A quick guide to finding your freelance niche in 2020

Jan 03, 2020

Hit up Google with a “best niches of 2020” search and you’ll be bombarded with 3,140,000 results. Now, you could close your eyes and pick any one at random to kick off your new decade — but that would be a route straight to dead-ends.

Finding the right niche is more about discovering what organizational strategist Cal Newport calls your "rare and valuable skill.’’ Niches are the places you carefully apply such skills — they’re not just somewhere you “drop-in” for free-for-all gains. When properly embraced, niches will steer you towards the right audience and away from aimless generalities. Popular niches for freelancers include blogging on finance or digital marketing, coding in the world of cryptocurrency, or offering alternative health knowledge and services like Qigong.

While this post won’t tell you which niche to choose in 2020, it will help you learn to tailor your skills as a freelancer to a particular industry or group.

Define your "rare and valuable skill"

You might be tempted to scroll through 2020’s “best jobs” lists and smash every ‘apply’ button you see, but before you do, identify where your strengths actually lie.

First, take stock of your CV/resume, including non-freelancing jobs. List:

  • Each gig or position, and the skills that you mastered in that role
  • Your successes in each one — like the number of clients you had, financial gains, reviews, press exposure, SEO volume, etc.
  • Your failures and what you learned from them

After this quick analysis of your past experience, ask yourself:

  • Was I, by my own measures of success, good at this position or skill?
  • Did I enjoy it? Why?

The intersection of these two questions can help you narrow down a list of potential niches to explore. If you’re good at coding, and you enjoy the mindfulness of working with CSS all day, then start off by researching niches in tech.

You could also combine disparate experiences together to create a niche. Say you’re an editorial assistant or copy editor, but want to use the storytelling skills you learned from your Creative Writing MFA. Then, you could seek out opportunities as a developmental editor for hire in the publishing niche.

Got a lead? Now, your next step is to validate it.

After defining your skill, research it

So, you’ve taken stock of your rare and valuable skills and you’ve identified a niche you’d love to work in. Now you have to make sure there are people willing to buy what you’re selling.

A good old-fashioned look at search volume is an easy way to check out the popularity of your chosen skill.

Fire up Google and activate incognito mode to clear away any targeted results based on your history. This will ensure a clean slate of data to look at, instead of personalized results. Once you go incognito, poke around to learn more. Pay close attention to platforms like WeWorkRemotely that advertise positions or projects in your area of interest. For further clarification, a gander into Google Trends will give a visual graph of your niche’s relevance from a variety of parameters.

If you’d like a costlier but more effective option, a trial of SEO software Ahrefs does the trick. For just $7 for one week, you can use their Keyword Explorer tool to enter search terms like “voiceover freelancing.” This will give you a snapshot of, on average, how many people are searching for that keyword per month — another way of measuring need and interest.

Keep in mind that there may already be a slew of folks producing content and offering services in your specified niche, so you could get drowned out by the competition. To combat that, you’ll need to get even more specialized within your area of expertise.

But if there’s no demand, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

Once committed, market it

Now that you’ve decided on a niche, determine the best way to reach your audience. That often means finding the right marketing platforms and making sure that you’re marketing your niche in all applicable parts of your brand, from your freelancer website to the initial clients that you target.

Sign up (if you haven’t already) to freelance service matching sites that sync up with your interest. For example, if you want to work in tech, there's AngelList, while for corporate copywriting there's Contenta, and Reedsy for publishing.

Whatever niche you choose, be specific about the service you’ll offer (i.e. CSS tricks for SaaS businesses) instead of overstuffing your profile with too many offerings.

As you thrive in your niche over time, potential clients or employers should start coming to you organically. This is especially true for those who create content on their topic to generate inbound traffic. Provide valuable information to prospects, and they’ll be more inclined to seek your services. After all, you’ve already proven yourself to be a trustworthy source.

Those who thrive in niches are almost always generous with their time and knowledge: they care about contributing to their chosen communities instead of squeezing their resources dry. In that sense, the more you give, the more you get, but the motivation to help needs to be genuine for this to work.

Greg Josselyn

Greg Josselyn writes for Reedsy, an online marketplace that seamlessly connects freelance book professionals with authors and publishers.