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As a freelancer, you hear a lot of people saying “niche or die.” In non-business speak, this translates to: “focus on doing one thing well and build your business from there.”
And yet, on the other hand, we in the gig economy are constantly called upon to diversify our skillset. What gives? How can we do only one thing AND all the things?
As you might expect, I’m of two minds:
People do need to understand what you do
Sounds pretty self-explanatory, right? To gain traction quickly as a freelancer, you need to have something very concrete and pitchable. You need to be able to explain it to a prospective client in one (ideally, short) sentence. My short sentence is that I’m a freelance writer. The expansion of that is that I write long-form B2B content for the web.
That might sound like jargon to you, or honestly, to a lot of people. But my potential clients understand what it means, and those are the people that matter. Many business books will try to get you to explain what you do in a way that your average joe off the street grasps it quickly. My viewpoint is that while it would be nice for everyone to understand what I do, the people who are going to pay me to do it are the ones that matter. Once, when my grandma met a then-boyfriend, she made air-typing motions and said, “So do you do computer stuff like Michelle?” But you know what? My grandma isn’t in my target market…so her understanding of what I do is just fine.
But, if you do two or three things, the coming up with that one concrete sentence can get a little tricky. Which is where the next part comes in…
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You don't have to box yourself in too much
You’ll find that with a lot of freelance skill sets, there are natural areas of overlap, so you don’t need to focus too hard on only having one very specific service. For example, when I first started pitching myself as a freelancer while at my agency job, my portfolio site was geared for not just freelance writing, but social media marketing and content marketing strategy as well. These are all complementary services, and potential clients weren’t confused by the combination of them.
Similarly, I can’t even count the number of freelance web developers/designers that I know. And then of course, there’s writer/editors. When your services are a natural fit like that, it’s not likely to be a turn-off to a potential client.
Solution: Try to fit your freelancing areas into two to three “buckets” that overlap or are complementary.
Then, you can measure your results within each “bucket” to see what you can get rid of later. In my case, I found that my freelance writing services gained traction much more quickly than my other marketing services, so my client base and pitching efforts are almost 100% geared towards those services now. The other services are still mentioned in passing on my portfolio site (and indeed, my background in those areas is part of why many of my writing clients want to work with me), but they’re not at the forefront.
All told, the decision to diversify or not diversify is up to you. If you go that route, following the advice above will help you do it in a strategic way that brings more value to your clients (and in turn, helps you get more clients). Or you can stay ultra-niched, if that makes you happy. The important thing is that it works for you, in your business.
Michelle is the Freelancer Mentor at at Domino, which helps you freelance jobs through your friends. When she's not writing for clients, she's listening to podcasts, watching something involving sci-fi or superheroes, or practicing Brazilian jiu-jitsu.