maximise the benefits of niching you'd stick to that niche as much as poss. But there are advantages in branching out a bit for interest, learning lessons from other industries etc. I like around 75% of my projects to be 'on-brand'. The rest is flexible. #ProCopyChat— Louise Shanahan (@LouiseShanahan_) August 28, 2019
Either way, this is ultimately about what you’re comfortable with. There’ll be jobs that excite you and jobs you’d rather not take on.
As Helen puts it:
A8 I think of my niches in terms of guidelines, not absolute rules. The basis for other work is do I want to do it, as there's just some work you get a sense of "not for me" from. Or tha might just be me. #ProCopyChat— Helen Tarver (@HelenTWrites) August 28, 2019
Q9: What if you get bored and decide to change your niche? How would you go about it?
Well, the beauty of freelancing is that you’re always in control. And if you want to change your niche, you can.
The key is to build a solid portfolio of relevant samples. You can then start marketing your new niche and ditch your old one when you’re on solid ground.
Or, you could make it your secondary focus:
A9: I’d on’t think I’d ever completely leave a niche, unless there was moral/ethical issues.
I’d semi-retire it & make it clear to any potential clients that I’m only taking on REALLY exciting/fun stuff in that area (so they better pitch hard).
Close no doors. #ProCopyChat— Jake Keane ✏️💻🎮📚 (@Jakebrap) August 28, 2019
Q10: Can you be too niche?
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The narrower your niche, the easier it is to get customers, because there’s less competition.
A10: Possibly. Generally I'd say the more specific the better as far as clients are concerned, but if you choose a niche with a market that's too small to be sustainable then that's obviously not ideal! #ProCopyChat— Louise Shanahan (@LouiseShanahan_) August 28, 2019
The trade-off is that there might be less demand for your services. Which is why you should strike a balance. As Jake says:
A10: If there are suddenly only 5 people in the world who require your services, then yes, you’re probably too niche.
It’s got to be the perfect balance between sought after, paid well, and having a healthy base of potential clients.#ProCopyChat— Jake Keane ✏️💻🎮📚 (@Jakebrap) August 28, 2019
What are your thoughts about niching down?
Do you agree it’s the way to go? Or would you rather take whatever work comes your way, thank you very much?
Let me know in the comments or tweet at me.
Oh, and don’t miss #ProCopyChat every last Wednesday of the month at 11:00 am GMT.