You must decide whether to write about general topics vs. niche-focused writing as a freelance writer.
I am asked quite frequently whether it makes more sense as a freelancer to write about a niche or whether you should try to broaden your appeal so that you can write more general articles. While I prefer niche writing, I did start out on general topics. Let's take a look at how each of these works.
General Topics vs. Niche
You're more of a utilitarian writer when you write about general topics. You can tackle almost any subject. There's always content, and you can cover most of it — at least in a general, top-level way.
Choosing a niche requires more specialized and in-depth knowledge. You choose a specific topic or two or three topics to focus on.
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 I always had some 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, finding high-paying freelance work as a jack-of-all-trades writer can be difficult. 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's important to have a home on the web that emphasizes your talent as a versatile writer. You must build a reputation as a utility writer who can be turned to reliably complete assignments. Your professional blog might include tips, helpful writing industry information, and other tidbits showing that you focus on 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 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.)
I assumed I would write about science and technology, to tell the truth. My first major in college was physics. I wrote for a physics website and my local paper's technology column. 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 as 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. Plus, I have my own financial style. Eventually, I even went back to school for an MBA. Because people know who I am and what I do, I can command higher rates for much of my work.
However, it can be difficult to be a niche writer sometimes. I was fortunate because I had written about finance for two years before the 2008 financial crisis. Demand for financial writing exploded after the crisis. If your niche isn't popular, finding work can be difficult. 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?
During the 2020 pandemic, travel writers saw their income evaporate overnight. Credit card writers also suffered. As credit cards cut their bonuses and travel incentives, demand fell off.
Niche writing also begins to pigeonhole you. Even though I have a keen interest in politics and religion, I don't have anything substantial to offer in that realm. I haven't written about science and technology for years.
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 they don't want to pay me for writing about money-related things anymore.
General Topics vs. Niche Writing Pros and Cons
As you decide how to move forward, it's a good idea to understand the pros and cons of what you're doing. When you start, though, you might have little choice. You might need to take any work to start making money. However, you might be able to transition to becoming a niche writer as you learn more about a subject and identify niches that are more likely to be profitable.
Freelance Writing General Topics Pros and Cons
- Plenty of work to do
- Write about almost anything
- Diversify your income across different clients
- The pay is often lower
- You might not get a byline
- You can spend a lot of time researching
Freelance Writing for a Niche Pros and Cons
- Often get higher pay as your reputation grows
- Become an expert in writing about a specific topic
- Build a breadth of knowledge and access to sources that can reduce the amount of time you spend on each article
- You can become pigeonholed
- You risk losing income if the niche is no longer in demand