Niche to meet you
“You should find a copywriting niche.”
I read that sentence every…single…day.
As a nicheless (not a proper word) freelance copywriter, I’m often viewed as a Jill of all trades, master of none. A flibberty-gibbit. A fly by night, with a sticky finger in every pie.
‘Niche down’ they shout, as I walk by.
‘Niche up’ they shout, erm, as I walk by again.
There isn’t a day that goes by without a ‘helpful’ article appearing on my Twitter or Linked In feed, telling me that all my freelancing problems could be solved if I would only choose a copywriting niche.
“If a copywriting niche doesn’t make itself apparent, pluck one from the sky.”
“Take an area you’re familiar with and make it your business to become an expert.”
But whatever you do, niche niche, niche.
I’ve read and written the word ‘niche’ so many times, that I’m not even sure it’s a word anymore.
The OED defines a niche (in this context) as:
“a comfortable or suitable position, in life or employment.”
And here lies my first problem (amongst many) with choosing a niche.
My great big long list of why niche know-it-all’s can get knotted…
If finding a copywriting niche is how you get comfortable, then doesn’t it follow that it’s also how, somewhere along the way, you might also get bored, stuck, complacent or downright lazy?
Starting out in your copywriting niche, it may feel exciting to be regarded as an expert. You may initially enjoy being respected for doing one thing really well. But after several hundred jobs writing about home decorating or pet care, won’t the danger be that you find yourself stuck in a very shallow groove (dare I say it, a rut?)
Repeating the same thing, over and over again, could lead not to greater accuracy but to increased sloppiness and reliance on trotting out tried and tested phrases. You could become hellishly bored with your niche topic, churning out content that, while accurate, is no longer inspiring. Some clients may like that – but not the kinda client I like roll with. They live on the edge, my friend.
2. The spice of life…
What I love about generalizing is that you never know what sort of job is around the corner. One day, you’re writing about cake-making, the next could find you wordsmithing about high-end audio equipment or blogging on how to treat a broken toe (all real jobs.)
I’m not going to lie to you – often, my job involves writing copy on subjects that don’t interest me on a personal level. Sometimes, these subjects are dry and difficult to approach – but that’s what keeps me on my toes.
If the subject matter is out of my comfort zone or threatens to send me off for a nice little snooze, this stretches me to do dig a little deeper, with more thorough research or a new approach to the material, that sparks my creativity.
In a decade, I’ve never received feedback from a client that my copy is ‘flat’ or ‘boring.’ I’ve found a way to add some sparkle to everything from stone cleaning product copy to instructions on how to prolong the life of your washing machine. It can be hard work, but the results are worth it.
I see it as part of my job to reflect a client’s passion for what they do or sell – so I work hard to find something inspiring, in any area. When you’re writing about forty-seven different types of stone, it’s not easy. But the satisfaction to be gained from turning dry into delightful is immense.
Here’s a sample of the range of copywriting clients I’ve worked with – from a baby wear boutique to a team of engineering consultants. Variety is the spice of my working life.
2. Big fish – small pond
It’s not easy to secure regular copywriting work that pays well enough to make an honest living – and choosing a copywriting niche feels like making an already small pool even smaller (plus, I start to feel a tad claustrophobic…is it me or are the walls are closing in?)
I enjoy being a pretty small fish in a big pond, able to dart around with relative freedom and ease. My worry is that narrowing down the field in which I work will also narrow down my choices, until there just isn’t enough available work to support my business.
Many would, and do, argue that choosing a niche actually increases choice, as it means that you’re easily found by the people who are deadly serious about hiring a particular kind of writer (if I want an article about penguins, and you’re the UK’s only copywriter in the penguin niche, I’m going to find you with ease, and will probably go on to use your services, as there’s little competition – and you’re obviously awesome at writing about penguins, of course.)
I appreciate this argument – but surely there can be no better way of finding work that being open to all possibilities, even if you have to filter out the ones that aren’t suitable for you (and being a generalist means I can ‘generally’ write about a subject, not that I’m always to most suitable person to do the work.)
3. Rich experience
That’s a shame. I learned so many valuable lessons through working with a mad range of clients in the early days. I put myself out there as being open to anything and everything – and I took some VERY interesting jobs along the way.
Exploring many different voices, styles and genres, has made me a versatile writer with a great skillset at her disposal. And should I choose, one day, to pick a niche, I’ll have a great foundation from which to grow.
Choosing a copywriting niche early on in your career means that should you ever grow tired of this subject area, you’ll need to build up your experience in different sectors gradually, alongside continuing to earn money working in your niche. This seems counterproductive mid-way through a career – much easier to do at the beginning, when you don’t already have a client base or reputation to protect.
4. Eggs – basket
If you restrict yourself to a niche, you become reliant on one industry. So what happens if that industry takes a knock and the work dries up? What if you find yourself working regularly for a couple of large companies in your niche, and one of these goes under or ceases to trade?
So much of freelancing is about spreading the risk, ensuring that you have a finger in many pies, so that you’re never left high and dry and pie less, if a major client lets you go.
Being a generalist gives me more control over my career, as I don’t feel compelled to take all of the work I’m offered. Within a copywriting niche, there are only so many options, and writers must surely feel that they have to say yes to everything. Increasingly, I’m able to say no to clients whom I don’t feel will be a good fit for my business and am refusing jobs that don’t pay enough, don’t stretch my skills enough and don’t offer the potential for an interesting, long term relationship (where the great work really takes place.)
5. Reaching your peak
Becoming an expert in something is exciting. When I learned to knit, the first six months were a frustrating tangle of wool and swearing. Then it clicked, and I started to knit without thinking about it (like how driving becomes but shouldn’t.) When I started to master knitting, becoming more ambitious and tackling advanced techniques, that felt amazing. People began asking where I’d got my cool hat from and begging me to make one for their kid (though I could never get my own kids to wear any of my woolly creations, the ungrateful little turds.) Being the ‘go to’ person for knitting advice was satisfying and I loved helping people out (showing off.)
But eventually, I got about as good at knitting as it’s possible for a person to get (I could knit some truly amazing stuff, trust me.) After that, knitting lost its sparkle. Sure, it passed the time, but I wasn’t on that exciting learning curve where you’re improving all the time, your brain is working its little socks off, you’re impressing everyone left right and centre and life is good.
Maybe I’m easily bored. Okay, I know I’m easily bored. But I imagine having a copywriting niche would be the same – I’d get to the top of my game, then feel a sense of anti-climax and feel a little underwhelmed, a little lost?
I love the fact that I can work on many different types of copy in numerous areas, as a generalist. My brain is stimulated on the horizontal as well as the vertical, if you get what I mean.
Sure, it must feel good to be really, really good at something. But my silly brain wants to be good at more than one thing. Some days, it wants to be good at everything. I guess that’s why I’m a ‘creative type.’
In defence of niches (begrudgingly
My point, in writing this post, is that niching certainly isn’t for everybody, and choosing a niche shouldn’t be something new copywriters feel compelled to do. But it does work for some, and it works really well.
For a start, there’s the dollar bills y’all. Copywriters who niche can command higher rates of pay, and while money isn’t everything, it would be nice to have more of it (so I could really mean that last statement.)
If you’re the rare bird that writes exclusively about salmon fishing or dining out in Guatemala, you’re going to be in much higher demand than the scads of generalist writers at a client’s disposal. Take a browse through the available jobs on any content mill, and you’ll see just how many eager copywriters are out there, touting for business and claiming to be able to write on any topic under the sun. Finding a copywriting niche definitely helps you stand out from the crowd – though clients using content mills usually have fairly generic, rather than specific needs.
If you charge per project, you may also fare better writing in a niche, as familiarity with your subject means less research time is required for each job, so you can produce work much more quickly than a generalist, who has to factor research time into their quote.
It may also be comforting, as a niche writer, to know that people will search you out rather than having to constantly tout for business. People looking for niche writers already know what they’re looking for, and what they’re not looking for, so you won’t need to ‘sell’ as hard as us generalist writers do.
All in all, y’all
I don’t feel compelled to find a copywriting niche. I won’t say ‘my niche’ because this implies that every writer has a specialist subject within them, just waiting to be discovered. For some, I just don’t believe that’s true. My passion in life is writing – that’s my niche right there – I don’t need to get more specific than that.
Maybe you’re thinking I’m a commitment phobic – reluctant to tie myself to one area when there are so many other prospects out there, waiting to be explored. Do you admire that, or think I’m fickle? Are you the sort of person that believes your one true love is out there, or, like me, do you reject the concept of ‘Mr Right.’
It may be a case that, as I mature as a writer, I want to become faithful to a niche subject. For now, I’m enjoying playing the field, and my clients receive the benefit of my enthusiasm, curiosity and dedication to get to know a subject thoroughly before producing their copy.
It’s might also be a confidence issue, as being able to work across a wide area makes me feel more secure – there are definitely clients out there for me, and it’s too soon, for me, to narrow down that field.
Like Pinnochio, I’ve got no strings to hold me down. Unlike our little wooden friend, I’m not a pathological liar, which is goods news too.
I won’t be choosing a copywriting niche any time soon – so if you like the sound of working with a niche-less, rebel copywriter, then get in touch now!
How about you?
Are you for or against niching? Have you found your subject area, are you looking or are you a happy generalist? Let me know in the comments – it’ll be niche to meet you.