How do you specialize with a niche? Why do you specialize with a niche? A third question!?
This and more on this episode of the Clients From Hell podcast.
Do you have a question of your own? Shoot us an email!
Want to support the show? Leave us a review on iTunes!
How do I find my niche?
This question was originally submitted for the 'Feedback from the Inferno' segment. However, it's a common question, so we've elevated it to the Freelancer FAQ segment.
I don’t have much experience freelancing and I’m confused how to sell my services – what makes me unique?
I’m an illustrator, I started freelancing straight out of university, and I’ve only had a handful of jobs in roughly two years – I think this is because I spent a lot of time not knowing what I wanted to do or even how to do it but I’m starting to find a bit more focus now. I’ve started pushing myself towards children’s illustration with the hopes of getting work in publishing, greetings cards, stationary – maybe even the games industry.
My issue is this – I have no idea what my niche is. I used to think narrowing my field was good enough, but I was just listening to your “how to find work as a freelancer” podcast, and you mentioned the need to tell a client why they need you, and why you can do the work in a unique way.
The thing is, I don’t know how I can complete the work in a way that another illustrator couldn’t also do. I don’t have an impressive client list under my belt, and I don’t have a particularly unique workflow or style. I simply don’t know what I could say to a client that would make me stand out.
- A no-niche freelancer
Everyone feels this way at a certain point – in life and in freelancing. Do not stress about being unsure about your uniqueness quite yet. You may not even have the practical experience necessary to really know yourself and what you’re about.
I think it would be worthwhile for you to try and get some practical experience at an agency. It offers on-the-job experience; it can refine your skills, and it can teach you a lot about dealing with clients. It can also tell you a lot about yourself, what you value, and what separates you from the pack.
But, if you already have a day job, or if freelancing as an illustrator is your exclusive interest, that’s fine too.
The first thing you should focus on is what Neil Gaiman identified as the three reasons someone will work with a freelancer. The best part is, you only need to deliver on two of them:
After you manage two out of three on that, then you can start to hone in on that niche.
The more work you do, the more you’ll appreciate what kind of work you enjoy – and what kind you despise. The more work you do, the more you’ll come to appreciate what makes you, as a professional, unique and compelling. It doesn’t just happen. It’s a long, slow, and heavily involved process that can sneak up on you if you’re not paying attention.
I’m almost certain that the handful of clients you’ve had has resulted in an informative experience, if not a niche-defining one.
There are a few suggestions for finding that specific niche:
I’ll be honest: my niche has changed multiple time over the course of my career. It will almost certainly change again. I learned that I’m a flexible resource that completes work quickly, and I’m excellent at providing creative content. However, I’m not a huge fan of actually “selling” my work, nor did I always feel I had the chops to provide strategic consulting.
Having worked with clients of a few shapes, sizes, and industries, I figured I’d aim at smaller agencies that had issues with their copy (I looked at their website, job postings, etc.). A client taught me that most agencies of a certain size don’t have a staff writer (this is a pain point); they make due with somewhat-unreliable freelancers (another pain point) for this work.
I reached out directly to the CEO or head of hiring, showcased I did my research, and (POLITELY) brought these issues to their attention. I closed the letter by asking if I could chat with them for five minutes to get some advice regarding their industry. Almost every one said yes. People like being approached as experts, especially if you start by offering a little value first.
After taking these meetings, I ask my questions (see that point about researching your clients?). I close the meeting by thanking them for their time, and I state that, if they ever need help creating content, I was hungry for practical experience in the industry, and I’d even charge less than my usual rate. I also addressed those aforementioned pain points (e.g. I can come in a couple of times a week for in-person briefings and on-the-fly edits; I can commit x hours a week, so you’re always guaranteed a reliable resource, etc.)
Full disclosure: I don’t actually have a usual rate. I figured out what I wanted to make an hour and said it was half my usual rate.
Questions? Episode ideas?