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“What’s your area of expertise?” If you’re a freelance copywriter, you will come across this question more than once during your career. Even if you’re just starting out, this question can come up when you sign up to various freelance copywriting platforms. You may be wondering why everyone is in such a hurry to put you in a neat copywriting box, and if you should conform in order to fit in.
We all know the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none”, which may be one of the leading reasons for copywriters to pick a niche. It is an idea that, without a doubt, keeps clients asking copywriters about their area of expertise — trying to find the person with the most knowledge for the role. However, this shouldn’t convince you to commit to one industry just yet. This decision has both benefits and disadvantages to consider.
Pro: Knowing your ideal client outside and in
Stuart Walker writes for professional services companies and specialises in financial copywriting. He says that having a niche makes his life much easier: “I know who I am marketing to, I know what their problems are and I can use the language they use.” In copywriting, we always talk about the target audience — knowing them will help sell the product. As a copywriter, you are the product and your audience are your clients!
Once you’ve worked with several similar types of clients, you’d learn how to market yourself to them. You’d know how to write emails that will get them hiring you and be able to build your website to appeal to their needs. You’d also know exactly who is the client that will benefit the most from your services, which makes approaching and getting new clients much easier.
Con: Getting stuck in a rut
I’m a generalist copywriter. However, from time to time clients hire me on a monthly retainer, which makes my work feel more niche. I had a client in the HR field, with whom I worked for about two years, producing six blog articles per month. When I started, it took me a long time to write every article, as I had to research the topics thoroughly. After a few months, I felt more comfortable in the field and coasted through the writing.
What I didn’t expect was after about a year when I once again struggled to write each article. This time it was because I had to battle not repeating myself and find new angles. Francesca Baker, who writes about culture, travel, health and more, can relate. “I love the variety, as it keeps me energised and engaged, which will surely have a good impact on the work I produce,” she says. “I’ll come up with ideas for one client which will give me a different perspective on another, offering new and innovative angles and approaches.”
Pro: The freedom to charge more
We can’t talk about freelancing without mentioning the topic everyone is too scared to bring up but is always on their minds. One of the best things about being a niche writer is the possibility to make more money for less work. As a specialised writer, you can create a vast portfolio within one industry. This body of work is a signifier that you can meet the client’s every need.
By showcasing your previous writing experience in a field, and the places you’ve written for, you provide your clients with a guarantee that you can do a good job in a short amount of time. If on top of that, you also have bylines in major publications or products in the industry, clients will want to use your name to boost their content. This allows you to charge more for your services, as you have a proven value that no one else can bring to the table.
Con: The market may have its ups and downs
There may be some prestige that comes from being an expert in writing about real estate. However, what happens when we hit a recession and people are not buying houses? In that hypothetical situation, you will be left competing for a small number of clients, with a much larger group of freelancers as competition. And as a copywriter who only has a portfolio in real estate, it will be hard to find work writing about education, as you don’t have any credentials to back you up.
In short, it’s good practice to diversify your sources of income. You want to be left with something to keep you going during slow periods and not to have to start as a junior copywriter after years of hard work.
Pro: Having people come to you
Karen Packham has a primary niche in science and space, which stems from her time as a journalist and from her degree. “Organisations like to know I’ve worked for others in the same or allied sectors,” she explains, “so it definitely helps me get work and it means I can add extra value to the work I do.”
The easiest, and usually most effective way to land new clients, is through references. Hearing about you from a colleague instantaneously makes you more attractive. Another way for you to become attractive to potential clients is the fact that you’ve written for their competitors, and you now know all of their secrets. Both situations are much more likely to happen to niche writers, resulting in emails offering them work, and not the other way around.
Con: Being restricted by non-competes
Even though you’re a freelancer, some companies will ask you to sign lengthy contracts with limiting conditions, with one of the terms being a non-compete. This clause can limit you to working with only one client in the industry at a time, or worse, to not be able to work with competitors for up to a year after your contract has ended.
As a generalist, this will not be a problem, as you can spend that period working with a client from a completely different sector. But as a specialised writer, you need to consider these clauses carefully, to ensure the work justifies the sacrifice.
To pick a niche, or keep it general
When it comes down to making a decision, there’s no right or wrong — only what’s right for you. If, like Karen, you came into copywriting with previous experience and passion for an industry, you may want to stick with it. Others who are starting out may wish to try several fields, to see what fits them the most, or if they enjoy the variety. You should take your financial state into account, and the opportunities available to you. And whatever you chose, just know that you can always change your mind later!
If this sounds like you, head over to our Virtual Office and send us your best work via an UnderPinned Portfolio. We want to hear from you!
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