We've talked a lot about specialization as a freelance writer, why it's a good idea to specialize, and even how to choose a freelance writing specialty. But if you choose niche specialization (as opposed to focusing on specific service types), how do you know if a niche you're passionate about pays well?
Do you have to choose between passion or decent pay, or is there a way to stay true to your passions while still attracting high paying clients?
Is Your Passion in a Profitable Niche?
That's exactly what Jennifer Brentano of InspiringRadiance.com wanted to know when she contacted me with the following question.
"My business is speaking and writing and it's been primarily for myself. Over the last few weeks I've been asked to write for others, sharing my passion and knowledge with their audience. The writing has included print magazines/ print newsletters and online blogs. In total, during this short time, I've written and been paid for 11 articles, without 'trying'.
Wanting to build my brand, business, revenue, etc., I'm exploring intentionally adding freelance writing to my offers. I saw a post recently about you speaking about niche areas and whether or not they monetize well. Do you have any information or thoughts regarding the areas listed below? I do know that when I write for others, I want it to remain true to my passions.
- Self love
- Life as a Choice
- ACIM Principles
- Health & Wellness
Thank you for considering my question."
Getting Pay Rate Estimates From Existing Prospects
Jen is in an interesting position here, and somewhere many freelance writers wish they started. She already has an established platform and prospects approaching her to get her to write for them. Sounds great, right?
This is why I talk so much about the importance of building a writer platform, so your general visibility, authority status, and network do much of the work to bring gigs your way.
These existing prospects are a great place to start if Jen wants to explore the pay potential in her target niches.
- What are these prospects offering?
- Do they come to you with budgets in mind?
- Or do they want a rate chart presented to them?
- Are these the kinds of businesses or publications you would actually want to work with?
- Or would you be happier pursuing something different?
These are the sort of questions you should ask yourself if you're in a position similar to Jen's. Ideally you'll love these prospects and you'll be happy with the pay they offer (but remember, no one is in charge of your freelance rates but you). If not, it gives you somewhere to start.
If the pay you're already being offered isn't enough to make a writing project worthwhile to you, what would be enough?
I suggest calculating your minimum freelance writing rates (you can use my free freelance hourly rate calculator to make it easier). Then tack on a premium based on your credentials, experience, and what you feel you bring to the table above and beyond your competitors.
Then you can focus on finding niches, or tweaking your existing ideas, to find a specialty area that pays what you need and want to earn.
Narrowing Down Target Niche Ideas
If you aren't in a similar position to Jen where clients are already coming to you, your first step in choosing a freelance writing niche is to decide what you want to write about. It's okay to start broad and narrow things down. This is where passion comes into play. It doesn't matter if a niche pays well if writing about it is going to make you hate your work.
That's not to say you should always focus on the topics you're most passionate about either. If you're really interested in freelance writing as a business activity and not just a hobby, how much you might be able to earn in a niche has to matter.
In Jen's case, she already has a list of niches she's interested in writing about for clients. Her issue will be narrowing that list down, or at least finding some larger umbrella that covers some of these topics so she has something to focus her marketing on.
Jen might narrow down her focus by grouping a few ideal niches together. For example, she might consider herself a specialist in one of the following areas:
- Self love
- Life as a choice
- ACIM principles
Health & Wellness
- Self love
- Travel for wellness
- Spiritual travel
- Inspirational travel
- Yoga retreats
- Travel as a lifestyle
Why not focus on everything you're passionate about and qualified to write about? If the niches or target clients differ too much, you have to spend more time marketing your services. By marketing to a specific client base with similar interests, you cut down on your marketing time and can focus on a single writer platform, network, and overall marketing plan.
In Jen's case, niches were similar enough that they could be combined. For example, a travel writer usually won't also specialize in writing about health and wellness. But when you put them together to focus on travel for better health and wellness, you actually find a narrow niche specialty where you can set yourself apart.
It's okay to come up with a few different niches this way. There is no reason you can't focus on more than one specialty area. The key is minimizing any extra marketing time. You can do this by choosing specialties that are similar.
More importantly, it's a good idea to have a few niches in mind (but not too many) when you move on to determining whether or not each is profitable.
Predicting Niche Profit Potential
Figuring out whether or not a niche is profitable isn't as straight-forward for freelance writers as it might be for bloggers or authors. Advertiser bid data that might be of interest to a blogger doesn't help much. Neither do book sales statistics.
With freelance writing, it's all about the kinds of clients that exist in your niche, their budgets, and their goals for your content or copy.
In Jen's situation, she's being asked to write articles for both print and online publications. The clients have included magazines, blogs, and newsletters.
When it comes to magazines, it's fairly easy to determine if they pay enough to make the projects worthwhile to you. Many magazine markets have standard rates that they pay to freelancers. While you might be able to negotiate a higher rate after building a relationship with them (or with a significant publishing history behind you), you'll most likely have to accept their standard rates or choose another publication.
To find out what magazines in your target niches pay, look to writer's market directories. Here are a few to get you started:
- The All Indie Writers Market Directory - FREE
- Writer's Market (in print or online) - PAID
- WritersWeekly.com Markets and Jobs - FREE
Even if the magazine you're interested in writing for isn't included in these directories, knowing what its competition pays puts you in a good place to negotiate a fair rate.
Figuring out which blogging niches pay well on a freelance basis can be a bit trickier.
You could go about it in terms of what a blogger themselves might be able to make in that niche by doing advertising-based keyword research (such as through the Google Adwords Keyword Planner tool).
That would give you an idea of how much advertisers are willing to pay for ads on sites in your target niche. Of course ad networks vary. It also doesn't account for the quality of the blogs the ads appear against, whether or not a particular blogger optimized their site well for ad revenue, or other revenue streams target blogs use.
If nothing else, spend some time on any blog you're considering writing for, and take note of some important things:
- How many revenue streams the blog has -- ads, e-books, paid memberships, and other paid features
- How big of an audience the blog seems to have -- subscriber numbers, active comment sections, etc.
- Who owns the blog -- to get an idea of its financial backing
- How long the blog has been around -- to let you know how established the blog is and how much trust the owner has had time to build with his or her audience
If the extent of a blog's monetization plan is asking readers for donations, don't count on it being a high paying market. If the blog has been around for a decade, is owned by a company or organization as opposed to an individual, has a well-diversified and seemingly stable revenue strategy, and clearly has a large audience, chances of it being a high paying market are much more likely.
When it comes to blogs especially, the profit potential is much less about the niche and much more about how the site is run.
For example, some blogs accept freelance submissions (these are the posts you would be paid for). Some hire both regular contributors and occasional one-off contributors. Pay might vary depending on which you are. Others only accept unpaid guest posts (articles submitted for marketing or PR purposes).
Then again, the same can be said for some magazine markets. After all, what we call guest posts on blogs are nothing more than an old school marketing and PR tool brought over to the Web. Traditionally, professionals would submit free content to print trade publications for a byline and some mention of their company, products, or services.
This is still fairly common. And it might open you up to higher paying gigs if you learn how to pursue those (getting paid by companies to draft trade features, or guest blog posts, which they in turn submit to publications at no cost because they want the exposure).
Newsletters are another area that can be hit or miss when it comes to income potential.
There are financial benefits to pursuing these gigs. For example, they tend to turn into ongoing projects. Instead of writing one article you might write monthly, bi-weekly, or weekly for the same client.
Newsletters are also often backed by companies or organizations that have deeper pockets and larger audiences than many of the blogs you'll come across.
There are downsides too. These gigs often aren't advertised as publicly. You'll need to build your network, subscribe to the kinds of newsletters you would like to write for, keep an eye out for contributor requests, and pitch some folks directly if you think they'll be a good fit.
The larger the audience, the more likely it is the newsletter work will pay well. Even better, pay attention to how those newsletters are monetized. Some aren't. Some earn from ad revenue. And others bring in revenue through product, service, or event admission sales that are promoted to the subscriber base (another reason you want to become a subscriber yourself).
Hunting Down Hard Numbers
As you can see, the three service types Jen mentioned have a lot of flexibility in pay levels. There is no easy way to find out that Niche A will pay $XXX per article while Niche B will pay $XXXX for an article of similar length and style. That comes down to individual markets (such as those you can find in the market directories I featured above).
You can have great paying publications and those that pay next to nothing that target the exact same niche audiences.
So where can you find some hard numbers? You have a couple of options, but they're far from perfect:
If you browse job boards (like our freelance writing job board which you can subscribe to in your favorite feed reader), you might find example gigs in your target niche. This can give you an idea of a niche's profit potential, but only if the clients publicly mention their rates or if you contact them. Many do not. The job board on this site only features gigs that do.
Another problem with relying on job boards for rate information is that most high paying freelance writing jobs are never publicly advertised. Clients fill the positions with referrals, by searching for writers and finding you thanks to your platform, or by accepting pitches received directly from writers.
I recommend staying away from bidding-style freelance job sites completely. They make for poor reference material, often catering to bottom of the barrel gigs thanks to the inherent race to the bottom bidding structure. They do not represent pro-level freelance writing markets and their corresponding rates.
Another option is to research survey results of other freelance writers to get an idea of what they're paid for certain kinds of projects. For example, "How Much Should I Charge" by Lynn Wasnak is a popular resource available through Writer's Digest. In it you'll see that newsletter writing rates vary from $1.00 per word to $5.00 per word, with an average project coming in at $2.30 per word.
There are a few downsides with this approach too:
- Not all organizations and surveys agree. Recommendations from the Editorial Freelancers Association are much lower than those featured in the Writer's Digest survey results for example.
- These guidelines tend to be based on types of writing projects rather than niches.
- Survey respondents don't necessarily represent your experience level or your specialty area (for example, if a website runs a survey and most of their visitors are writers very early in their careers, someone with years of experience or highly specialized credentials won't want to target the lower average rates that survey is bound to showcase).
In the end, your best bet is to decide what you need and want to earn on an hourly basis (using the calculator linked earlier in this post). Then, use that hourly goal to send per-project quotes to prospects. You can use your past gigs as a guide if you're happy with what you earned. The real key to making a freelance writing niche profitable is in targeting the right clients with the right projects. And there is plenty of room to do that without sacrificing the niches or project types you're most passionate about.
Can you think of other ways Jen can figure out the profit potential of the niches she's interested in? How have you researched freelance writing specialties, and how did it work out for you? Do you have any tools or resources to recommend? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments.
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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.
She owns 3 Beat Media -- a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.
Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.
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