While scrolling through my favorite freelance-related Facebook group this week, I came across multiple posts all of the same flavor. “What’s the most profitable niche?” “I really love ____, but I know I can’t make money off that. What should I do instead?” “My passion has always been ____, but I don’t know if that’s profitable. I’m thinking I should go into B2B tech or write white papers instead. How do I get started?”
For the love of God, STOP! Hold it right there, folks! Pardon me while I shut my eyes, pinch the bridge of my nose, and sigh like a mother whose toddler just flung chocolate milk all over the walls thanks to a defective sippy cup. Okay, now that I have my inside voice back in control, I want to ask these folks a few questions. How do you know that niche you’re passionate about isn’t profitable? Have you actually tried working in it? If so, how long? Who the hell told you it wasn’t profitable? Some a-hole in a fancy suit who chuckled sympathetically when you told him you were a writer? And lastly, do you actually know anything about or even remotely have an interest in B2B for finance companies or writing white papers for tech companies?
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not knocking B2B blogging or white papers or the tech niche. Those are wonderful niches. They pay well, they are in high demand, they require serious brain power, and they are perfect for people with an interest in business relations and technology or insurance, or whatever may apply. But the key there is the writer’s interest. In these posts I’m referring to, I get the feeling that many of the posters have no prior knowledge of the topics they’re thinking of getting into. Not to mention, they’re unceremoniously tossing the niche they really want into the garbage before even starting. Many of them ask for help and resources in getting started in the “profitable” niches, and there is a plea in their voice that carries even through a computer screen.
Absolutely zero knowledge usually translates into zero real interest. If you’re someone who is genuinely interested in entering the tech niche for reasons outside of financial gain, you’re well-read on the subject, even if you’ve never written in that niche before. You know how articles and various materials on that subject matter are written because you read them. You know the tone. You know the lingo. Sure, you might need to research the format of white papers, but that is a manageable task. Binging everything you need to know about the tech niche in a desperate attempt to make money from it is not.
Knowledge + Interest = Success
People thinking of freelancing get so hung up on the countless lists out there of the “Top [insert number 1-10 here] Profitable Niches.” You’re going to find the same types of things on all of them. For topics, you’ll see tech, finance, realty, medical, and insurance (a.k.a. things that make people big bucks in 9-5 jobs, too). For writing types, you’ll see things like B2B blogging, white papers, and really any form of content marketing for established, profitable companies. If one or more of those floats your boat, go for it with all you’ve got! If you have any sort of prior experience in those areas in a 9-5 or collegiate setting, especially, you’ll be off to the races in no time.
But what if none of those things even remotely interests you? Should you try to shoehorn your way in? You can. However, I think most people who try to force themselves into a niche this way give up before they ever see those dollar signs they were hoping for.
Well, if you want to shove your way into the tech niche, you’re first going to have to wade through and memorize the jargon, the highly complex inner workings of hard drives and coding, and all sorts of other things that make my head spin.
If you want to write medical content, especially B2B medical content, and you have no experience or interest in the medical field, God help you, honey. Have fun with that.
You want to write for the finance niche for the oodles of dough you hear people are making, but you’ve never created a solid budget for yourself, you have $20 in your savings account, and you’ve never even heard of Dave Ramsey? Dear Lord above, child, no one in their right mind is going to listen to you, much less hire you. (I’m getting so worked up my Southern is showing.)
Why the hell would you put yourself through that? Freelancing is hard enough as it is without having to force yourself to learn anything and everything about a highly specialized topic that bores you to death or hurts your head something awful. You’ll burn out quick. Even if you do manage to land some good clients, are you really going to be happy writing in only that field?
I know, I know, people work at jobs they hate all the time, but those jobs have regular paychecks and insurance and 401K plans. They provide (moderate) stability in exchange for praying for Friday for the rest of your life (corporate America is great, isn’t it?). Freelancing is a wild roller coaster that you must maintain 24/7 if you don’t want it to break down, snap in half, and send you plummeting to your demise in a brightly colored cart with a seat-belt that, let’s face it, is probably going to break, too. You have to love the work because there is no one there to hold you accountable. If you don’t love it, I guarantee you’ll eventually give up and wonder why the hell this supposedly profitable niche has let you down.
Passion + Hard Work = Profitable
So what if, for as far back as you can remember, you always wanted to be a gangster? … *trunk slams, horn-heavy music plays*… *cough* … Let me start over (forgive me, I couldn’t resist). What if the thing you’re most passionate about is music or fashion or film or video games or *gasp* writing and reading fiction?! Sacrilege! How dare you even dream such things, you spoiled millennial, you? Don’t you know we’re all supposed to suck it up and get real jobs? Freelance writing is already pushing it, missy! You think you can get away with picking a niche like writing books? FICTION books, no less?! Leave the premises before my delicate flower of a wife here faints, or worse, starts getting some ideas of her own! Mercy day! (Okay, no one has ever actually talked to me like that, but you get the idea.)
I say, “Why the frick not?” Yes, if you select a niche that is more in the entertainment realm, it’s going to be a slower road starting out. I’m not going to lie to you. It’s not all scenes of strutting your stuff as a powerful, kick-ass millennial who does whatever she feels like. It’s not a movie… but you can still make a living writing about film. Hell, you could make money writing actual films. It’s going to take you a while to establish yourself, but it is possible, and once you’ve made it, you’re going to be making as much or more in your flighty entertainment niche as the dude rocking the freelance finance game.
Do you know how much great actors are paid? Successful authors? Sought-after screenwriters? Famous musicians? Of course you do. Everyone wants to be those guys. Not everyone can actually be those guys, but just like in the 9-5 entertainment biz, the freelance entertainment biz has many tiers. True, the lower tiers of those niches pay less than the lower tiers of, say, the tech niche, but you can climb to the top of both where everything evens out.
Don’t believe me? Yeah, I made a pittance my first year. Know why? I worked one job at a time. I had no clue what it was possible to make in my niche, so I horribly undersold myself. I had never run a business before. I was struggling to find helpful info online because few people talk about my particular niche, at least not from a freelancing angle. I had a steep learning curve. However, the dude who wants to force his way into the tech niche because it’s on a “profitable” list is going to have just as steep a climb. I made it over the hump because I actually loved the whole process. I made it through another year full-time. I didn’t make buckets of money. I’m just starting year three, and I’m still not making what many B2B writers make in their first 6 months. But you know what? At this moment, I’m being considered for a project that will net me $18,000 in 6 months, and I can still take on a few other jobs while doing that one, should I land it.
Even if I don’t land this one, I’ll land the next one, or the next one. Those opportunities will keep coming up now, because I’ve laid the proper groundwork. I’ve made it to the crest of the hill. There are big bucks to be had in my niche. Yes, that’s right. I can write books and feed myself, too. I just had to fight a little harder to get to the big leagues. I’m at the peak; I just have to make it over to the other side, and then it’s all downhill from there, baby. That $18,000 is the low end of where I’m headed.
And guess what. I don’t want to beat my head against a desk when I sit down to work. I actually even … smile sometimes. Wow! (You had no clue I was such a smart-ass before this post, did you?)
“Okay, but How Do I Actually Do It?”
The key to success in any niche is to immerse yourself in it totally, approach it from all angles. If your ultimate goal is to be a film screenwriter for big-budget movies, that’s amazing! Chase that dream and never let it go! But you can’t start there unless you have a very rich, very well-connected daddy.
I think this is where the stereotype of the millennial comes from. Chasing your dreams is hammered into you hard until you reach senior year of high school. Then it’s, “Oh, just kidding, you have to make money now. Didn’t you know, silly? Oh, but, you hold onto those dreams and think about them and maybe they’ll happen. Or maybe they’ll eat away at your soul because they remain unfulfilled, even though the TV and your parents and your teachers made it sound like those dreams would just sort of happen to you if you thought about them hard enough. But you know, whatever. Good luck with that! You can do it on the side, or whatever.” Kids are left confused. They have all these instilled romantic notions that have just been unceremoniously crushed, and they haven’t been taught how to properly chase those dreams. It’s just, “Nevermind, forget it now.”
You can’t manifest your dreams simply by wishing for them. You probably can’t hop into the top dog spot of your dream job like the fashion designer chick on One Tree Hill or True Jackson from Disney Channel. You have to diversify. You have to attack your niche from multiple directions. You have to refuse to give up.
So you want to write big-money scripts. What can you do right now? Monetize a blog of film reviews. Create video essays about the craft of film and screenwriting, getting Youtube ad money and a Patreon account along the way. Write for film publications, online and in print. I see job listings for ghostwriters to help with screenplays frequently. That’s not my niche, so I don’t click, so I can’t tell you what the rates are, but I’m sure the principle is the same. It’s not huge money to start. Some people will try to get you to work for dirt; you don’t have to. Research your industry’s rates so you know where beginners fall on the scale and you know what to aim for. Look for ghostwriting opportunities where you get paid and take none of the financial risk. And of course, keep writing your own screenplays, always working toward the ultimate dream.
If you have other related writing interests that might be a tad easier to find jobs in than your dream niche, get involved in those, too. For instance, my ultimate dream is to support myself off my own fiction, with my name on the covers. As a freelancer, I write fiction and nonfiction for others, and for me, that’s also a dream job. Any publications (ghosted or not, fiction or not) will help me achieve my ultimate dream. I could just stick to fiction ghosting and editing, sure, but I like writing books in general. So, I have developed a few nonfiction niches (based on my personal strengths and interests) that make me attractive to experts with money, which helps support my long race toward my ultimate goal while still enjoying myself. Nonfiction work is easier to find at good rates in the beginning, I enjoy it almost as much as fiction writing, and it furthers my credibility as an author. One more step closer.
You can do it! But if you’re going to make it as a freelancer in any capacity in any niche, you need passion for the subject matter to drive you through the rough times. I don’t know about you, but I adore writing, and there’s no way I would risk tainting that love by forcing my talent to slave away in an area that doesn’t suit me.
At this point, you’re probably either super pumped to attack your dream niche (I hope) or you’re thinking, “Who the hell are you? Why should I listen to you? I’ve seen your income reports, and I can’t support myself off what you make. You’re married with no kids. You have someone to help pay the bills if you have a lousy month.” Fair enough. Maybe you are the sole bread winner for your household. Maybe you have medical needs that make your monthly budget high. I understand. I didn’t say this was easy, and I didn’t say I was a guru. But just because your circumstances aren’t like mine doesn’t mean you can’t pursue the freelance niche you want. Many successful freelancers got their start working after hours while at a 9-5. Others worked a part-time job for added stability while building their freelance career. Do what you have to do to get your feet under you in the niche that inspires you. What I’m trying to say, what I’ve been raving about for 2,000 words, is this: if you’re going to get into freelancing, don’t pick a niche just because someone told you it was profitable and that the one you really wanted isn’t. If you want to freelance, chances are it’s because you don’t want to settle. You want to be your own boss, work on your own time. So why on earth, if this career move is all about independence, would you settle for any other niche than the one that makes you happy to go to work every day?