To niche...or not to niche?

This topic comes up frequently with both new and seasoned writers. My advice: don’t stress about it. Your decision should depend on where you are in your business.

Photo by Pixabay

Photo by Pixabay

When I first started as a freelance medical writer, I worried about a lot of things that didn’t really matter. My website, my logo...and the dreaded niche.

I said to myself, “How am I supposed to choose a niche when I don’t even know what I like to write about? Or the types of writing that I like to do?

It very much felt like a chicken or the egg kind of scenario.

So, what did I do?

In my first year, I wrote about many different topics and I worked on many different types of projects.

I wrote SBIR grants, needs assessments, news articles, and sales training materials. I prepared slide decks and developed CME programs. And I wrote about everything from ADHD to tuberous sclerosis complex.

This gave me the exposure to a breadth of both projects and topics and allowed me to figure out what I liked, what I didn’t like, and more importantly, what I was really good at writing.

Turns out, grant writing and CME was a good fit for me. And, I was pretty good at it. So much so that I had a pool of “sticky” clients that regularly approached me to work on additional projects (apparently a grant funding rate of ~70% will do that).

Do you need a niche if you’re new?

No...not right away at least.

If you’re new at this freelancing thing, then my suggestion is to try a little bit of everything. See what is a good fit for you and what is not. Give yourself that space to figure it out. I’d say give yourself at least 6 months to play around to see what works for you and what is available in the market.

Now with that being said, I know that many have argued that you have to niche down. That it makes you more marketable to have that specialization.

I agree. But (and it’s a big but), I also feel that you can’t just choose a specialization blindly and without any experience. And if you choose something that you don’t really like doing, then you’ll end up either: 1) being really miserable in the process; or 2) switching to another focus anyways.

Doesn’t selecting a niche exclude a lot of potential work?

This is a question that comes up for newbies and for more seasoned freelancers.

I think the answer is both yes and no.

Let me give you an example from my own personal experience.

After trying a bunch of different stuff within medical writing, I have chosen (at least for now) to state that I specialize in CME and grant writing. So even though I’ve “niched down” into that space, I still have the flexibility to write about a wide range of topics. And because I’ve built steady and ongoing relationships with my CME clients, they approach me with new projects in different therapeutic areas - but all falling under the general umbrella of CME.

That is the general strategy: niche down in the type of writing that you do, but be flexible with the topics on which you write.

Now, the flip-side to this is that you have to become comfortable with writing about new topics. I’ve talked to many freelancers who shy away from doing this. They feel they don’t have the “expertise” to take on something new.

I’ve learned to embrace new topics. My general philosophy is that it’s much easier to get up to speed on a new topic than it is to find, nurture, and learn the ins and outs of working with a new client.

A good client will understand and appreciate a writer who takes on that challenge of a new subject. And part of becoming a seasoned writer is being able to write about topics that you know nothing about. Ask around - the most successful writers in this business do it...nearly all of the time.

Many of us become experts on the mechanics of good writing, rather than experts on a particular topic.

This is an important concept to grasp as a freelancer. You do not have to be the world’s leading expert on topic X. But you do have to know how to create a cohesive and logical argument or discussion on that topic. There’s a difference.

For the client, it’s easier to work with someone that they’ve worked with previously. I’ve talked about building and maintaining those relationships before. In probably 9 out of 10 times, a client would rather stick with a writer that they know, like, and trust rather than take on the risk of working with someone new. And in my opinion, maintaining an existing client relationship is soooo much easier than finding a new one.

Remember, your job as the freelancer is to make the client’s job easier, and you can do that by taking on new subjects so that they don’t have to hunt around for someone new. Doing this will ultimately lead to more money in your pocket.

Has niching down provided benefit in my business?

Yes, absolutely. Within my existing client pool, I’m the go-to writer for clients that need grants or needs assessments written. They reach out to me about new projects, and not the other way around.

But again, this was a process. It took time and energy and feedback from clients for me to recognize that was a space where I felt comfortable, I could earn a steady income, and I still had the flexibility to move into other related areas (CME program development as the natural extension).

I’ve also been fortunate enough to take my expertise about this very specific area within the wide realm of medical writing and turn it into a course. My goal is to help others leverage their own businesses in the same way by being really good at one thing, and then using that leverage to attract steady, ongoing work.

Where are you in your business?

If you’re new-ish, then try some different types of writing until you find a good fit.

If you’ve been doing this for a while, then it may be time to choose a focus so that you become the go-to freelancer for your clients.

If you haven't done so already, be sure to grab your copy of the free guide, 5 Simple Writing Tweaks to Create Sticky Clients, by entering your info below. These are simple strategies that I use daily when I’m working on projects.

Jennifer Gregg