Niche is one of the scariest words you will hear when trying to start up your writing career.
I heard it for the first time when researching how to get started as a freelance writer. I met with a lot of frustrations during that time; the number one problem being that all the people who were giving advice were only giving me teasers and then trying to get me to buy a how-to guide to learn the real steps (which is why I started this blog in the first place). The second problem was that everyone said finding my niche was the very first step.
I quickly gathered that a niche was an area of expertise. Secondly, I pieced together that a niche was supposed to be specific, so that I would have less competition on search engines. For example, “Freelance Writer” is a terrible niche.
- There are tons of freelance writers. If you’re just starting out, your name and business is going to be nowhere near the top of the Google search list. How many pages of Google do you actually click through when looking for something?
- People are searching for a freelance writer for a specific reason. They will probably type that reason into the search bar. Instead of searching “freelance writer,” they will search “writer for B2B white pages,” “writer for health blog,” or “writer for resume.”
- Even if someone finds your writing site, they are more likely to opt for somebody who specializes in what they need than someone who does a little bit of everything.
It’s safe to say I freaked out. I had no idea what my niche was. I was fresh out of college. Everyone made it clear a niche needs to be something you have experience in. I had experience writing English papers and fiction stories that had never been published, and that was about it.
The next piece of advice was, “If you don’t have experience, make some.” Essentially, everyone was telling me to cold pitch article ideas on my niche. Great. Cool. What the hell is my niche?
I didn’t want to write anymore English papers (I’m not going to do some slacker’s homework), and fiction stories didn’t seem marketable, though I later found I was wrong about that.
Basically, to save my sanity, I shoved the whole thought aside. And you know what? I think that was pretty smart.
I got on the freelance site, Upwork, and started scouring the job posts and applying to anything that even remotely piqued my interest. Say what you will about sites like Upwork, but I am so glad I did this. Before, I had no idea of all the different things people needed writers for. I also had no idea of what jobs I liked and didn’t like doing. All I knew was that I loved to write.
However, just like I stuck around Upwork too long, I put off picking a niche for too long. When I started truly considering starting up my own brand and business website, I had to confront the niche question again. I wanted people to actually find my website.
However, everyone who was telling me to pick a niche seemed to have a background in some other job like finance, insurance, tech support, or healthcare. I started trying to come up with subjects that I had job experience in. I worked at a barn throughout high school, so I thought maybe I could write about horses and riding, but after nearly a year of working, I hadn’t written one thing about horses. I would have to start from scratch, pitching and getting articles out there for cheap or for free to get samples. I could write about serving, but that seemed too narrow of a niche, and I really didn’t want to think about my serving days anyway.
Finally, the answer thumped me on the back of the head and called me a dummy. Why was I looking at past jobs that I didn’t want to write about when I had recent subjects I’d already been paid to write about? The answer: because somebody else who was successful did it that way. I was trying to mimic their experience when it didn’t match my own. Also, nobody was talking about things I had ever written about, so I was fretting that I hadn’t done anything marketable.
After my epiphany, I went onto my Upwork profile and looked at the list of past jobs. A clear pattern emerged. I had primarily taken on jobs dealing with books, not articles or case studies or newsletters or anything else those other sites I was reading talked about. More specifically, I had been ghostwriting fiction books and short how-to ebooks. I had also been editing manuscripts. Bingo. Three niches, and based on the fact that none of my research had wielded these suggestions, pretty rare ones. Rare means marketable. Now that I was on a role, I thought a little harder. What else did I write? Well, this blog. I also had noticed myself catching little errors on the sites I had been reading for research. Put them together and what have you got? Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo for one thing, but also web content proofreading. Bam. Another niche.
Now the question became, “Do I just choose one?” So far, I have said no. I like all my niches. Perhaps if one proves more rewarding than the others, I will narrow down to just one, but to me, they are all pretty connected. Writing books connects to editing books, and editing books connects to editing shorter content.
Then I had to decide whether to make different websites for each niche. The price of that solved the question for me. My site will boast all four services. Only time will tell if these decisions are the right ones, but right now, I’m feeling pretty great.
Finding a niche is daunting, especially when you are starting a freelance career with no real samples and can’t seem to find any examples of niches you’re remotely interested in. I hope my story will give you new ideas for finding your niche. Maybe one of my niches interests you as well. If you need to, just lay the niche question aside and discover what you like to do, but don’t wait too long. Your niche will probably be staring you in the face after just a month or two of working. Don’t look the other way.