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Freelancing: A different take on niches

Claiming our niche can feel like jail . . . please release me, let me go. It brings to mind Engelbert Humperdinck or Elvis Presley yearning to set themselves free.

Or it feels like marriage at its worst . . . forsaking all others till death do we part, however many decades that may take.

But is it really?

First, let’s define “niche”?

Businessdictionary.com defines it as follows:

A small but profitable segment of a market suitable for focused attention by a marketer. Market niches do not exist by themselves, but are created by identifying needs or wants that are not being addressed by competitors, and by offering products that satisfy them.

Specifically, a “niche” addresses needs and / or wants, delivered via service or product. “Target market” addresses a demographic or psychographic group that is served.

Every marketing expert out there recommends freelancers select a niche, but sometimes that advice seems needlessly restrictive. It sounds as though a freelancer should turn away from any assignments not in their carefully selected niche, no matter how appealing or lucrative the work. It sounds like we should say “no” when we want to say “yes” to an opportunity that falls in our lap.

Recently I heard Florence Hardy, Director of the Small Business Development Center of The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, present what I think is much more useful guidance on what to do with a niche. She says that a niche is where you direct your resources.

You can do other projects outside your niche, but you invest your time and financial resources back into your niche.

This means that although your most recent income has been gleaned from a certain niche, any investment undertaken from that income goes back into the predetermined niche, not into the field from which this income came.

I think this is a really helpful way of looking at niching. Instead of limiting our services, it directs our marketing along a certain path. The more we focus, the more successful our efforts. The more we allow ourselves to explore what is new and interesting, the less likely we are to burn out and the more likely we are to find new ideas to apply to our original niche.

Of course, we may discover that our new paths are more attractive niches than what we have done in the past. Then we can change our niche or expand into an additional niche.

That’s the joy of self-employment. We can forge our own path.

Sometimes I see freelancers and coaches, especially personal coaches, rebrand themselves entirely, but to the individual who has not been privy to the rebranding conversation, the new business is not clearly distinguished from the original choice.

Clearly the freelancer or coach perceives some tremendous change in their life calling but neglects to articulate it in a way that illuminates the new direction to a casual internet audience.

So sad. Such a waste of energy, time and financial resources.

In my own work as a marketing writer and researcher, I define my industries as insurance, asset management / financial, and business. Business is, obviously, pretty broad but it enables me to send a website link for projects that interest me and makes it easy to go after something I want even if not clearly in my narrow target market.

My niche is copywriting and certain types of marketing research reports. I’ve also written for school textbooks and general newspaper feature articles.

The Hardy advice really fits me: Take on the projects I want while adopting a niche and target market that shapes my marketing work.

This blog and the related book have a broad target market—freelancers and consultants—and a narrow niche—marketing. It has been suggested that I expand into all aspects related to freelancing, such as legal organization, how to set up an office, and such. Not interested unless I decide to become an expert in all these topics.

It’s working for me. Still, I confess that I’ve put lots of thought into this over the course of years for something that in the end, seems so straightforward and common sense.

Originally posted 9-19-16

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