I have been taking the time to ponder a lot recently about niches, strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. When I initially started this journey of moving from corporate America call centers to freelance writing, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I’ve learned a lot, and by that I’ve learned how much I still don’t know. I know that I can write, but I’m trying to narrow my focus so that I’m not spending a lot of time researching my pieces. If you’re in the same predicament I’ll share some of the questions I’ve been asking myself in an effort to try and create or discover a niche.
1. What do I know?
My answers won’t be the same as someone else’s. This is good though, because there may be a way that I can provide a unique service to others. It’s a little too easy as a freelancer to look at the diversity and feel less competent than Mr. or Mrs. Smith who does web design, press releases, Japanese translations and paints masterpieces with their toes on Saturdays. I guess what I’m trying to say is:
Don’t let yourself be defined by the other freelancers in cyberspace.
The other freelancers are not your business. They have their niche, and it is different. It is not you, so move on. You’ll never get anywhere if you keep trying out someone else’s path. It has to be relevant to you, your clients, your passions, and your knowledge or skills.
Don’t ever answer question # 1 with one word, and most definitely do not answer it with the word “nothing”, no matter how tempting after reading the profiles of other freelancers. You may need to get a little creative here. Sometimes what you know is not what you love. I have approximately seventeen years of customer service experience. It’s what I know, and yes seventeen years can probably qualify me as an expert in the field. Now, I never find myself hopping out of bed saying, “Oooh baby, it’s time to get my customer service on! Wahoo!”
Strange, right? You’d think that I’d wake up chomping at the bit to get down to the nitty-gritty of customer service. Here’s how it really breaks down though.
My passion (writing) + knowledge (customer service) = viable freelancing opportunity
2. What problem/issue do I want to solve or address?
This is more difficult to determine because there are nearly an infinite amount of possibilities. Each business has their own customer service culture, each person approaches customer service differently. I have to find the value in my customer service experience. This leads to other questions:
- Who do I want to help?
- What makes my experience better or unique?
- Why should others listen to me?
- Is what I am offering worthy of money? (Do I save someone money with my information, is it easier to understand, or completely unique in perspective?)
If you’re struggling with this step, try looking over your resume. You might be missing skills that are staring you right in the face. Also think of when people you have interacted with have praised your skills. Did they commend you because you were able to make things easy to understand? Listen to those people who give you praise. If you start hearing the same thing more than once, chances are you have a unique perspective that many people would appreciate.
3. How do I find paying clients?
This is the really important part for us freelancers. We don’t want to be the starving writers of the world, so we have to figure out how to make an actual living off these skills. Again, there is no one answer that works for everyone. The answer depends upon your answers to questions 1 & 2. If you’re a photographer you might want to set up a DeviantArt account and a Pinterest account then get the word out via Twitter. You might decide to get your own website and then tote some of your works to potential clients such as doctor offices or local art dealers.
There are many ways to find clients. You may want to check the local papers for anything that is similar to your skill set and approach the companies with an idea or offer of assistance. It is up to you if you want to develop a referral credit/discount system. The great part is that you are in control. Sure, it can be scary but if you take the time to develop a plan before you jump in feet-first you’ll feel more confident and be more likely to land those jobs.
Here’s another formula for you J
Confidence + preplanning = success
Yeah, I know you’ve heard that a billion times already. It may not happen overnight, but if you keep trying it will happen eventually. Take yourself seriously, and others will as well.
Hopefully this is helpful to all the freelancers out there, though you can use these same questions for a great many scenarios to help you narrow your focus. I like to simplify things into the most basic components, but if you have questions that you use to help direct your path please feel free to share in the comments!