I have always been the kind of person who reads everything she can when faced with making a decision. I have never been the person to just go with the flow for anything. So when I decided to give freelancing a try, I read article after article on advice for newbies. Some of the most common advice were things like:
- Don’t undercharge, even if you’re new.
- Raise your price often.
- Put together a stellar portfolio, even if it’s only two pieces of spec work, to start.
- Decide your niche early on, and then get your name out there.
That last one was the one I was most resistant to.
I thought, Why would I limit myself like that? I’d miss out on so many opportunities!
Of course, when you first start out, you might be forced to be a generalist.
But I thought I’d stay a generalist so that I’d never have to pass up an opportunity. I’d master it all!
That was a dumb thing to think, and here’s why.
No one wants to hire a jack of all trades.
No client who really knows what he’s looking for, anyway.
Last week when I was in a bit of freelancing slump because I hadn’t managed to book anything new, I thought long and hard about why that was. Were my previous gigs just luck? (Yes and no.) Was I tanking the cover letters to my bids? (I honestly don’t think so.) Then what was it?
So I sat back and took a long look at the people I was sending proposals to, and I noticed something.
I was all over the place.
The kinds of businesses I was working with were from a wide range of fields, and each project had a different set of goals. And maybe that’s somewhat necessary so I can prove to future clients that I can help them with a variety of projects, but in terms of the knowledge needed… it was a lot. I was spending a lot of time researching terms I didn’t understand just so I could rewrite them in a way that someone like me would need it explained. It was tiring.
Clients (the good kind, who pay well and give you a lot of information to work with) want freelancers who specialize in one or two things and make that their business. If they want email copy, they want people with a history of getting ridiculous open rates. If they want someone for their real estate company, they’re looking for someone who doesn’t need to ask a lot of questions about the basics. They want someone who knows that they’re doing and has the portfolio or the data to justify the price tag.
You don’t have the time or brainpower to master everything. Most likely, you end up being just average at many things. And average does not a successful career make.
When it came to finding new clients, I was getting a lot of, “Well, your proposal was awesome, but we really need someone with expertise in xxx, so we chose someone else,” or, “The samples you sent us were great, but they’re just SO DIFFERENT from what we do.”
Fine. Time to get specific, then.
When I took inventory of the projects I’ve taken on up until now, I started making mental notes about which projects were the most fun for me, which came the easiest, and which ones made me feel relief to have finished them. That’s when I noticed a trend:
My favorite projects were all about web copy.
About pages, short and punchy service pages, and landing pages. Copy where I got to create a personable tone for the business. Soft sales.
I’m not a hard sales kind of girl. I don’t think I will ever specialize in writing sales letters or direct copy. I may never master a sales funnel or become a social media manager. But when it comes to audience-centered storytelling, the kind that establishes trust and rapport with customers, I shine. And they came to me so easily.
(Maybe that shouldn’t surprise me. I did teach audience-centered public speaking and persuasive writing for two years in university.)
Niching myself may be the best thing I’ve done so far.
After I figured out what I actually liked doing, it became really easy for me to pick and choose projects.
It gave me the freedom to say no, and that has made all the difference.
Instead of sending proposals to anything I come across, I save my energy and apply only for things I think I’ll really like or that I really want to try because it fits in with my overall interests. As a result, my proposals are clearer and more succinct, and I think the quality of each project will only go up from here.
(And my response rate has gone up! Incidentally, I started a new project last night and I’m talking seriously with two more potential clients, all in the same industry.)
For now, I’m aiming at becoming the queen of About Us, mission statements, FAQ and other static copy, and I’m really on the lookout for nurturing email campaign/newsletter opportunities.
But this probably isn’t the end of my niching adventures.
There are still so many different kinds of businesses to pick from. For now, I’m looking to stick my fingers into a few different pies (eCommerce, brick and mortar retail, health, personal development, etc.) so that I can repeat this whole process again later to figure out which one is the most enjoyable.
In any case, gaining a sense of focus has pulled me right out of my rut and I’m ready to get to work.
P.S. Which niches are you interested in?