Finding a new niche is the key to turbocharging your income and reinvigorating your enthusiasm when you feel burnt out. Growth can seem elusive for established independent talent, but expanding into new areas opens up new markets, expands service areas and presents interesting challenges.
But the path isn’t always linear. How can a writer make the leap from general IT to cybersecurity? How can a designer move from Final Cut Pro work to After Effects? Following a systematic process to evaluate market need and determine how best to position yourself can make the difference between a successful launch and a failed experiment. This five-step strategy can help you launch into a new niche quickly and effectively.
1. Choose a Niche
Getting paid more, finding more work and building a platform as a freelancer requires a niche. Today’s top financial clients don’t want to hire a generalist; they want an expert in retirement or mutual funds. Branding experts for tech companies often have a deep understanding of Software as a Service (SaaS) companies or the financial tech market.
Choosing a niche helps you build significant expertise. As a result, you can complete projects quickly, speak authoritatively on your subject and stand out as a preferred provider to potential clients. You may have a niche in mind based on an opportunity you see in the market or your interests and experiences. To quickly assess whether there’s real opportunity in a niche, ask yourself:
- Can you find at least 30 publications, companies, markets or clients where you can sell your services? Don’t invest more than an hour, but if you can pin down a healthy list of likely prospects, you may have found your niche.
- Can you come up with at least 20 unique pitches or ideas? For example, if you want to develop logos for tech companies, do these ideas flow freely for you? Your enthusiasm and ability to come up with new ideas is a good indication that this may be the niche for you.
- Are your prospects interested in paying for your service? Assess each potential prospect within the niche. Do they spend money on the type of work you do? If so, this is promising. If they operate on lean margins or generally don’t invest in these channels, look elsewhere.
2. Assess the Competition
Successfully breaking into a new niche also requires understanding the competition. If you’re a copywriter interested in breaking into the agribusiness market, are there agencies, content marketers or established copywriters who specialize in this area or offer it as a service line? You’ll need to gather a sense for market size, differentiation points and more.
Create a list of your top potential competitors and their key offerings, price points and differentiators. Summarize what you know or can easily learn about them. Now, ask yourself: How can you stand out? In the agribusiness example, your market analysis may yield numerous seed companies or organic food producers. If you’re interested in these areas and there’s a shortage of strong competitors, you’re on the right track.
3. Build a Proof-of-Concept Portfolio
Building a portfolio that allows you to showcase your talents is no longer difficult. A blogger interested in acquiring technology clients could write posts and place them in certain locations, like The Huffington Post and Social Media Today. A graphic designer who wants to work in the start-up world could volunteer at a hackathon or take on a few low-cost projects to build their portfolio.
A proof-of-concept portfolio shows three to five strong examples and provides you with samples needed to pitch to strong clients. Then, you can focus on procuring higher-paying jobs with strong brands, helping you to continue expanding. Don’t be afraid to invest up front to solidify strong pieces for your portfolio, but only do what you’re comfortable with to avoid exploitation or overinvestment at this stage.
4. Mine Your Experience
Since clients increasingly want to work with independent talents who are thought leaders or have specific, established experience, you should mine your experience to help you stand out. A technical writer who worked for a major software company or a branding consultant who focuses on the outdoor market and is an avid rock climber and hiker both have a distinct advantage. By being part of the market or having applied experience in that space, you’re more likely to get up to speed and create products speaking to the market. Create portfolio pieces that showcase your experience, highlight credentials on your website and bio and keep your social media activity focused.
5. Market Yourself Effectively
You’ve assessed the niche, analyzed the competition, developed a small but strong portfolio and clarified your differentiation points. Now, it’s up to you to market yourself efficiently. Three ways to quickly connect with prospects in a new niche include:
- Find and approach agencies serving the market. Create a targeted letter of interest (LOI) that highlights your background, samples and interest in the space.
- Target prospective client companies, publications and markets in your space. Create systems that let you watch for opportunities when they arise, and don’t be afraid to reach out directly to start the conversation.
- Attend a conference in your niche to meet several prospects in a targeted period of time.
Finding a new niche can supply numerous benefits for freelancers. Be systematic and smart about how you approach it, so it adds to your business without becoming a time sink. Strategically analyze the information at your fingertips, focus on differentiation and follow a streamlined road map to your next paying client.