Finding your niche as a freelancer can mean you grow a more sustainable and profitable business in the longer term. Of course, if you are just starting out as a freelance worker, then you will usually be most focussed on getting any sort of income stream at all. Typically, freelancers have already worked as employees and, therefore, have skills and contacts they can put to use running their own one-man-band business. However, this won’t always be enough to see you through the first year of trading as a freelancer in the gig economy – unless you are lucky, that is.
Therefore, finding a niche in your chosen sector that you become known for will help you to obtain what all businesses – large and small – want. Namely, this is your unique selling proposition or USP. If you were selling a product, then you’d highlight not only what it does and how it can be bought but what makes it stand out from similar products in the market. You would exaggerate the positive aspects of your product and diminish any inferior qualities it might have to competitor products. In short, what you are doing when selling with USPs is making a case for one product over another based on its individual attributes.
Apply this mindset to yourself as a freelancer. Of course, every brand has a personality that the company behind it wants people to remember and think favourably of. In this sense, your freelance niche is the equivalent of your brand personality. The key thing to take on board here is that when you work as a freelancer, your brand personality and your individual personality traits are going to be closely entwined with one another. They are not exactly the same thing, though. The ‘personality USPs’ you’ll want to push are really those which lend themselves to winning new commissions, gigs and work. In other words, they should feed into your chosen niche.
Okay, now we have a good idea of what a niche is when it comes to freelance work and how one can plug into the direction you are taking your business in, let’s think about which niches might suit you best. Of course, every person who works as a freelancer is an individual with different skills, industry knowledge and personality traits. Therefore, there is no straightforward answer to the question – what is my niche? That being said, you should be asking yourself questions that will lead you to the correct answer in your particular circumstances. We’ll deal with these questions in turn before taking a look at how you can make your freelance business stand out against other freelancers who work in the same or associated niches.
What Sort of Freelance Work Do You Offer?
To begin with, there is no point in offering a niche in a service that you don’t provide clients. Let’s say you want to work as a freelance graphic designer who can produce website layouts, logos and marketing material. It wouldn’t be a good idea, under such circumstances, to say that your niche is for copywriting, too, unless you can carry out both sorts of work to a high standard and had case studies you could show potential clients.
In other words, your niche has to fit with your skill set and, ideally, be a sub-set of them. In the example of graphic design, you could specialise in a cartoon-like visual style, for instance, or operate in a niche that relates to certain industries like sports or entertainment. Stick to a niche you already know about but which you can continue exploring. Niches are really specialisations and differentiate your freelance brand from generalists who might be able to turn their hands to most things but who aren’t necessarily true experts in their chosen field.
Which Freelance Jobs Best Suit Your Skills?
Assuming you have already taken on some freelance work here and there and want to expand your business, the best approach when choosing a niche is to focus on the things you are already best at. Let’s take another example, that of a freelance gardener. Perhaps you are already well-versed in arboreal care or certain types of layout design, such as formal gardens. If so, you should highlight these skills on your website or leaflets as much as possible so that potential clients associate you with these niches the most. Of course, doing so doesn’t mean you would never be able to take on general garden maintenance work. That said, the idea is to make your client base understand that you are a specialist in certain areas, a person they can turn to when they want specialist knowledge, advice or skills.
Which Niches Most Appeal to You as a Freelancer?
If you have a wide skill set that covers many types of services, then you might find it harder than other freelancers to find your niche. In other words, you could be spoilt for choice and want to do on everything you’re good at. However, this would really mean you aren’t focussing at all. Under such circumstances, it is a good idea to stop thinking about your niche in terms of what your customers might want but what is most appealing to you.
If you can operate in multiple areas of freelance work, such as a wedding photographer who can also work as a photojournalist, for example, then who could say which would be the best niche to promote? The same might apply to freelance writers who can also turn their hands to sub-editing work. When you’re in this sort of position, it is advisable to simply pick the niche that you like doing most. If you don’t, then you could end up winning work you don’t really want. In short, consider how long your career as a freelancer is likely to be and opt for a niche that you think will sustain you for many years to come.
Which Niches Most Appeal to Your Current Client Base?
From a commercial perspective, developing a niche will help your clients to understand what your business is about with more clarity. For example, if your current crop of clients is coming for you for certain types of work, then making your niche based on those sorts of tasks may work out well. Why? Because plenty of business isn’t won through third-party marketing like advertising but through direct marketing including word-of-mouth recommendations. Many freelancers will find that if they do a good job, their current customers will recommend them to others.
If your freelance enterprise appears to be unfocussed, then such recommendations might be qualified. For example, your customer might tell another would-be client that you did a good job with A but that they don’t know about your skills with B or C. However, if they know you operate in a niche, then they are more likely to say something like you are their go-to freelancer for all A-type work. As a result, you are likely not only to win more business from your existing clients but gain more customers through recommendations and testimonials.
Which Niches Most Appeal to Your Potential Client Base?
When you are considering which niche to operate in, it is a good idea to think not only about what is most appealing to your current clients but the customers you want to win, too. Let’s say, for example, that you provide car tuning services on a freelance basis. Perhaps you work on mid-range cars at the moment in the main but want to move into more lucrative work with prestige cars down the line. If so, focussing on the niche you want to move into would make sense. You should, in this example, therefore, be marketing yourself as a sports car tuning specialist who can also help with other sorts of vehicles, not a general car tuner who can turn their hand to more expensive models. Even though you might be able to work on all sorts of vehicles, your niche ought to state which part of the market you most want to operate in.
Think, too, about how your chosen niche might affect your cost base. Would operating in the luxury end of a given market, for instance, mean you’d need more outlay in terms of tooling or simply presenting yourself in the right way? Another good tip is to do some basic market research and ask people in your chosen sector which niches they think are not being fulfilled at the moment. Perhaps you’ll be able to identify a lucrative area that you could step into and corner the market in?
Which Niches Pay the Most?
As mentioned, some niches – such as luxury or deluxe services – may pay more. Freelance mobile nail technicians can probably charge more for their services in some fashionable parts of a city compared to more rural or suburban areas, for instance. That said, not all niches work like this. Check out what your niche competitors are charging for their services in the areas you think will generate the most income. You might need to train or spend time acquiring skills to operate in a niche. If these dent your income stream or even cost you money to obtain, then the niche might not be as much of a gold seam as it first appears. A little research will go a long way when determining whether a niche is likely to be profitable in the longer term.
Is it Possible to Gain Market Share in My Chosen Niche?
Some niches are very specialist which is why they’re good spaces to freelance in. If you are a unique operator in your chosen field of expertise, then you could be the only freelancer in it and, therefore, able to name your price for work. However, some niches are not so narrow and have multiple freelancers operating in them already. Remember that some niches are not just occupied by other freelancers but by employees, too. If you offer para-legal advice as a freelancer, for example, then what about law firms that also offer such specialisms in certain areas of law? Ideally, you’ll put a twist on any niche you choose to operate in to make it unique to you such that you can get a foothold and continue to gain a bigger share of the market.
Which Freelance Niches Are on the Up?
Think about where the market is today and where it might be going. For example, you might want to freelance as a digital art creator. If so, consider the way technology is going and how such processes could be automated by machine learning now and in the future. What about government or industry-led regulations? These might come into force soon if they’re being consulted on at the moment meaning that your chosen niche either becomes too costly to operate in or could even become banned in its entirety. In other words, you should be looking for potential areas of market growth, the sort of services that people not only want to procure but are likely to continue wanting for years to come, hopefully in ever greater numbers.
Who Are Your Dream Clients?
Another good question to ask yourself when considering freelance niches is who you would most like to work for. A freelance speech writer, for example, may have a niche in after-dinner speeches but what if their dream client was a politician they admire or an actor they’d like to write for? Under such circumstances, it would be a good idea to make your niche fall into the ‘dream category’. You might not get the work you want from your dream client with this approach but it will make it more likely you could do. Even if it doesn’t, specialising in something you’re naturally drawn towards and that you find inspiring is likely to mean you continue to be engaged in your freelance work, helping to sustain your career and lift the quality of your work to ever greater standards.
Are There Potential Drawbacks With Your Chosen Niche?
We’ve already looked at the potential for regulatory change and increased costs working in certain niches but there are other things to consider, too. Perhaps your work specialisation might actually put some clients off. For example, if you were to carry out PR work as a freelancer for certain high-profile ‘toxic brands’, then this might mean that other would-be clients could want to avoid giving you work. There again, some niches are so niche that the potential client base might be very small meaning you are never in regular work. Alternatively, your chosen niche might mean having to travel a lot to meet international clients. If you want to be at home and enjoy a good work-life balance, then this could be a drawback depending on your point of view.
Standing Out From the Crowd With Freelance Niches
Finally, it will be worth examining how to market your niche successfully. After all, there is little point in working out which niche you want to operate in as a freelancer if no one knows about it. If you are a freelance computer programmer, for example, then you’ll want your potential clients to know all of the computer languages you can work with but you’ll also want to highlight the ones that are most lucrative as a freelancer. Even if you are better at one language than another, your niche strategy might be to try and win work in the harder one because your earning potential is consequently higher.
To do this, build strong relationships with the customers you work for. Deliver on time, clarify anything from their brief that you are unsure of to avoid potential failures and get to know what other sort of services they may need. When bidding for work, it is best to be flexible. After you have established yourself as a reliable freelancer, more work should come your way either from a client who has recognised your niche skills or through recommendations.
Of course, freelancing is competitive and price may be a factor in all the work you win or apply for. That said, the more you can highlight your niche and what makes you stand out from your competitors, the more likely it is that your pricing won’t be compared directly with competitors since this wouldn’t necessarily constitute a like-for-like appraisal. Make sure your niche is associated with your name, repeated in your emails and other correspondence and all over your website. If you have more than one niche, then why not develop more than one brand so that you can appeal to clients who want specialists? This way, you can market yourself in multiple niches without coming across as a general freelancer who hasn’t got the correct level of expertise.
In the end, it is all about demonstrating the commercial value you can offer your clients. You don’t necessarily need to be the best in their eyes but you do need to show them that your work will be less costly or time-consuming for them to complete in-house. You’ll also want to demonstrate that the high standard of your freelance work isn’t a one-off but something you can repeat because you’re a specialist operating successfully in your chosen market niche.