How to Decide if You Should Niche or Specialize

Presented live on Tuesday, June 2, 2020

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Should you niche?

Should you specialize?

What’s the difference…

…and which will get you more clients [you love and can retain and get referrals from] faster?

In this Tutorial Tuesday, we’ll have the discussion every freelancer has to have at least, y’know, once a week: to niche or to specialize?


Joanna Wiebe: Today we’re talking about niching versus specializing. It’s a thing. It’s the thing everybody needs to think about as a freelancer. If you’re a freelancer. Think about the last time you had that conversation with yourself about whether you should niche or specialize. Or if you already have, or if you’ve niched right, if you’re talking to the right audience. This is something that I’ve seen in 10x Freelance Copywriter, in our masterminds, I have seen freelancers go through this again and again. Yeah barkdogs2 just chatted over, “Yesterday.” Yeah. This happens a lot.

What to Expect in This Tutorial [00:43]

And kudos to you if you don’t spend too much of your time thinking about it because it’s such a common thing to frustrate new freelancers with. Jake says, “I’ve been thinking about this my whole career.” I’m not going to get into frameworks for deciding if you should be niching or specializing or who exactly to work with.

I’m gonna walk you through the reality as I’ve seen it, of how to actually choose. What you need to think about before you just launch into deciding what you’re going to dedicate your freelance career, which could be the rest of your career. This could be it. And you might be dedicating yourself to one single industry, or one segment of an industry, or segment of a market.

And that might be okay. But I want to have a discussion. I want to kind of kick off the discussion. We’re not going to necessarily answer your questions for you. But I want you to have some ability to chat around this. Right. So Eric says, “Which option produces the most income?”

That’s a good question. We’re really going to talk about things like that. So looking at not necessarily perfect data and not bad data either, but representative data. So let me share my screen. I’m going to walk you through and you’ll see all of my tabs. I don’t have that many tabs open today. I’m pretty impressed with myself. 

But I do have to move things around. There we go. All right, should you niche or should you specialize? Our tutorial Tuesday for freelance copywriters. What should you do? What are we even talking about? We’re talking about niching versus specializing. Aren’t they the same? Are they the same? Can they be combined? 

What is Niching? [02:37]

So niching, essentially is when you serve a specific market or industry. Like you really like working, this is a common one, you really like working with course graders and you only want to serve them. So I love course graders, I will write anything for a course greater.

What is Specializing? [02:55]

Or specializing. This is typically how they break down. Specializing means I’m really good at a certain kind of copywriting. Like I love writing emails, or you love writing sales pages, or you love writing and testing Facebook ads, or Google ads, or whatever that thing is that you might specialize in.

What is a Niched Specialist? [03:12]

Then there’s the niched specialist, which I think someone mentioned this. You do a certain kind of copywriting for a specific market or industry. Like you write emails for ecommerce, you write onboarding emails for SaaS, you optimize evergreen funnels for course graders. So you do have a specialization that you apply to a specific market or industry. You’re a niched specialist. And a lot of people, a lot of freelancers, I see, end up finding themselves in this niched specialist area. 

And it feels good and it lasts for like a year, and then they’ve tapped out. They have worked basically with everybody that could work within a niche, doing the thing that they want to do. Might last two years, but there comes this point when they’re like, “Oh damn, I have gone so narrow with what I’m doing here that there’s really nobody else I can work with anymore.” And because what I do is so specialized, the clients, I have only need my services every so often. 

So it can be very difficult. 

What’s the Idea? [04:19]

Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t niche or specialize, or be a niched specialist. The idea here is, of course, when people say, go ahead and niche. You should niche. You need to niche. Have you chosen your niche yet?

You want to get specific so that people know when to choose you. So if I’m a client or prospective client, I know, Oh, you’re the one who does that. Or you serve this industry, I can refer work to you. If I’m a copywriter, some member of your network, I can refer work to you. And then you can gain expertise faster because in the world of copywriting, we think at Copyhackers, we think of copywriting as a very specific thing that’s tied to getting the yes.

Most clients actually think of copywriting as anything that gets written, which includes blog posts, ebooks, white papers and all of the stuff that we think of as copy. We call that stuff content. It’s typically content because it’s not moving people to the yes, whereas copy moves people to the yes.

So your clients come into an engagement with you and they’re like, “Great. You can write our emails for us. Oh, I love those emails.” And now they want to hire you to do more things. Like you really get our voice, you really get our brand, you really get our product, you really get our market. Can you write our new lead gen guide for us? And the landing page for it? And maybe the whole funnel to move people from the landing page through to the point of saying yes to us?

So you the clients that you’re working with, bringing you in, thinking your job will actually cover a whole bunch of stuff. And you typically think no, it’s this. This is where I am. This is where I want to be. Okay, so it’s a perfectly good idea to get specific. 

The Problem? [06:00]

I believe in the idea of getting specific but the problem,and we have a few problems here is the more specific you get, the smaller your market and your potential for generating revenue gets. And the more time and money you have to invest in marketing. If you have ever said, “Huh, I should probably run some Facebook ads to start bringing in more leads.” Chances are good you are out of place. 

Doesn’t mean it’s absolutely true. But you’re probably at a place where you’ve gone too narrow with your niching or your specialization, because most copywriters absolutely work on referrals.

So if you’re unable to bring in referrals, it might be that you need to upscale a bit more, but it might also be that you’ve gone too narrow. There’s no way to bring referrals into you. The job you’re doing only gets infrequently done, or needed in the clients that you’re targeting. 

Need and Frequency [06:56]

So we’re going to talk a bit more about all of this stuff. But, for example. Now when you’re thinking about niching or specializing, you’re basically, who do I want to serve? And what do I want to do for them? It’s good to think not just about the business to serve, but the frequency of the need they have for the thing you want to do. 

Example #1 [07:15]

So if you were to say, “Okay, I’m going to specialize in writing emails.” I write emails, cool. In the US alone, you’d have about 32 million businesses that you could potentially serve. Now, that’s a really big number. And that can be really intimidating for people like, “Oh no, but I don’t want to serve every single business.”

Understandable. But look at the data before you go anywhere else. Start with the data you’ve got this giant pie of businesses to serve the frequency of need for writing emails is constant.

Almost every single business has emails running hasn’t running as campaigns and as evergreen and constantly needs emails. They might not need an email written or new engagement with you every week.

But it’s likely that every single month, a business is thinking about the emails they’re sending, so your frequency of need is huge. Writing emails, means you’ve got a giant pie to serve and you can expect to get work from them. If you do a good job and get those referrals or get repeat work, you can expect to get that work from them. 

Okay, so that’s what we’re really dealing with. This is the US, I’m in Canada. I know others are not in the US. We’re using this just as a starting point. If you’re somewhere else, use your own market. If you’re serving a market that only speaks Spanish, let’s say, then use that business. Make that the size of your pie. But that’s like the core, that’s where you’re actually starting.

Example #2 [08:38]

Now, if we go deeper. I write for ecommerce. Okay. Just like that, your whole pie of 32 million has gone down to 3.1 million. That’s still a good number of businesses to serve. And these are approximate numbers just based on approximate data out there. In the last three months, the number of ecommerce businesses has gone way up. 

So this data isn’t brand new data, know that it could be larger. It might be 5 million, I don’t know what the number is, but it’s not 32,500,000. That doesn’t mean you’re in trouble here, it just means, yes, you’ll have fewer businesses to serve. 

However, their frequency of need is still huge. If you say I write for ecommerce, I write emails for them. I write ads for them. I write full funnels for them. I write sales pages for them. I write product detail pages and abandoned cart emails and all the things for them. Cool. The frequency of need will always be there. You just have a smaller group of people to go to.

Example #3 [09:36]

Cool. Now what? I write for course creators and again this is one I hear constantly. Businesses to serve, are maybe a million. And that’s not to say that these are all profitable businesses, either, right. So some of these businesses will only have a tiny bit of money to spend on you. 

That’s a whole other pie chart that we need to go through, is how much money do they have? And then there’s the question of how highly do they value what you do? But just to start, just to start deciding if you should niche or specialize, and how? Great, we’ve got course graders at about a million of them. 

The frequency of need? They don’t think about copy all the time. They’re generally trying to think in terms of launches. Some are thinking evergreen. Mostly they’re thinking, oh, we need to create more content, or you need to get another course out there etc, etc. So their frequency of need may not be as high. So we can see that everything gets smaller, the more you zoom in on a group to serve.

And if you’re really great at serving that market and get a lot of referrals, you could be fine. It could be absolutely okay to say there’s a million businesses to serve, that’s actually a lot. I only need like five to serve a year. And maybe that’s true for you. Is that true for the long term? We’re going to talk more about that.

Example #4 [10:54]

I write sales emails. Okay, the pie got bigger again because most businesses are sending sales emails. Nonprofits might not be sending sales emails, they are more likely to send requests for donations or those sorts of things.

You’re going to have a large number of businesses and the need is very frequent. Okay, so I went, I specialize, I write sales emails by writing them for lots of different people. Cool, lots of opportunity there. 

Example #5 [11:20]

I write sales emails for ecommerce smaller now right so we’re just going to go through and think about your niche and really think about how many businesses are there and how often do they need the thing that I want to specialize in. 

Example #6 [11:30]

I write abandoned cart emails for ecommerce. Tiny bit of businesses there again, their need is very infrequent. It might be once a year. They might think about abandoned cart emails one time every year. Sometimes they just rewrite them themselves. 

So if you were going to go that niched and specialized, you can expect that your business is not going to grow. I mean, this is effectively how you go broke and have to go back to working in house. So a lot of freelancers take this advice of niching or specializing and go way out of control with it. They go super-duper deep and then wonder why it’s so damn hard to grow their businesses.

Another Problem? [12:11]

If you specialize in one specific thing, it’s very difficult to get frequent or ongoing repeat work, or to sell large packages like funnel overhauls. If you only write emails, which can be fun. Just know that you are likely to have clients say, “Great. Now that you did those emails, can you work on our landing pages and we’re going to do a website redesign, can you help us with that?

And you might be actually capable of helping them with that. But if you only focus on being the email person, you will be surrendering bigger packages of work that you could be doing. You have to get okay with that. Some people are okay with that. 

And as long as you’re consciously choosing, I’m okay with that. Cool. But know that it is a problem, and that problem will impact your business, your revenue, your potential to do more with the good work you’ve already done.

Yet Another Problem? [13:01]

Also freelancers choose their niche or specialization, or both, way too early in their career. As most of you took a course, a quick free course somewhere that said like, hey Freelancer, make sure you nice first because that’s going to help you sell your packages and attract your audience, etc, etc.

You do this early on and you haven’t even had a chance to explore the different things you might want to do. You write your website focused on, oh hey, I’m going to start course creators who are looking to evergreen their courses because you liked working with course creators. those two times you worked with them.

But you haven’t worked with ecommerce and you haven’t worked with SaaS. You haven’t worked with law firms that are doing cool stuff that you don’t even know about yet. You haven’t tried other things on for size. You haven’t sold an inexpensive product. You haven’t sold something and seen like a billion of them fly off the shelves. 

You haven’t worked on Kickstarter opportunities, you haven’t done any of those things. And yet you’re choosing, because someone told you to, you’re choosing early on that. I guess I’m going to just like attach myself to a certain industry or a certain way of copywriting

…And Another Problem [14:08]

And another. This is particular for niching. If you over-niche. If you’re like, I only serve SaaS businesses who do project management tools. Well, one, yeah, it’s a small market. But more importantly, if I run Flow project management software and I hire you to do something and then base camp comes along and hires you. How do I feel as Flow, that you are going to take everything you just learned with me, and apply it to them. 

And by the way, you can’t work with us simultaneously, either. You can’t work with one project management tool and another. And I know that sounds too specific, but this is really where a lot of freelancers go when they’re thinking about this stuff.

What client will like knowing that you’re going to share with your next client what they just paid you to learn with them. And that’s how we don’t want to over-niche and go so deep into even, I want to serve course creators.

Course creators might like that. Oh, you worked with that course greater and they had this huge launch. That’s awesome. You can take what you learned and apply it here.nHow will that course creator feel, knowing that you’re going to give away some of their secrets to somebody else who could be competition for them?

Jo’s Recommendation [15:22]

So, this is what I recommend to everybody in 10x Freelance Copywriter. I do recommend, over niching, that you specialize. If you have to choose one over the other, I always say like specialize in the kind of copywriting then. You can always branch out from there, but it’s difficult if you niche. What I recommend here is if you choose to specialize or niche, in one very broad category. 

This might be contrary to what you’ve heard from other people. I’m telling you, we’ve worked with hundreds of freelancers, successful ones and unsuccessful ones. And repeatedly, the ones that are unsuccessful are choosing to go very deep with a niche.

I’m going to work with heart-centered entrepreneurs who are building digital products. Holy shit. Are you serious? How are you going to find enough people to actually pay you to keep doing this? One very broad category. You need to ask yourself, what do good businesses value and need help with most frequently? 

Side note. Almost every business on the planet is inherently good. Started by a good person, who wanted to provide good value to a good audience with a good product. You don’t have to say, if you think you do, you don’t have to say heart-centered or any of those sorts of things. 

I find it a little frustrating that so many freelancers approach working with businesses as if businesses are inherently evil and trying to separate fools from their money. If you go into it, thinking, I don’t want to work with those kinds of businesses.

That’s such a tiny, insignificant fraction of the businesses you can work with. Don’t limit yourself by saying that. Don’t limit, don’t talk negatively about business in general. By taking the Donald Trumps of the world and their idiotic organizations and acting like that’s how all businesses are. 

That is not how any of the businesses are, that’s like the extreme exception. So you want to ask yourself what do businesses value and need help with most frequently. 

Broad Categories [17:19]

Those bigger categories are email, websites, ads. You’re going to choose one of these, not one from green and one from blue, just one. I’m going to work with SaaS. I’m going to work with ecommerce. I’m going to work with service-based businesses. I’m going to write emails and write websites. I’m going to write ads. One.

Do not overlap the two. Don’t choose two. Unless you have exceptional reason to believe, and I mean data, I mean you have already gone and combined two categories, and it’s working like gangbusters, and has been working for years. 

You didn’t get lucky and have one person buy your package one time and go like, Oh, I just made $7500. And now you have to wait for months and months for another person to come along and need something as specific as you’re offering. 

I’m not talking about that one data point, I’m not talking about what your gut tells you at this point. I’m saying, look at the actual data. Look at the size of the market, you could be working with. Look at how much marketing budget you actually have. Most freelancers have no budget to spend whatsoever. 

They have a little time to spend on building their authority. And you do need to build it for a certain audience very typically, to get started. But don’t commit yourself entirely to that. Start with one broad category.

Niching Gone Wrong [18:38]

One broad category because Niching can make your life absolute hell. These are real things I’ve seen. A freelancer that wants to work with Italian vegan shoe brands. There are literally like three of those. I looked it up. I was shopping for shoes yesterday. 

Heart-centered digital mom. Mompreneurs. Yogi’s transitioning to online training. Truck driving schools. Retired Teachers writing novels. I don’t think I need to say we have over-niched when we’ve gone that far. 

Back to The Idea [19:04]

So yes, the idea is definitely to get specific but not too specific. You do want to get specific so people know when to choose you, refer work to you, etc. And so that you can gain your expertise faster, but don’t overdo it. Don’t get too freakin specific. 

All right. We’re about to take some questions, if there are any. I see a couple. A couple notes here, at the end of the month, if you’re like, I really need to figure this stuff out. 10x Freelance Copywriter is about to become way more affordable for all current students in it and all future students. 

And we’re bringing something back at the end of the month that I was sure we would never bring back again. But we’ve gone and reinvented it and there will be more about that soon. If you know what I’m talking about. If you’re guessing, she is talking about that?

I am talking about that. It’s not Airstory. Airstory already is back, we’re already working on cool new things for Airstory. It’s something else for freelancers. Thanks so much, y’all. I will see you for our next Tutorial Tuesdays next week. And again, if you have those questions post them over in Word Workers on Facebook. Alright, thanks, y’all. Have a good one. Stay safe.

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