By Nkiru Asika
This isn’t an article about whether you should choose a niche.
I believe that specialization is key to stand out from the writer-saturated landscape. Jack of all trades and all that.
If your writing business is still new like mine, (I launched as a B2B lead generation writer in July), then you cannot afford to be a prima donna about your niche. My clients so far haven’t necessarily fallen into the lead generation or even B2B subset. So, in reality, my current niche is “people that pay.” Followed closely by “people that don’t suck.”
But I firmly believe that when you focus on an industry or a particular type of content (like Gordon Graham, who has marketed himself successfully as That White Paper Guy), your reputation as an expert will help you attract more business, and command higher fees. You will also be able to write that content better and faster than any generalists.
Still, for most of us, picking a writing niche is difficult, especially if you have diverse interests or experience. There’s a tendency to second guess yourself to a standstill.
I had the privilege of interviewing three very different writers who have all found their sweet spot, either by accident or design.
Randi Druzin is a cannabis writer and content marketer, author, and senior writer and producer with CBC Television News in Toronto. Jane Langille is a health and medical writer, journalist and content creator. And Heather Greenwood Davis is a family travel specialist, columnist, blogger and contributing editor with National Geographic Traveler.
All three agree that picking a niche is important. As Heather Greenwood Davis says, “Just look at Google. Nobody is asking “can I get some general travel information?” for example. People want and expect very specific content delivered to them.”
My conversations with these writers brought to light 6 useful points that will help anyone searching for a niche to call their own.
You don’t have to be an expert
Shake off imposter syndrome. The depth of your experience is less important than your ability to get up to speed as fast as possible.
“I do not have a science background, but I have a burning curiosity for health and science topics. This for me is brain candy,” says health and medical writer Jane Langille, a business major with a previous life as a consumer marketer and a stay-at-home mom.
Heather Greenwood Davis was a seasoned journalist and former medical malpractice lawyer, but she was no travel aficionado before landing her family travel column.
As for Randi Druzin, she was a sports specialist who knew nothing about cannabis before launching her niche.
“People assume you must be a pot head but no, I am not,” she says. “I have learned through the course of my research, through interviews and I have studied the science of cannabis.”
Do what you love. And make sure it pays.
“Whatever you choose has to be something you are really interested in, otherwise it can get extremely tedious,” says Druzin, who first tried covering local politics, but municipal meetings and zoning by-laws bored her to tears.
“Authenticity is such a big deal,” says Greenwood Davis. “When people run into trouble is when they say, “oh I think fashion blogging looks like the way to go, let me be a fashion blogger.”
But in addition to following your passion and keeping it real, make sure there is money in your niche. Video Sales Letter expert? Sounds like a winner. Book Review specialist? Not so much.
The right niche for you is where personal interest and profitability collide. As Langille says, “If what you are passionate about doesn’t have a market, then you will just be writing for yourself, because you won’t find clients who are willing to pay you.”
Langille leveraged a relationship with an editor she met on Twitter into a gig with GE Healthcare, for whom she wrote 70 articles over 15 months, building a body of work that cemented her reputation as a health and medical expert.
Druzin effectively turned one article into a whole new business. Her 2016 piece for US News & World Report about American investment in the Canadian medical marijuana industry generated huge buzz.
Druzin decided to strike while the iron was hot. “I realized there was space here for me; rather than choosing an industry that is already mature and trying to make a name for myself.”
She has since written on cannabis in multiple media outlets, written and edited for Leafly, the leading cannabis resource site (and its new Canadian version) and has launched a content marketing company – Page One Content Marketing (website under construction) – to handle the work she gets from cannabis companies.
All this from one well-timed article and a good sense of where the market was heading.
Leverage your unfair advantages
Your unfair advantages are things that are truly unique about you, such as a rare combination of skills (for example you write both copy and code), rare background (e.g. you’re a crime writer with 20 years experience in the police force), or your particular demographic or situation.
When Greenwood Davis pitched a travel story to her editor at the Toronto Star about a special spa for pregnant women, he went for it largely because she herself was pregnant at the time and he thought it would make an interesting first-person piece.
Her family travel specialism kicked into high gear when she and her husband decided to spend his one-year work sabbatical travelling around the world with their two young kids.
Twenty-nine countries and 6 continents later, with Greenwood Davis tweeting updates of their trip and sharing content on her new blog along the way, she arrived back in Canada as an unrivalled family travel expert. This was cemented further when her family collectively won the inaugural National Geographic Traveler of the Year Award in 2012.
Bring something new to the table
Think of your niche as your unique business positioning.
“In this space, as in most spaces, voice is everything,” says Greenwood Davis. “If you are not adding anything new to the conversation, you won’t stand out.”
She stood out by expanding the notion of family travel, a genre which had been “very traditional, white mother, father, two children. But I didn’t want to be limited in my writing to what someone else’s definition of family looked like.”
So, she wrote articles about trips with just her and her mother, about travelling with just one child, travelling with her brother as adults for the first time, and travelling with friends, because friends are family too.
Jane Langille also took the road less travelled. Most writers who target the health niche end up in competition against the hordes focusing on consumer health.
Langille has carved out a successful career writing for hospitals and medical centres like Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, and associations like ALS Canada, who hire her to ghostwrite articles for doctors about clinical studies, to produce marketing content on research and to be “the translator between the scientist and the reader.”
Go big or go home
You have to go the extra mile to own your space. Dig deep, read voraciously, network furiously. Invest in your branding with a quality website and tap every opportunity to become known in your sector.
“Just learn everything you can. Go to industry meetings, conferences, trade shows – not necessarily to drum up business, but for the exposure,” says Druzin.
Greenwood Davis shares her knowledge on TV, online and puts in time on her blog as both another revenue stream and a powerful way to enhance her branding.
When you settle on a specialty, you’ve got to work it with the creativity, tenacity and drive that Langille, Greenwood Davis and Druzin have shown.
But if you choose a niche and then decide it’s not for you, simply choose another. You won’t get fined or sent to jail.
Just follow Jane Langille’s advice: “Have fun along the way and explore. Keep trying, keep learning, keep honing your craft.”
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