Most of you know that I don’t believe that freelance writers need a niche. Loads of freelance writers get stressed, believing they need a niche to make great money from freelancing. I totally get that because I was preoccupied with finding my niche for years. But the problem was, I loved writing about so many different things. I saw the appeal of having a niche, but my interests and experience didn’t narrow down nicely into a short catch phrase like “Freelance finance writer specialising in bitcoin.” So what do you do if you don’t have a niche or a specialisation? Well, I’ve got the answer for you.
What freelance writers need if they don’t have a niche
It’s not that I’m anti-niche.
I can definitely see the benefits of having a specialisation – you can become the go-to writer for clients or editors in a particular industry.
You spend less time researching and you have ready-made connections.
Having a niche also saves mental space because you don’t have to keep wrapping your head around new concepts.
But what if you’re a generalist freelance writer and want to stay that way? At least for the time being?
For the first half of 2017 I read so many articles about the importance of having a niche.
I listened to podcasts about choosing a high-paying specialisation.
I researched the most profitable freelance writing niches and agonised over what my niche should be.
What was my Unique Selling Point (USP)?
What did I offer that set me apart from all the other freelance writers in the world?
How was I going to summarise all my interests and experience into a succinct and snappy sentence for my LinkedIn profile?
But actually, it’s really quite simple.
Instead of having a niche, it’s about how you position yourself.
But I also regularly write about insurance, recruitment, small business, lifestyle and yes, sometimes even finance.
My ‘clients’ are editors of major newspapers and glossy magazines.
They are also digital content managers of popular online sites.
They used to be editors of inflight magazines.
I write for communications managers at big corporations, content managers at agencies and heads of commercial content at media companies.
I write all kinds of content.
This includes feature articles, front of book pieces, Q&As, listicles, investigative pieces, reported articles, blog posts – the list goes on.
In my first years of full time freelancing, I wondered how on earth I could present myself to clients and editors when I had such a varied background.
I saw it as a negative thing that I was interested in so many different things.
But as I started to pitch more and more, I realised something that helped me get over my obsession with niches.
I naturally began to position myself depending on who I was communicating with.
For food publications, I introduced myself as a food writer.
For travel magazines I’m a travel writer with an interest in food.
When I’m pitching corporate clients in the health space, I emphasis my PhD and my previous health research.
Positioning is really about shining a spotlight on the areas and experience I want to highlight.
It means bringing forward the skills, experience and ideas that are going to be most useful to that editor or client at that time.
Of course, positioning may not be about a particular subject.
It may be that you write content for a specific industry.
Or you may specialise in a particular type of content (like blog posts or white papers).
When I realised that it came down to positioning, I learnt to relax.
Around the same time a friend mentioned that she had finally realised that she was a polymath, and thought I was one too.
I loved the idea of a word that described someone who has an interest in, and knowledge of, many areas.
To my ears, being a polymath sounded much better than being a ‘generalist’.
I loved that polymaths use their knowledge to address and solve problems.
Because isn’t this the essence of so much of what we do as freelance writers?
I’m the first to admit that positioning yourself in a particular way depending on the editor or client can be tricky.
It’s not as neat as being a “freelance beauty technology writer” (I’m not sure if that exists – I just made that up).
But it’s a bit more reflective of who we many of us are as freelance writers.
And that is, that nothing is set.
That’s the beauty of being freelance and a micro-business – you can pivot quickly and change direction.
We get to draw on all our previous experience to shape what we want to do right now.
I recently changed my LinkedIn profile to reflect my increased focus on travel, food and lifestyle writing.
And I’ll be honest, it was a bit scary going all in on these three areas, but that byline fits more coherently with the kind of writing I’m currently doing.
When I did present myself on LinkedIn as a researcher and business writer I regularly had prospects contacting me.
But often they weren’t the kind of clients I wanted.
And there’s really no point in being popular if it’s with the wrong crowd.
I don’t have all the answers, but I have learnt that not having a niche is not the end of the world.
You can still earn a great income as a freelance writer even if you are a generalist.
In fact, I would argue that being a generalist (or shall we call it being a polymath) puts you in an ideal position to play to your strengths and tap into what editors and clients needs at any one time.
And that has never been more important than this year, with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Are you a generalist/polymath? How do you position yourself?