Should you concentrate on a niche with your freelance writing? Or try to be a jack of all trades?
One of the questions I am asked quite frequently is whether or not you should try to write about a niche, or whether you should try to broaden your appeal so that you can write more general articles. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, and I really think that, with all career decisions, your route should depend on what you are trying to accomplish.
General Topic Writing
When I first started out, I wrote about all sorts of things. Indeed, I wrote keyword articles for peanuts, on such diverse topics as window treatments, deck staining, jewelry and fitness. Writing about a wide range of topics ensured that I almost always had some sort of work.
If you can write on a wide range of topics, offering your freelance services as a jack-of-all-trades writer can be rewarding. However, it can be difficult to find high-paying freelance work as a jack-of-all-trades writer. It can be especially difficult if you have been writing content that isn't published with your name on it. You don't have a reputation in a specific field, and you may not be able to include some of your work in your portfolio.
For those who go the general topic route, it is important to have a home on the web that emphasizes your talent as a versatile writer. You need to build a reputation as a utility writer who can be turned to reliably complete assignments. Your professional blog might include writing tips, helpful writing industry information, and other tidbits that show that you focus on the writing. You can also create a personal blog that shows your range as you write on different topics.
As you probably know, I ended up a niche writer. While I started writing about general topics on just about anything someone would pay me for, I got a break when Robyn Tippins, a community manager and the woman behind Sleepyblogger.com, introduced me to the wonderful world of blogging — and I began producing content for a financial blog. (Robyn also brought me on as a co-author for the book Community 101.)
To tell the truth, I assumed that I would write about science and technology. I was writing for the physics web site PhysOrg.com, and writing a technology column for my local newspaper. I also wrote a couple of front of the book pieces for Discover Magazine. However, financial blogging fell into my lap, and soon I became a niche blogger.
I have found that niche writing has been a boon to me. You can find higher paying jobs when you are an “expert” in your field. While I am not a financial professional, I have been writing about finances for years. I've studied, researched and written enough to develop my own thoughts on the subject, and my own financial style. Because people know who I am and what I do, I am able to command higher rates for much of my work.
However, it can be difficult to be a niche writer in some cases. I was fortunate because I had been writing about finance for two years before the 2008 financial crisis. Demand for financial writing exploded after the crisis. If your niche isn't popular, it can be a struggle to find work. Additionally, it can be difficult if your niche is over-populated with writers. And, what happens if your niche is in a bubble, and suddenly it bursts?
Niche writing also begins to pigeon-hole you. While I still write the technology column for the local newspaper, no one is going to hire me to write about technology on a regular basis. Also, even though I have a keen interest in politics and religion, I've let my personal blog slide so much that I can't even point to my writing there. Anything I write about that isn't finance is just a side project that pays next to nothing. I've become a personal finance writer, and heaven help me if everyone decides that they don't want to pay me for writing about money-related things anymore.
There are trade-offs in everything you do. Whether you try to become a general writer, or whether you focus on a specific niche, consider your options. Would you rather have more regular work that may pay less, or would you rather have a more narrow focus, but command a higher rate?
What do you think? Am I right about general topics vs. niche writing?