A lot of the questions I get from new freelance writers are about writing niches. Those questions include:
- What’s a writing niche?
- How many writing niches should I have?
- What if I don’t want to niche my writing biz, is that OK?
- What’s the best writing niche?
In this post, I’m going to give you a complete road map to figuring out your best-opportunity writing niches. It’s a simple process, once you understand how niching works in freelance writing, and why it’s important.
If you’re new to freelance writing, this is a critical first step to building the lucrative business you want. Skipping this will waste a lot of time.
If you’ve been freelancing a while but aren’t earning what you’re like, poor niching may be part of the problem.
NOW is always a good time to revisit this issue and see what you might want to tweak.
The search for the magical ‘best’ writing niche
Maybe you’re here searching for a list of the ‘best’ niches that you could simply pick from at random.
When I Google ‘writing niches,’ I see a lot of articles that purport to tell you what the best ones are. I’ve put together a writing niche idea list like that myself.
But ultimately, I think studying these lists is of limited use. Why?
There is no ‘one best niche.’
This is a highly individual process. You can’t just throw a dart at a board, or pick what you’ve heard is a big-money writing niche, and expect success.
Let me walk you through the process of figuring out where you best belong in today’s freelance writing world.
Here’s a quick outline of the five simple steps I’ll cover:
- Understand niches and why they matter
- Conquer your fear of leaving clients on the table
- Assess your knowledge and interests
- Follow the money (with a COVID screen)
- Drill down to client types
Ready to break it down? Here we go:
The first thing to get clarity on is what a writing niche is.
There are two possible ways to niche your business:
- By industries you know about — healthcare, marina management, etc.
- By type of writing you want to do — articles, white papers, emails, etc.
Horizontals vs verticals, in other words.
I see a lot of lists out there that give you a mix of these two types of niches and call it a ‘top niches list.’ That’s real confusing.
Which is better, industries or types of writing?
Industry niches rule.
Survey data collected by the late, great coach Chris Marlow on this very topic showed that people who niche by industry dependably earn more than people who niche by type of writing.
Let’s look at why. It has to do with making it easier for your ideal clients to find you. If you don’t want to have to do proactive freelance marketing every day for the rest of your life, you want to build an online presence that attracts some of your best prospects.
While you’re asleep. You want that, right?
To get that inbound marketing machine to work, you have to think like a client.
How clients search for writing niches
Here’s the problem with having no niche, or using types of writing for your niches.
It has to do with how our clients find writers.
Here’s what happens: they go on LinkedIn, or even just use Google, and they do a search.
Based on wins my 15,000 Freelance Writers Den community members have gotten over the years — it’s my understanding that search looks roughly like this:
Atlanta freelance healthcare writer
If you don’t say you write about healthcare in your freelance marketing, that client doesn’t find you. Even if you’re in Atlanta.
See the problem?
The #1 thing clients care about is that you understand something about their industry. (Note: I didn’t say everything. Just something.)
They don’t have time to start at square one, teaching you the trends, issues, jargon, and upcoming challenges of their industry.
Why ‘type of writing’ niches don’t win
That’s why niching by type of writing doesn’t pan out. Your client doesn’t search for someone to write a white paper.
- They search for someone who knows about fintech.
- Then, they look through your portfolio to see if maybe you do white papers.
- They may call you even if you don’t, if you seem to know their industry well.
Without the industry cues in your online marketing, you get passed on by.
It’s impossible to rank in a search for any top-level term for what we do: ‘freelance writer’ — or content marketer, or digital marketer, or freelance copywriter. I cannot rank for these, despite very high online visibility through my blog.
What ranks for these is an ad for Upwork. Not your little ol’ bitty writer website or LinkedIn profile.
Many writers get excited about choosing niches. Then, they pick ones that are way too broad to help them with marketing.
- Small business
- Sustainable business
These ‘niches’ are too broad to be useful for freelance marketing, because they cut across many, many industries. They don’t reflect how clients think.
They think, “I want a writer who works with coaches (or accounting firms, or tech startups),” not “I want a B2B writer.”
How many writing niches is ideal?
Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that you need industry niches. If you’re wondering, my experience is that the ideal number of niches is TWO or THREE.
- Not so many that it’s hard to explain who you help, on a phone call or at an in-person networking event.
- Not just one, because as we’re seeing right now, every industry has cycles. You don’t want to be all-in on one (say, travel copywriting) in case it tanks.
But a few, to hedge your bets and give you some diversity.
Big takeaway: Choose 2-3 industry niches to focus your business and target your ideal clients.
I’ve given this niche speech to freelance writers probably 1,000 times. Often, they enthusiastically nod their heads, and we go over the niche worksheet I have students do in my launch course. And they choose some niches.
A few weeks or months later, they’re back. Because they’ve rejected the idea of limiting their marketing to just a few niches.
(Notice :I didn’t say limit their business — you’re always free to take any gig that comes along. This is a post about how niches help you market your business).
I don’t understand why I can’t just do a variety of things. I like variety!
I can’t choose the top three that are best for me. Too hard.
But I really just want to write white papers — I can get those $5,000 gigs as a brand-newbie, right? (A: No.)
I just feel scared that some clients will pass me by, if I niche.
I get it. We become freelance writers to be free. We wanna do whatever we want, whenever we want!
And sending some clients away can feel scary. Trust me, you still want to. When you take all comers, your rates stay low. It’s hard to get ahead. Don’t get stuck on this gerbil-wheel of poverty.
You keep having to rediscover the wheel for each new industry you tackle, who are the experts, who has good research studies. Makes your hourly rates low. Next gig, you start all over again, instead of leveraging what you’ve learned.
Your quickest way to success is this: Believe the market.
- Clients search the way they search.
- They hire for niche industry expertise.
- So you want to build your business to meet that need.
Niche your business the way clients search, so you get found. That’s the easy way to make quick progress.
Ever visit a clothing store that’s for every size, shape, age, gender, and economic strata of person? Of course you haven’t. Because that would be impossible to market.
Take a hint from the brick-and-mortar retail world, because freelance writing is not so different from that.
You need to position your business and decide who you want to sell to, in order to make freelance marketing easy and effective, and get some traction.
The portfolio problem
Here’s the other reason you niche your business, besides good SEO marketing terms.
Know how you earn well? Usually, it’s by building niche expertise.
- If you take all comers, you don’t build niche expertise.
- You’re also very scattered, as you rush about trying to please everybody.
- You have a smattering portfolio of this ‘n’ that.
- Does not impress, when clients review it. Seems higgledy-piggledy.
Big takeaway: To build a strong portfolio, and for your freelance marketing, let go of fears that you’re sending away clients, and choose niches.
Hopefully, I’ve got you on board to focus your writing biz and choose 2-3 niches.
How do you do that? First, assess what you know and are interested in. That will give us potential niches to explore.
Your interest and knowledge comes in three basic buckets:
- Work experience
- Life experience
- Personal interest
Maybe you worked in a bank in the past, and got interested in finance and know a bit about it now.
Or you nursed a friend through cancer and learned a lot about oncology.
Or you’re just a tech nerd who reads Wired for fun and gets the latest gadgets the day they come out.
Any of these set you up to make a case to prospects that you’re their writer. In my course Get Your First Freelance Writing Jobs, we have writers do a worksheet that maps out their knowledge and interest.
This is the raw material we’ll use to look for niches that could pay well for you.
Big takeaway: Assess all your interests and experience. That’s your starting point for finding your niches.
Once you’ve got your experience/interest list, it’s time to compare that list with where there is money in the marketplace. Yes, it’s ‘Show me the money!’ time.
Where is there money for writers?
Anywhere there is something expensive, complicated, or both for sale, there is usually a big need for sophisticated marketing — and freelance writers.
Let’s start with the three biggest, most reliable buckets of money in freelance writing:
These are each massive niches with many subcategories and crossovers — healthcare IT and fintech, for instance.
Beyond there, we find service professions that command high fees, such as:
- Business consultants
- Wealth managers
And luxury goods and services, like high-end:
- Legal cannabis
- Custom travel
You get the picture. If your interest includes things like DIY crafting, poetry writing, reviewing restaurants or plays… know that there’s not a lot of money there.
Ask yourself, ‘Who makes a fortune at this?’
If the answer is ‘Nobody’ or ‘Only 1-3 people,’ there’s not enough there for a good niche.
Is there still money, with COVID?
So… that’s the cross-reference I’ve had students do for 12 years… until March 2020.
Now, you need to put your ideas of where your interests and knowledge intersect with money in the marketplace through the COVID screen as well.
Ask: Is there money in this niche, right now?
For instance, travel copywriting is often a great niche. But not right now.
Think about industries that are doing well now — things like online learning tools, delivery services, e-commerce. Where they’re not shut down. Take a look at their websites and see if they’re still doing marketing.
Big takeaway: Cross the money opportunities with your interests (plus what’s thriving during COVID) to find your ideal niches.
Don’t be worried about what you’re not marketing on. You’re niches aren’t carved in stone — this is a ‘most likely to succeed’ supposition that we’re going to use to market you, right now. We get a vaccine, and your answers may change.
Always feel free to evolve your niche focus as you go.
Here’s where many writers go wrong in figuring out their niches. They stop too early.
“I’m a healthcare writer — OK, great! I’m all set now…”
Next, nothing happens. Because they’ve no idea who their actual client is. Who are they supposed to pitch?
That’s the next key step in figuring out your writing niches: Deciding who, exactly, your first or primary type of client within each niche will be.
If we take healthcare, clients could include:
- Hospitals (fundraising letters, hospital magazines, website work, etc.)
- Consumer or trade healthcare magazines
- Rehab clinics
- Memory-care chains
- Healthcare-IT firms
- Healthcare consulting firms
- Multi-doctor, lucrative medical practices (oncology, fertility, surgery, etc.)
- Schools of public health at universities
- Nonprofits in healthcare advocacy
And that’s just a sample within traditional healthcare. If you look at wellness or alternative health, you get another entire list.
Once you’ve built your list of big-money prospects, do a search — see if you can find a list of at least 100 of these. If so, you’ve got a good client type.
Hint: If your target client is a 1-person business, they’re probably not a good client. Just not successful enough to be able to pay a writer well or an on an ongoing basis.
Close your eyes and consider. Who do you see yourself writing for? Choose an initial target to focus your freelance marketing on, within each of your niches.
Big takeaway: Be sure to go beyond your niche choice to identify a specific client pool to target.
Let the freelance marketing experiments begin
From here, you’re ready to start marketing your business! View this as a science experiment.
Do a lot of marketing to each of your chosen client buckets:
- LinkedIn marketing is working amazingly well these days, now that in-person networking is down.
But experiment with types of freelance marketing too…
- Do cold calling.
- Send direct-mail pitch packages.
- Write query letters.
- Pitch popular blogs for guest posts.
See what pays off.
Analyze what’s working for you and do more of it. Boom — you should be well underway to building the independent freelance lifestyle you want.
The big-niche exception
If you’re an experienced freelance writer, and you’re having great success and earning six figures being a generalist, or niching by type of writing, or by marketing 10 different niches… please ignore me. Keep doing what you’re doing.
There are always outliers who find success where 99% will not.
If you’re an established, overbooked mid-career writer with a deep network, you may well be able to niche by type of writing. It’s a way to winnow your leads down to the ones you want most. You’ve arrived at the career point where you can do this.
As a newbie? You want a lot of leads, and you want to do whatever types of writing they need done. This is your chance to learn new types of writing that may pay well.
For instance, I just had a coaching student of mine who’d only ever done blog posts get offered a chance to do print advertorials, from someone in her industry niche. She jumped on it! Boom, she’s got a new type of stronger writing clips.
You can use your industry knowledge to move into writing types you like. But for marketing – stick with the industry. At least while you build up your income.
Don’t want you to feel sad that you can’t start off writing nothing but e-books for clients or something. You can work your way to niching by type of writing. Get marketing, build your business up, and make it happen.
The secret to successful niching for writers
You may be thinking: What’s the magic? How do I know if I’ve found really solid niches and client types for my writing biz?
The answer is: Get pro feedback on your knowledge, interest, and industries you’ve chosen for niches.
Over the years, I’ve found too many writers do this in a vacuum, but don’t really know where the money is in the marketplace. Next, they waste a lot of time marketing places that don’t have much opportunity for writers.
Consider doing your niche exercise with pro feedback, so you’re sure you’re on the right track.
What are your writing niches? Still deciding? Let’s discuss in the comments.