No Matter How You Say It, You’ve Got to Have a Niche

by Ali on September 13, 2012

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Image from Flickr by insane photoholic

After running a three-part series on guest posting, I’m thrilled to introduce a guest poster! Today’s post is by Steve Maurer,  a very valued member of my Writers’ Huddle site.

This is Steve’s first guest post for Aliventures, though you can check out a couple of his other guest pieces at The Renegade Writer – For New Writers: 3 Power Tips For Becoming a More Better Writer and 6 Proven Tips for Getting Into the “Write” Mood.


 

It seems as though niches have been a hot topic of late, at least on the websites that I’ve been frequenting. In fact, I’ve read several blog posts and articles, and have been to webinars and teleseminars in which the niche has been discussed, dissected and debated.

It really doesn’t matter how you say it – nitch, nish or gneesh (the “g” is silent here, by the way) – you just need to get yourself one to be more successful.

So, What’s a Niche Anyway?

According to the online version of the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary, the etymology of the word derives from the Latin nidus, meaning “nest.” In the third definition entry, a niche is described as, and I quote:

A place, condition of life or employment, or position suitable for the capabilities or merits of a person . . .

So, it sounds like a niche is a special place that is designed around you: who you are, what you are and what you can do.

The etymological explanation also suggested that the reader check out “nest” for more information. The definitions of nest are many and varied; however, one common theme stands out: a collection of like objects, things or ideas that are contained in one place.

Therefore, your niche is the collection of your best abilities, talents and expertise all in one place; it’s your personal writing skill set.

Before we look at the implications this has for the freelance writer, let’s observe a model from nature: birds. I walked out to the back yard this past spring and found a nest hidden safely in the hedge. I peered inside and discovered some pretty, blue eggs. Obviously this was a robin’s nest. She had prepared it specifically for her hatchlings.

Farther down the hedge row I found a cardinal’s nest. Note that the robin’s eggs were in one nest, and the cardinal’s in the other.

You see, birds have “niches” too.

Not only that, but in all of my years of back yard browsing I have never seen a puppy dog in a robin’s nest. While they might be able to make a nest big enough, momma birds are just not equipped to nurture puppies. It’s not their niche.

They grow what they know instinctively!

Does a Freelance Writer Need a Niche?

To be honest, you really should write for a niche market, especially if you’re just starting out. There are some very important reasons for “niching” in the beginning. For example, it’s easier to work with a topic that is familiar.

You should write what you already know!

And I already know what some of you are thinking right now because I used to think that way as well. You see, I was absolutely dead-set against limiting myself to one or two topics. I wanted to write about everything.

You’re thinking that if you write for any and all markets or topics, you’ll have a wider range of clients. After all, there are many more people that need writing done than there are those that need writing done in a specific area.

So your chances of finding good-paying clients are higher, right? In reality, this is an exercise in false logic. “Why is that?” you ask. This hypothetical example explains:

Let’s say that I’m a manufacturer of reticulating fratistats. I need some web copy, informational articles and how-to instructions written to promote my product and to educate and assist my customers.

Writer “A” is an excellent writer, although a generalist, with no particular niche. He crafts pieces with perfect syntax and structure. He has the ability to research any topic and to write skillfully about it. I will need to spend quite a bit of time, however, to educate him in the specifics of my industry and product. And time costs money.

Writer “B” is a specialist in the industry in which reticulating fratistats are used. She knows the ins and outs of the industry and has actually worked on a reticulating fratistat assembly line. I merely give her the specs, throw in some product updates and “B” would be off and running.

Who do you think will get the job?

If I did a search for copywriters in the fratistat field, who do you think came up first?

When an editor looks for a copywriter, she’s really looking for a copywriter who understands her company’s industry. Copywriters that specialize, that have a niche, are more valuable to the editor looking for specific skill sets, so she searches for them in particular. If you have a specialty, a niche, you are more easily found.

Let’s put it this way: If you’re lost in the forest, are you more visible to the search team while under the tree canopy or in a clearing? Hmm, that’s wood for thought!

Having a niche improves your own marketing efforts as well. Instead of shot-gunning LOIs (letters of inquiry) and marketing literature to a mass of folks who might maybe, possibly, could perhaps need some writing done someday perchance, you target specific people in specific industries who specifically need what you specifically offer, and today, to be specific.

Do you get the general idea that a niche helps you be more specific?

So, How Do I Get Me One of Those Niche Things?

Determining your niche is not that difficult, nor does it involve an inordinate amount of time. It can, however, lead to weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth! It did in my case, anyway.

But not always.

You see, I turned to copywriting to escape from a job and an industry in which I had spent more than a quarter of a century (that’s over 25 years, you know). The last thing I wanted to do was to write about it.

However, in distilling my niche options, guess which one came up as number one. Dad-gummit!

I didn’t really hate what I was doing; I was just really burned out and really wanted out. And now, it turned out to be my best niche to write about. At first, I was heartbroken. Then I realized that the “prison” I was trying to escape was literally handing me the keys!

Yeah, buddy . . . I feel much better now, thank you very much!

Here’s one way of determining your niche. First, get a piece of paper and a pencil. Yeah, I know that’s old-school, but you tend to think more clearly and more in-depth when writing on paper than you do when typing on a computer. A pen works even better; it’s something to do with the permanence of ink.

  • Begin by listing the topics in which you have good or above-average knowledge or interest. Try to list at least three or four or five. Even more would be great.
  • Under each topic, start listing the things you know about the topic in general.
  • List any practical experience that you have next.
  • The two topics with the most information under them are your top candidates.
  • Finally, research these two niches to determine how much demand there is for them. The highest-demand/highest-paying topic is numero uno! (Remember, if it doesn’t pay well, even if in high demand, a particular niche may be a better foundation for a hobby blog than a business.)

Once you’ve determined your niche, don’t throw out your work. If for some reason it doesn’t work out, you already have a starting point for finding another niche. Additionally, markets change and you may need a backup plan.

By the way, your niche doesn’t have to be something you’re escaping from, as is was in my example. It can be something in which you have a lot of interest, something you are passionate about or something you dearly love and believe in.

Choosing a niche can increase your success as a freelance writer, no doubt about it. Moreover, there are other types of niches which we did not discuss, such as genre, writing type categories and publishing locations (print or Web). But settling on a topic or industry niche will give you a good start toward success. Once you’ve become established and successful, you can branch out to other areas.

And the next time you see a bird, safe in her nest, you can reflect, “Yeah, I have one too . . . my niche!”

I’d like to invite you to leave a comment in the section below. We all would like to hear about your own niche-pertise: your challenges, your successes and your questions.

 

Steve Maurer is a freelance writer in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He’s been writing for the Web since 2001, including articles, ad copy and blog posts for clients around the globe and in some small towns. You can contact him at http://www.maurer-copywriting.com

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Melissa Breau September 14, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Hi Steve,
Great post. However I think there is one point you left out — it’s entirely possible to have more than one niche, the trick is just to market to each one individually. That way you can gain all the benefits of having a niche (the “expert” status top among them) while still not limiting yourself too narrowly. For example my background is writing for a pet retail magazine, so I’m targeting companies that are both pet companies (manufacturers, distributors, retailers, vets, pet sitters, dog trainers, groomers, etc) AND retail customers (of all industries) because that is what I know (although I could definitely do a better job of conveying that on my site and in my marketing materials).

I think that a lot of people hear “niche” and think it means they can only do one thing for the rest of their life—and especially if they are like you and are trying to escape a topic or industry, that seems like a terrible fate. But when they realize they can actually have multiple niches (after all, even birds build a new nest each year) and/or change niches, they suddenly become a lot more open to the idea.

Overall though, great post and great job breaking out the benefits of having a niche and what a niche actually is!!

Best,
- Melissa
Melissa Breau’s last blog post ..Stack the Odds In Your Favor: How To Have Perfect Timing When Pitching, for The Renegade Writer

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Steve Maurer September 15, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Good points, Melissa.

When starting out, it might help to have one niche to focus. But, you’re right in saying that folks could have more than one area of expertise. And as with your pet background, there can be branches or different areas that, while falling under the main category, are related in some way. I do have this, as well as a secondary niches for which I write. While industrial maintenance is my main niche, which includes areas such as machine repair, electricity and industrial safety, I do have a secondary niche for personal computing, which includes software and hardware.

Even though a person may have one main niche, as you become proficient your clients may recommend your work to people in their sphere of influence that may be outside your niche. This gives you a chance to “spread your wings” a bit, while still having the safety net of your main area of writing.

Thanks for commenting! Good points, all.
Steve
Steve Maurer’s last blog post ..Is Your Home Page a GPS or a Laundry List?

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LycoRogue September 15, 2012 at 7:31 pm

I was just talking to Ali about this very topic. So thank you to both of you. To you, Steve, for writing this post, and for Ali for – yet again – posting something very topical for my life. ^_^
LycoRogue’s last blog post ..The Super Crossover Hybrid Story

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Steve Maurer September 16, 2012 at 2:26 am

Thank you, LycoRogue!

I’m happy you enjoyed the topic. I hope it helps you out in some way.
Steve Maurer
Maurer Copywriting
Steve Maurer’s last blog post ..Is Your Home Page a GPS or a Laundry List?

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Margaret September 16, 2012 at 1:04 pm

I’ve got a question! So what are the best ways to “determine how much demand there is” for your niches? I think this has been a sticking point for me. I’m looking at certain types of travel and home cooking niches that seem to be in high demand but also pretty saturated. Thanks for the post!
Margaret’s last blog post ..Taormina: Rescued by a Resort Town

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Steve Maurer September 17, 2012 at 6:45 pm

Hi, Margaret!

Sorry for not replying sooner, but I wanted to check out your website so that my response would be better suited for you. BTW, the site looks great and you have a wonderful writing style.

You are looking at two niches, travel and home cooking. These are what it called “vertical” niches. You could also call them top-level niches. What you could do is to “drill down” to various sub-niches to check into. Let’s take the home cooking niche (actually a sub-niche of cooking).

I noticed from your site that you are from the east coast of the USA. Start by breaking down the home cooking niche into regional topics. For example, home cooking in the north east area of the country, or southern style home cooking. I was born and raised in the north but have lived in the south for the last 34 years. Same food, way different methods of preparing it. Home cooking and nutrition might be another sub-niche. I confess, I’m not a gourmet chef (my daughter is, not me). I’m happy if I just don’t burn anything!

Addtionally, there are different styles of cooking that are related to ethnicity. That would be another sub-niche of home cooking. The further down you can drill, the fewer voices there are to crowd out your own.

Your other niche, travel, can be broken down or as I like to call it, distilled, into subniches, often call horizontal niches. Distill it into a particular area, type of travel and such.

You can also define you niche, not only by industry or topic, but by type of writing. For example, what do you like to write: how-to articles, product,service or even recipe reviews, ad copy, print works or online, copy editing (say, how many cookbook editors do you know that really know their stuff?).

Drilling down or distilling your niche will help find high-demand, but low-supply sub-niches.

Say, how about combining your two top level niches? You seem to have a knack for that! Is there a market for that type of work, and how can you specialize it? What sub-niche could you drill down to? Maybe Itallian home cooking for the southern kitchen?

FInding the “write” niche takes some time; I am still distilling mine as I go along. For example, while some of the areas of my industry were physically telling, I did love certain aspects, especially training new people. Hmmm . . . instructional books, video scripts, how-to manuals. That narrows the field on my prospect list and, at the same time, places it in front of more profitable prospects. Prospects that know the value of good writing and are willing to pay well for it.

Hope this helps! Here’s to your success,
Steve

PS. The other reason I’m so late is that I’ve been taking a writing course and today I was reading on, of all things, niches and how to find them.
Steve Maurer’s last blog post ..Is Your Home Page a GPS or a Laundry List?

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farouk September 17, 2012 at 11:04 am

that was very informative Ali
i tried to write about general topics before and i failed to market the site, many sites that i started never made it because of the severe competition even though the content was good
agree with you
farouk’s last blog post ..How to stop people from bullying you forever

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L.J Melville September 17, 2012 at 9:59 pm

Hey there Ali,

I have been following your blog for a while now and am getting ready to share my blog with the world.
After having just completed my first post, I would like to ask if you would consider reading it over for me and giving me advice as you see fit before I publish it!
I am rather nervous but VERY excited at the same time!

If you have time and would like to read it, I will gladly forward the post to you.

Stay True To You,
xo
L.J Melville

Reply

Ali September 19, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Hey L.J! Congrat on the first post — and thanks for reaching out on Twitter. (Sorry I didn’t reply here sooner; am a bit behind in blog comments.)

If you want to shoot me your next post, I’d be very happy to take a quick look — can’t promise I’ll have time to offer much in the way of comment, as things are busy for me right now, but I’ll be glad to offer what help I can. :-)

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Priska September 18, 2012 at 12:15 am

Hello Steve,

I found myself in a similar situation as yourself.

I had worked in the same industry for twenty years and the last thing that I wanted was to continue along the same path.

To find my niche I needed to drill down, but not on my external expertise but on my internal passion.
I had reached a turning point in life where I needed to find value and passion in my work.

So I asked, What was it that drew me to the job in the first place? Before I became disillusioned, what fired me up each day? What was it that I was passionate about? What would I like to now explore a little further? What did I never had the opportunity to do? What frustrated me about my job right now?

The answer that came up: ‘I loved being of service to people’, ‘I loved helping clients find what they wanted (in my former job as a Investment Property Manager it was the perfect apartment for holiday makers, for owners taking good care of their Investment Properties).

After twenty years I’d outgrown the repetition of my job and office politics, I’d lost the passion.

Baby boomers were the crowd I strongly identified with. They had been the ‘Investment Property Owners’ whom I still felt proud to serve, even after twenty years. Though I had served them in the capacity of Managing their Investments, I had grown and changed as they had grown and changed, my job also exposed me to the trials and tribulations of life.

Thus, after much soul searching, my niche was born.
Priska’s last blog post ..Are you ready to give up the fight and give peace a chance?

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Steve Maurer September 18, 2012 at 2:03 am

HI, Priska!

Good to see you here and thanks so much for sharing. You really hit the nail on the head with your comment; that’s exactly what I’m talking about. I had to do the same in my niche that you did with yours. It’s not so much that I hated what I was doing; I just was getting burned out.

Once I sat back and took stock of the situation, I was able to discover what I really liked and even enjoyed about the industry. Getting that focus, I was able to find an area that I could get excited about.

Thanks again, fellow “Huddler”!
Steve
Steve Maurer’s last blog post ..Is Your Home Page a GPS or a Laundry List?

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Archan Mehta January 28, 2013 at 6:13 am

Thank you, Steve, for contributing this guest post. And thanks also to Ali for posting it on her fab blog.

It is an informative piece and I enjoyed reading it. Finding your niche takes time, but it is worth the effort.
Once you find your niche, your work starts to flow and you can overcome inertia. We are given only one life, so it is best to find that one thing you are good at and that one thing that you would like to pursue.

Cheers.

Reply

Steve Maurer January 28, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Hi, Archan.
Thank you for your comments. I totally agree with you. It takes time, but it’s worth it!

Have a great day!
Steve
Steve Maurer’s last blog post ..An Important Part of Your Marketing Strategy

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