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Why should you specialise as a freelancer?
The benefits of having a niche
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As I sit and write this week’s newsletter, life feels a little bit different. I’ve got plans to see my parents this weekend (after nearly six months of lockdown), and I’m wearing a dress and sandals. Who would have thought it? I’ve also been suffering terribly with migraines and neck ache after working all weekend which is why you’re receiving this now, and not early Monday morning as you’re used to. Please forgive me.
I’ve also spent all morning on the phone to my accountant and a regular client about an IR35 black hole that is causing me no end of stress. If you’re also trying to sort out your own Limited Company issues, I empathise. It’s a total nightmare.
But this week’s newsletter isn’t about tax, it’s about something far more fun: creating a niche as a freelancer. You may remember a few weeks ago that I wrote about how diversifying your income can help to grow your business and keep the money coming in. But there’s another viewpoint that’s also worth considering – creating a niche. For many freelancers, having a niche helps them become an expert in their field and be thought of as the go-to person for work in that area.
While I don’t specifically do this myself, I know lots of freelancers who have created some pretty amazing careers through working in this way. So, last week, Jess and I got our journalistic hats on and posed a few of our nosiest questions to some of the best specialist freelancers we know. Here’s what we found out…
THE FREELANCERS THAT HAVE CREATED NICHE CAREERS
“I am the queen of the niche,” says Emma Wilkinson, a freelance health and medicine journalist and co-founder of Freelancing for Journalists. “I did a degree in Biomedical Science before my Journalism Masters and have always worked in health journalism starting out at a medical journal. I now mainly work for specialist publications, although I spent a few years at BBC News online. I did envisage that I would be writing about more ‘science’ than I do. So much of my expertise has actually been in health policy and NHS economics/politics. Within my specialism I can end up writing about a pretty broad range of topics from high court cases, to pensions, to public health and also research on new medicines, treatments or guidelines”.
Emma says that one of the benefits of having a niche is being able to build up contacts and knowledge. “I find that editors, more often than not, come to me now rather than me having to pitch. It’s quite a small world and they know I have the experience,” she continues. “I have built up a baseline knowledge which makes it so much easier. I am fascinated by the topic and never get bored of it, although there was a point where I was completely fed up of writing about Covid-19, but it has started to get more varied again now”.
PR Coach, Skye Ferguson helps clients to secure media coverage while using her coaching experience to help them with other practical areas such as mindset issues. “My work is all about helping people to own their expertise and be seen as the go to expert in their industry,” she explains. “The problem with being too general is it’s hard to really own a space or get known for something. There’s something about niching that automatically builds trust and credibility. Also, once you’re really clear on who your target audience is, it’s much easier to identify where to find them and what they’re really struggling with. You can then offer a service that meets their needs and that they actually want to buy”.
Skye believes that it’s this part of her work that differentiates her from other people in her field. “Since really owning the ‘DIY PR’ message, I’ve carved out a space as the ‘go to’ person for all things media coverage in certain groups and networking circles I’m part of,” she continues. “It’s all about sharing my knowledge and demonstrating my expertise with really valuable content. I have a free Facebook group where I do live trainings, share media requests and host Q&As with journalists. Loads of people have secured coverage just from the free group. I want to give people an insight into what I do and once they trust that it works and I know my stuff, then they’re ready to take the next step - it’s a natural progression”.
“In terms of marketing it’s really important for me to do what feels good. I love chatting to people, so podcasts are a really natural way for me to share my knowledge and promote my work. Having a clear niche makes it easier for me to find relevant podcasts to pitch, usually something in the marketing field, where PR fits nicely alongside as a topic”.
Ruby Deevoy worked as a natural health, beauty and wellbeing writer for nearly 10 years before a traumatic event led her to finding her niche as a CBD and cannabis journalist.
“My son was born in 2017 with severe reflux disease. It was desperately awful – he was in so much pain, day and night and nothing helped,” she says. “I spent night after night researching potential remedies and I kept landing on studies about CBD and reflux. Then CBD for children with epilepsy and people with chronic pain. I was very interested but continued to focus on more general wellbeing and spiritual psychology”.
“But in 2019, I put myself forward on the No1 Media Women Facebook page on a post looking for health writers. I didn’t realise at the time, but the poster was Mary Biles – now one of the most influential women in the cannabis industry. Months later, she got in touch asking if I would write some content that she didn't have time to do herself. I said yes, sent a ‘what is CBD’ paragraph of copy to the brand. They liked it and I got the gig. I ended up writing about 40 pieces for them, each one leading me further into CBD (cannabis) research, and further opening my eyes more than the last. It was fascinating. It was completely and utterly remarkable. It wasn’t long before I found myself solely focusing all of my work on cannabis, purely because that was all I wanted to write about”.
Are there any down sides? “Having a niche is definitely harder in terms of getting commissions,” admits Ruby. “When you write about a more general topic you can throw pitches out to everyone all the time. When you specialise in one thing that narrows things down somewhat! The CBD industry is a particularly hard one as there are so many regulations to follow and most outlets won’t publish anything of substance on it. I’ve written a number of pieces that were spiked because the publication ended up being too nervous to publish despite the fact that journalists don’t have to stick to the rules CBD brands do. It’s tough!”
But all in all, Ruby says that having a niche has helped her work to change course in a very positive way. “I’m now CBD columnist for Top Sante magazine (and kudos to them for letting me speak openly about CBD!), editor of a cannabis-focused website, CBD Indybest writer, paid to host webinars and podcasts, asked by CBD brands to write content for their websites and e-zines, and contacted for my expert input in features. I’ve also launched my CBD consultancy (www.thecbdconsultancy.com). Although it can be harder to carve your place out in a niche, I think there’s more scope for growth if you’re doing something you’re passionate about and are willing to persevere”.
Do you have a niche or are you thinking of trying to create one for yourself? Let me know by commenting below.