If you’ve been in the freelance community for even a short space of time, the subject of “niching down” will have appeared on your radar, probably multiple times. Some are highly skeptical, where at the other end you’ll find evangelists who don’t believe you can even have a business unless you choose a niche.
I’m firmly in the latter camp, but before you roll your eyes and click the back button on your browser, allow me to offer you my niching advice from a slightly different perspective.
Who am I and what do I know about niching?
I’m a web developer (now working as a freelancer coach) with over 15 years experience in the industry. I’m somewhat sad to report that for the majority of that time, I didn’t really make the space to deeply understand what it was that I did, let alone who I did it for. I just showed up and pushed a few buttons in the right order. But a few years ago, all that changed. Things got more serious.
After coming into contact with a small charity to support their website project, I realized that I loved seeing the impact that my work had on their service users. I found the people at the charity highly personable and genuinely enjoyed working with them. So I intentionally sought out more charities to work with, and found similar stories. A pattern emerged: I really loved helping charities with their digital needs.
So I dropped everything and built an entire website offering around this audience. What followed was my most profitable, exciting and rewarding years as a web designer. I’m now passionate about supporting other freelancers whether copywriters, programmers, photographers or whatever creative discipline you’ve chosen, to identify their niche audience to achieve similar success. Let’s dig in.
Why conventional wisdom on niching is limited
It wasn’t until two years into working with charities as a web designer that I began to examine my journey. Just what was it that brought me here? Why charities? The answer, it seemed, could be found in what I deemed to be important in life.
Conventional thinking, particularly from a profit perspective, suggests that to niche down you must look for opportunities within the market. If a new product is expected to be a hit this Christmas, you should niche into it to make big bucks. But this never really sat well with me. I’m much more interested in, well, being interested. I realized that supporting those on the front line of poverty, abuse and education was what made my heart sing! And this is what I see is missing from the lives of so many freelancers; they spend their days going through the motions, bored by their work. Their true passions lie dormant.
Here are some ways in which you can begin to turn this around.
Uncovering your niche by looking at your values
From here on in I’m going to refer to niching as working for your ideal client community. When spoken of in this terminology, it sounds less business-y and more about something of servitude. You serve a community. And this mindset is essential if you want to build a prosperous business. Your goal is to find a community of people who share similar values to your own so you can help them.
Lean into your story
To begin uncovering your values – the things that are important to you – it helps to examine your own personal story. What events have happened in your life which have shaped who you are today? Here are some prompt questions to get you started:
- When have I felt respected or empowered?
- Which projects have I loved so much I would have done purely for the love of it?
- When have I felt bored or distracted?
- What about the world frustrates or disappoints me?
- What are my proudest achievements?
For each question, spider diagram your answers on paper. Write down anything that comes to mind, so your diagram looks similar to the one below:
You might find dozens and dozens of instances, but equally, there might only be a couple of answers to each question. This is okay. Take as long as you need. The next step is to ask more questions about each answer.
Uncovering a value
Each answer you give tells a little story. It gives a little more away about what makes you you. To understand this further, we must dig deeper into each facet of this story. Continue to spider your thinking across the page so you have an image similar to this:
In the image above, we have expanded on a story (the decision to turn down a project that didn’t feel right). We leaned into the reasoning behind the decision by asking follow up questions, and this has shone light on a possible value – protecting and nurturing others.
When we understand our internal motivators, it means we can do work that satisfies them. This work keeps us engaged and interested, unlike niching down into a market sector that often fails to inspire. Go through this process over a number of days and weeks to find out what’s in your story.
The benefits of serving a community
A community does not need to be small. It doesn’t even need to be altruistic. It simply needs to align with your own values, whatever they are. These are your people. Aside from doing work that stimulates and holds your interest, you will enjoy a greater sense of wellbeing and personal accomplishment as you carry out work that you believe in.
And isn’t this the reason that we go freelance in the first place? To find greater fulfillment in our lives? To push away the 9-5, working-at-somebody-else’s-desk routine? To find freelance work that we truly enjoy?
For me, niching is what makes the freelance life great. It gives you the foundation of a real business, one that you could easily scale if you wanted. By serving a community, your marketing and messaging are simple and focused. Your impact is felt more acutely. And the people whom you help – they will offer wonderful returns in exchange for your service.
It’s time to look again at niching down. To get started finding your niche download Matt’s niching quiz.