freelance copywriter niche

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:

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:

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:

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: 

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:

Besides, getting pigeonholed isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you enjoy your work: 

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. 

Or, to put it another way:

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. 

You could also just go with the flow:

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. 

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.

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:

That said, others seem to prefer a more moderate approach:

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:

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:

Q10: Can you be too niche?

Definitely. 

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

The narrower your niche, the easier it is to get customers, because there’s less competition. 

The trade-off is that there might be less demand for your services. Which is why you should strike a balance. As Jake says:

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

To niche or not to niche: a #ProCopyChat roundup
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