I'm always telling freelance writers that it's best to specialize, especially when they ask me how they can earn more money writing. As a refresher, here's why I think specialization in freelance writing is so important:
- Having intimate knowledge of a niche or type of writing can speed up the writing process (leaving you with more billable hours in a day, or more "extra" time to pursue other forms of writing income like e-books or your own blog).
- That knowledge or background (more specifically on the niche front) allows you to write more truly "original" work than a general writer. I'll use myself as an example. I have no experience or background in Forex. It may be a popular niche with plenty of clients available (from what I've seen), but I couldn't say anything about that that I didn't simply pull from researching what others have already said. On the other hand, I can write original pieces on press release writing and distribution for the Web, because I'm a specialist in that area, run a PR firm, and have years of experience - so I can talk about things like the best formats, news angles that work and don't work when targeting online media, the best day to distribute a press release online, etc. all from actual experience, testing, and results. It makes for more interesting writing when you're not simply re-hashing the thoughts of others.
- Quite frankly, most clients are willing to pay more for a specialist than a generalist (much in part to my previous point). Like it or not, being a freelance writer has less to do with your technical ability to write, and more to do with what you actually have to say (of course there are some exceptions, such as the most basic of keyword-stuffed SEO articles, but those generally don't pay enough to be worth a comparison between specialists and generalists to begin with - when it comes to writing for readers, specializations do matter).
So you want to specialize your freelance writing work. Now how do you do it?
Choose a Type of Writing
I think this is the most important element. Writers are so quick to think about niches, that they sometimes forget about formats. What type of writing are you good at? What do you have experience with or training in? What do you enjoy? What won't you get sick of in a few weeks? Here are a few types of writing you may want to specialize in:
- Web content writing
- SEO writing (a branch of Web content writing)
- Magazine article writing
- Copywriting (marketing / sales / advertising)
- Linkbait writing
- Blogging (for clients)
- Report writing
- Business plan writing
- E-book writing (for clients)
- PR writing
- Newsletter writing
- News writing (journalism)
- Proposal writing
The list could go on and on, and several of those examples can be broken down even further.
Choose a Niche
Not every type of writing requires that you choose a niche. For example, if you write press releases, business plans, sales letters, etc., you will probably work with clients in a variety of niche areas. In those cases, you can still choose to specialize in a niche, but you'll often seriously limit your client base. It's sometimes best in those situations to decide what niches you won't write in instead (such as adult topics, gambling-related topics, etc.).
If you specialize in other writing formats, a niche specialty can be vital to reaching your maximum earning potential. Web content writing is a perfect example of a type of writing where you'll often earn much more with a niche specialization. So how should you choose a niche if your goal is to earn more freelance writing?
- Choose a niche you're experienced in. If you can't offer something beyond what a generic writer can dig up with some basic research, why would anyone pay you more as a specialist?
- Choose a niche where there's a demand. If no one is hiring writers to cover your niche, you need to think of something else (or you can branch into related niches or a broader niche).
- Choose a niche you won't get tired of. If you'll be tired of writing in a niche in a week or two, you'll come to hate your work - that's not good for you or your clients. We all have times where we'd rather be doing something else... if that feeling's going to become chronic, specialize elsewhere.
Does being a specialist mean that you can only take part in one kind of writing, or only write in one niche? Of course not. Many freelance writers have multiple specialties. For example, when it comes to formats, I specialize in press releases, Web copy, and Web content. When it comes to niches, I specialize in business topics, marketing / PR, freelance writing, and independent music (because that PR experience includes work in music publicity).
The key is not so much that your specializations have to be complementary, but that they simply don't clash. For example, if you're a teacher writing on issues in education, it's probably not a good idea to also write students' term papers for them. If you specialize in writing for Christian publications, you may not want to write material for adult sites. You get the idea.
So how do you choose your specialties, and what advice would you give to a new writer or one looking to branch out to cover new niches or types of writing? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.
Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. Through her company, 3 Beat Media, she operates All Indie Writers, NakedPR.com, BizAmmo.com, and numerous other blogs.
Jenn has over 15 years experience writing for others, over 11 years experience in blogging, and 9 years experience in indie e-book publishing. She is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.
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