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When I first started a freelance writing business, I had just returned home from hiking the Appalachian Trail. I planned to freelance about outdoors and hiking-related topics pretty much exclusively. I dreamt of articles running in Backpacker magazine, Outside magazine and—hell—maybe even National Geographic! Tales of my Appalachian journey would inspire readers far and wide.
What I didn’t realize was that there are hundreds of people who had hiked the very same trail. The hikers who stand out have completed multiple long-distance trails. So, I brought my expectations back down to earth and revised my plan.
My goal is still to break into big-time nature magazines, but in the meantime, I planned to focus on smaller outdoors-related publications and magazines about my new home—the Hudson Valley and Catskill regions of New York.
I also realized it would be foolish to leave behind my experience writing about commercial and industrial construction. I’ve been writing about construction-related topics since college. While writing about construction may not be my number one passion, I do truly enjoy and care about what happens in the industry. Besides, I had some contacts in construction and could line up a couple steady gigs.
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Ultimately, I used my experience writing about construction and the outdoors as a foundational niche, which gave me the freedom to pursue other writing goals – like breaking into big-time nature writing. Having a niche has afforded me the opportunities to:
Developing a niche allows you to target potential clients to whom you know you can deliver great work. I’ve already identified the types of publications and companies I can contact to give myself a leg up on the competition. While there may be hundreds of applicants to a job posting, only a few of those applicants—if any, depending on your market—will have the same expertise and be as qualified.
Charge Higher Rates
Like anything else, with experience and greater knowledge comes the ability to charge more for your work. I’m not able to charge the same hourly or per-word rate to a science-related publication as I am an outdoors or construction-related publication—simply because I don’t bring the same range of knowledge to the table. Having a jam-packed portfolio of similar projects on similar topics to show off your skills helps to negotiate more income.
Become an Expert
When you’re well-versed on a niche topic, many doors open. There’s value in continuously exploring a niche topic. You’ll be able to land very high-quality clients seeking out only the level of content you can provide. With enough experience under your belt, others will look to you for information about the topic and you’ll become a resource. Gaining knowledge and experience within a niche can convert you from just “a writer” to a “subject matter expert." The latter offers far more opportunities and earning potential.
There is a downside to having a niche. Because you have a comfortable foundation, it’s easy to become complacent about developing pitches to land the freelance work of your dreams—like writing for Backpacker. The key is to find balance and take time out of each week to continue working toward your dreams, which really is true of any hobby or interest about which you're passionate.
Jessica Porter is a freelance writer and editor based in upstate New York. Shes also an avid hiker and recently completed the 2,185.3-mile Appalachian Trail. For more information, visit www.JessicaLynnePorter.com.