To Niche Or Not To Niche

It’s a safe bet to say every freelancer has heard of and pondered the issue of “a niche”.  Colleagues swear by it.  Business coaches recommend it as fundamental to success and revenue growth.

So, what is a niche?  Perhaps a better starting point is what a niche is not.  Here are a few…

  • It is not sameness of daily activity (aka boring or tedium).
  • It does not mean being boxed in a corner (aka feeling trapped).
  • It does not spell inflexibility (no wiggle room).
  • It does not necessarily involve prolonged re-training (if done correctly).
  • It does not necessarily have to be novel (no need to re-invent the wheel).

 

If a niche is none of those things, what then is it?

According to the Encarta dictionary, a niche is a position or activity that particularly suits somebody’s talents and personality or that somebody can make his or her own.

Put in those words, a niche certainly has a strong appeal.  It conveys the desirable feeling of being in the right or suitable place for somebody.  I am yet to meet a freelancer who doesn’t want to be in a suitable place.  For many of us, that’s precisely why we went solo!

In business terms, a niche denotes specialization.  A freelancer with a niche is a specialist.  On the other hand, a freelancer without a niche tends to be a generalist.

I have a niche.

I am a business writer who writes white papers, case studies, and marketing content used by IT companies.  I think of myself as a specialist and act as such in the various ways I market my business.

I’ve read and heard of freelancers who routinely agonize over practically every decision: what to charge, who to market to, who’s “the competition”?  The underlying reason always seems to be the fact that these freelancers (typically generalists) offer such a wide array of services it’s hard for them to develop meaningful hard sticks.

I like the clarity that the choice of a niche brings to the decisions I must make as I build my practice.  You probably know freelancers or solo practitioners like me.

Each specialist has at least one fundamental reason for the decision to specialize.  In what follows, I share three of my reasons for choosing “to niche”.

  1. Positioning:  Prior to putting up my “Open for Business” sign, I decided that I didn’t want to get lost in the crowd of freelance writers.  Along with that decision, I also knew I had to consciously set aside the “team skill pool” marketing approach I’d used in corporate consulting.  As any specialist will tell you, it is vital to create and effectively implement an individualized marketing platform to gain acceptance as a subject-matter expert (SME).  Nothing boosts a solo practitioner’s credibility as being widely recognized as a SME.  Working in a niche facilitates positioning, so you’re not just open for business, people know that you’re open for a specific business.
  2. Productivity:  Economists and strategic management gurus have written extensively on the efficiencies associated with specialization.  Mastery in one business segment translates into timesavings and productivity gains, which in turn fuel profitability.  What freelancer couldn’t use a little more profit?  Specialization allows you to hone your research and writing skills in your field, which in turn helps you to be more productive and profitable.
  3. Practical:  Unlike some freelancers, I’ve never been comfortable with marketing my services.  Sure, the fear of rejection is a factor, but the greater issue initially was not knowing exactly what to say about my services.  However, once I selected my niche and created a simple value proposition, marketing became less formidable — much less of a chore.  Of course, it’s never really “all done”, but the clearer you are about your business, the quicker you get to doing it.  Incidentally, this is true of practically all aspects of running the business, including prospecting, networking, pricing, and planning for growth.  A focus is practical.

 

So, for me the decision “to niche” included those three elements,  among others.

It’s understandable to be afraid of choosing the “wrong” niche.  I can recall my many fears, bouts of disabling doubts, and constantly shifting assumptions.  On hindsight, I can say these are all rational – an integral part of the process that ultimately produces a clear path.  The truth is some of my earlier fears and doubts linger, but they are not nearly as intimidating.

For most people, there is no shortcut to knowing what is a suitable place or a good fit.  It typically takes time and research to define and embrace the rationality of one’s choice of a niche.  I’d say, the due diligence is worth undertaking as the outcome will set the tone for the business.  The more time and honesty you devote to the process, the better the outcome.

To sum up: If you’re still undecided about a niche, or you’re just starting out as a freelancer, I’d suggest that you give some thought to whether “to niche” or “not to niche”.  Consider the potential benefits of specialization for your positioning, productivity and prospecting.  You owe it to yourself to invest your talents and personality into something you can make your own – your niche.

© Copyright Rachel Agheyisi and Report Content Writer’s Blog, 2009-2010.