Why niche down in the first place?
One word: Specialization.
Want another? Expertise.
Marketers like to toss these words around a lot, so let’s look at the details of why it’s crucial to specialize:
- You’re viewed as an expert. When you’re not specializing in anything, you’re telling potential clients that you’re a jack of all trades. In Marketing 101, you learn that if you’re talking to everyone, no one’s listening. In other words, if you sell something, sell something specific to a specific audience.
- An expert gets more gigs. Say I wake up one morning with a nasty rash on my forearm, and it won’t stop itching. It’s swelling, and my elbow looks like it’s starting to rot. Would I be wise to visit any general practitioner? Or should I track down an expert dermatologist who specializes in rashes?
- More gigs with your dream clients gets you more referrals. Referrals don’t pop out of thin air. When you do good work for your dream clients, it’s easy to spot opportunities to ask for a referral.
(The best time to ask is when they praise your work. When your dream clients know what to expect based on your samples, your work becomes easier, and the praises come much more frequently. More praises = more referral opportunities.)
- Publishing niche-specific content for your clients cements you further as an expert. You enjoy extended reach because your clients’ clients and prospects are now reading your articles too. One major side benefit is that you could get more free leads via these publications. (This happens more often than you think.)
- You get paid more. A lot more. Experts get paid more. (Need help setting your rates? Read this.) This applies to any profession. Copywriting isn’t the exception. Hell, let’s take a random example: Restaurants.
Would you trust one restaurant that makes pizza, dim sum, sushi, and enchiladas? Call me crazy, but if you want a pizza, you go to a pizzeria.
You don’t go to the “We serve all kinds of food!” restaurant. You want an expert pizzaiolo to make your pizza, not some guy who’s been making Hawaiian burgers all day.
Despite all these obvious advantages, some people actually enjoy being generalists. (I’ve no idea why. Yes, I enjoy writing in different subject areas. Just because I’ve niched down to SaaS doesn’t mean I can’t write for other industries, right? Nothing’s stopping you either!)
As a generalist, on Monday, you could be writing an article about the unknown health benefits of drinking out of the toilet bowl. The following week, you could be producing a comprehensive guide on how to cope with your emotionally abusive cat.
If all this sounds glamorous to you, here’s the problem: You’ll be getting paid as a generalist too. Many of you know this. But have you asked yourself how much time you spend researching every single topic that comes your way?
Not to mention, a specialist in any one subject area will always produce content superior to yours. Why? It’s simple. They know way more about it than you do. (It’s their niche, after all.)
So does it pay to be a subject matter expert? It sure does!
If you get arrested, you can go to any criminal lawyer… or you can go with Johnnie Cochran. If you had a choice, who would you go with?
Let’s climb inside your dream client’s brain for a second. Your dream client isn’t searching job boards with an eye peeled for generalists.
And no patient about to undergo surgery felt reassured because their surgeon was a generalist. “I need brain surgery, doc.”
“Don’t worry, the brain surgeon isn’t here today, so you get the generalist. He doubles as our part-time baker for the hospital cafeteria!”
Hard pass, and that’s what you should do with the generalist question too.
How to find your writing niche
You can specialize in 3 ways:
- By industry (e.g., fashion or finance)
- By deliverable (e.g., white papers or emails)
- By a commonality (e.g., brand copy for cute ecomm brands like pet stores and kids’ clothing. Even though they’re in different niches, the cuteness factor is a commonality that can be unified.)
- Start by exploring your personal background. You can go as far back as high school. Try to remember any classes you enjoyed in particular. (Was it a science course? Computer science? IT is a pretty popular field. But don’t be afraid to dig deep!)
- Look at your professional background. Where have you worked before? Where are you working right now? At a call center? (That’s valuable customer service experience.) How about at a newspaper, an accounting firm, or in sales?
- What do you enjoy writing? Some writers will tell you to avoid writing about your passion. They say you’ll get sick of it and end up hating what you love. I’m sure this is true for some, but it certainly isn’t true for me.
I’ve written marketing materials for as long as I can remember. Do I get sick of it? There are times, but then, I balance it out. I try to read between 100 and 200 pages a day. I have several books I read at any time, ranging from popular physics books to content marketing to sci-fi.
In other words, I don’t have time to get bored. (And when I do, I write about something else for a while and come back later. Give your brain a break if this happens to you. Try it. It works!)
- Are you good at it? Did you get good grades in the classes you’ve thought about? What about your workplace? Maybe you already had an awesome opportunity to work with a client as a freelance writer, and they loved your work. If so, this is an obvious route to explore.
If your clients loved a specific project you worked on, future clients in the same niche will also love this type of work.
- Is it profitable? Finally, no matter how perfect a niche might appear based on your experience and training, if it’s not profitable, walk away. You can be the Hemingway of cooking recipes. But chasing recipe bloggers (many of whom blog as a hobby) is going to yield few—if any—clients with the budget to afford you.
Master-Level Niching Tip
Look at your competitors in your niche. Study their copy. If they’re experts, they’ll have used some industry jargon to showcase their expertise. Keep an eye out for niche-specific pain points. For SaaS, for example, these can include driving signups and minimizing churn.
Profitable vs. Not-so-Profitable niches
Here’s a quick breakdown of niches by industry and by deliverable.
Here are a few profitable niches.
Finance. This niche is killing it. It always has. A few of my good friends are in this niche (in fintech), and I get why they’re paid a lot for this type of work. Sure, it’s a very profitable sector for clients. But they also have their own language and logic, both of which go way over my head.
Could I study it? Sure. Do I want to? Not particularly. Yes, it’s more money. But it also means I won’t get to write about subjects I actually enjoy writing about. And I’ve got to wrap my head around financial tech info, which I must admit, bores me to tears. (Sorry, Michael & Co.!)
Marketing. There’s never a shortage of work in the marketing niche. But the niche is so saturated, it gets hard to breathe. And if you were hoping to produce some unique content that’ll blow your audience’s socks off, forget it.
You’ll likely be churning out similar stuff. (But that also speaks to your skill level, doesn’t it? Can you put a unique spin on classic ideas? A good writer should be able to.)
Crypto. Crypto profitability goes up and down like a yoyo on cocaine. But it does rely on solid tech like blockchains, and there’s massive investment capital behind it. High-paying work is almost always available in this area.
But do keep an eye out for bottom feeders. Crypto tends to attract a fair share of people who don’t want to pay for quality work.
Cannabis. A new niche that’s gaining ground fast, you should approach this one with caution. Should you pick this niche, know that it’s become super competitive.
And think twice about how you position yourself. Just because you smoked weed in high school doesn’t make you a cannabis writer.
Try a more professional angle. If you worked in a science lab before, or even enjoyed chemistry class, that might work. What if you’re passionate about the health benefits of CBD? Do you consider yourself a medical marijuana advocate? If so, perfect.
Tech & SaaS. Ah, my bread and butter. SaaS (software as a service) is all I do. SaaS describes any online subscription service that involves using an app.
I would write for tech too, but a lot of it goes over my head. With SaaS, I’m familiar with the psychology of my clients’ audiences, as well as their buyer journey and their corresponding mind states.
SaaS can be very profitable, but the SaaS gold rush is happening right now. Everyone and their mother is launching a new SaaS these days. With tons of cheap prospects, you’re better offtargeting companies with an established reputation. They’ve got healthy budgets and appreciate good work.
What if you’re getting started and need to make a quick buck? New SaaS businesses need a lot of copy and content to launch, so they might be worth your time.
Ecommerce. Think fashion. Think watches. Pretty much anything sold on Shopify falls under ecomm (except digital goods). Think Facebook and IG ads. Think email marketing.
There are two paths into this niche:
- Ecomm agencies. Remember that all agencies are, in essence, brokers. You do the work, they get a cut. Still, if you’re good, a few legit ecomm agencies are willing to pay you a fair rate. You can make a few hundred to several thousand dollars a month if you hit up the right agencies and do good work.
- Ecomm store owners. Today, the biggest ecomm platform online is Shopify. This means there’s a good chance you’ll work with Shopify owners. Many of them need educating, especially if they’re new business owners. Translation: They won’t understand the value of good copy (and they won’t be willing to pay for it either).
Try to approach established ecomm businesses instead. Also consider picking a niche within ecomm (e.g., pet copywriter or copywriter for cute brands).
Here are a few not-so-profitable niches.
Keep in mind, there are always exceptions if you know where to look. For instance, gaming mags tend to pay only a few hundred per article, but a few gaming clients do pay well.
Cooking. Unfortunately, cooking’s a tough one to crack. Unless your name rings out in the cookery scene, chances of someone paying you hundreds of dollars to write a recipe post are slim.
Gaming. Love video games? Avoid this niche. If you thought the industry was full of exploitative studios, it doesn’t get much better for its writers.
It’s not that all gaming clients are sure exploiters. A few might genuinely lack the budget to pay you your rates.
Besides, since this market is so saturated, tons of gamers are always willing to write content on a budget. (They’re not savvy marketers or salespeople, mind you.) For a ton of research and writing, you might get $200 to $400 bucks, from what I’ve seen.
Affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketers are usually people with some cash who are chasing a dream. They might have a day job and are trying to escape the 9 to 5.
These guys won’t care much for the quality of content. They want content and/or ads out there that’ll help their sites rank, so they can push their affiliate products.
Avoid them, unless you’re so desperate for cash, you’ve got no options. (Niching isn’t necessary here. Approach with samples.)
SEO. It’s fine to know SEO. In fact, if you consider yourself a content writer, you damn well should know SEO basics. Trouble is, marketing yourself as an SEO copywriter comes with particular perception challenges:
Soooo many writers claim to be SEO writers. But when it comes down to brass tacks, they write poor-quality content. (Keyword stuffing in 2020? Get outta here with that.) Good “SEO writers” don’t sell themselves as such. Instead, they focus on producing compelling content people actually want to read.
People who advertise themselves as SEO writers tend to attract… affiliate marketers. Is it any surprise? Affiliate marketers are the people whose primary concern is to rank at all costs. (In other words, they don’t care much about quality, and you can be damn sure they’re not willing to pay for it.)
Let’s look at a few examples of profitable niches by deliverables.
Ghostwritten thought leadership content. If you’ve worked with C-level execs or other senior-level roles, you’ve got insight into how they think.
In other words, you’ve got an edge into their psychology and decision-making. You might also be well-versed in their everyday lingo. This means you’re in a unique position to help these busy professionals by producing quality content in their own voice.
Email copywriting. If you can write emails that prompt massive sales for your clients, you can make a lot of money. (Even beginners can net $50 per email, with pros calling $500 or more.) Since email lists are the lifeblood of most businesses, smart clients often pay a pretty penny for emails.
Think onboarding sequences, reviving dead leads, and so on. Because emailing a list of people who already know you costs nothing, cracking email marketing can be a windfall for any business.
White papers. White papers are one of the best approaches for businesses to generate leads. They can also help shortlist a client’s company from a range of competitors, and even close deals.
The most obvious example of niching down by deliverable, That White Paper Guy has been around for a couple decades. He’s gotten so good at this that he’s even productized his services.
Case studies. Case studies are examples of your clients solving one of their clients’ problems via one of their services or products. A single well-written case study can help make your clients a lot more money. Because not everyone specializes in case studies, learning how to write them well can pay off.
A final word: As I mentioned earlier, you can also niche by commonality.
Say you don’t want to niche down to something super-specific right away. Or you enjoy working with certain business owners.
Let’s take an example. Say you enjoy working with busy moms who are business owners because, hey, you’re a busy mom too.
So you get their pain points. And you love helping empowered moms write awesome content that speaks to their target audience.
Or how about if you want to target all things tech-related? (“I love translating complex technical language into digestible copy that persuades users to buy”).
Ready to become an expert?
Once you niche down successfully, you’ll be surprised to find that many prospects engage with you a lot more. You’ll receive frequent requests for recent samples and rates.
And that’s where the real game begins.
Make sure to keep up with research in your niche. Cover your ass and know it inside out. Because your dream clients—the ones you want to work with and who have the budget—they already know your niche.
They’re not new to this. Your dream clients also know how to write. They may have been niche writers in the recent past, so they have an eye for talent and they can smell bullshit too.
So continue to hone your writing as well as your niche knowledge. It’ll pay off in the long run.
Need help getting clients?
If you enjoy copywriting but don’t know where to start, this book shows you how to:
- Identify your best niche
- Connect with your dream clients
- Land highly profitable projects