The entertainment and advertising industry has opened up a tremendous amount of opportunities for freelance…
Why Everything You Thought You Knew About Niching Down is Wrong
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It seems like every other piece of marketing advice for freelancers these days is telling you to niche down. But you enjoy the variety in your work; it is, after all, the spice of life!
Don’t worry, I’m not here to tell you that you’ll fail if you don’t niche down. In fact, if the thought of niching turns you off, I would generally advocate against it. You’ve got to go with what works best for you.
But what if I framed it like this: you can build a sustainable and fulfilling freelance business by serving a community of people you love. Work doesn’t even feel like work. You care so deeply about your impact that your flow state comes easily, and before you know it you’re hitting six figures without even trying.
Sounds unrealistic? Well, this is exactly what happened for me, and I’m going to share my experience with you here.
Unlearning what you know about niching
The first and most important part of this work is to put the service back into service. Many freelancers and small businesses consider themselves to be part of the service industry, but they spend much of their time serving only themselves. This is not a judgement, it is simply the reality of working within a system that values profit above all else. Profit is not a dirty word, but it comes after authentic service.
So I’m going to replace the word niche with community. This moves it away from market segments and brings people back into the conversation. How can you help a group of people with a specific need or goal?
Narrowing your focus
When you stop working for anyone and focus on a subsection of your customers, you automatically niche down. Your community reveals itself. Here’s another great way to look at niching: specialising. You become a trusted provider of a specific service. And who doesn’t want to be trusted?
Take a moment to consider your core skills. The ones you’re best at and enjoy the most. As freelancers we tend to do a lot of stuff, much of it boring necessities that we don’t enjoy. For the purpose of this exercise, strip it all away. Pretend it doesn’t exist. What’s left? Which parts of your process do you get the most satisfaction from? You can then apply the things you like most to your community.
Finding your tribe
Once you have taken the time to define the aspects of your work that you truly enjoy, your next task is to work out which parts of your work deliver the most value to your customers. Now here’s the thing: to really make niching work for you, you’ll need to value the impact of this work as much as your customers do.
This means that if you’re a brand designer, you’ll genuinely want your customers to see some positive results from your brand work. Same for web designers, copywriters, photographers or whatever it is that you do.
This goes deeper than professional integrity and doing a good job that returns an ROI. This is about working with clients on projects that share your values.
Values lead everything
Doing work that aligns with your values is so alien in today’s marketplace that it breaks my heart. As creatives our skills are commodified by the market and sold for profit. Little attention is given to our internal motivators, the things that excite and inspire us.
My first job as a web designer was working in the e-commerce team for a corporate office supplies company. Yawn-ville. You might argue that “hey, somebody’s gotta do that job”, but if the hiring company had taken the time to find somebody with a passion for stationery rather than me, that person might have stuck around for longer than six months and done a much better job!
The point is: by doing work that aligns with our values – the things we care about – we gain a much deeper appreciation for our work, our community and the shared impact we can have.
This is not about niching into a market to make profit, it’s about understanding our own values then applying our skills to a community to make a difference.
That’s great! How do I figure out my values?
Everyone has values but most of us are not really attuned to them. First of all we must practice self-awareness. What inspires you? What frustrates you? What would you do all day for free? Which people give you energy? These are the questions to ask to begin uncovering your own value system. Write them down on a piece of paper and don’t overthink it.
Let the thoughts flow then, once you feel you’ve gotten it all out, look for patterns. This little exercise will tell you a LOT about yourself, and it will help support your goal to pursue work that fulfils you.
So, about niching…
I wonder if this article has changed your perspective on niching down. When viewed as serving a community who share your ambitions, it feels quite different, doesn’t it?
If you’d like to learn more about how this process changed my work, you can watch my webinar on the subject here. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, and I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have.
Cover image by Pexels
Matt Saunders is a business coach for freelancers. He’s worked in the sector for 20 years and loves lifting up others to help them become the best version of themselves. Find out how he helps freelancers just like you on his coaching website.
This Post Has 3 Comments
Hi Matt, when I first started blogging my niche revolved around Twitter and a few social media networks. I’m so glad I did not niche down or I would have to start over and over again.
I like the variety of my topics but they all relate to marketing, SEO, blogging, and social media in one way or another.
Even when I worked in sales, I loved having more than 1 project at a time. I work better that way and don’t get bored.
Hi Lisa, thanks for your reply. I hear what you’re saying, lots of people enjoy the variety in their work. But I tend to find that even with variety, you can specialise in a subset of those areas. It’s like being a specialist generalist, if that makes sense. Really, the main thing I’d like to see our industry move away from is doing anything for anyone, because that always leads to unmanageable projects and businesses that don’t scale.
I really enjoy your perspective on this topic. So many (almost all) posts that talk about niches begin with “pick one that is profitable”. I get it, we all have to make a living, but most of us have spent enough time doing that in a job we probably weren’t passionate about.
The whole point of most of us being here is to create a new way of living our life. Then one of the first things we hear is “pick one that is profitable”, then pick it apart some more, and then only write about that. It just doesn’t make sense to me.
So, thank you for this 🙂