A freelance niche refers to a small segment of the total market that buys freelance services. This can be defined as a “horizontal” segment, usually focused on a particular service, like “Copywriting”. And a “vertical” segment, focused on a particular sector of an industry, like online retail. Ignore broad service segments (horizontal), because nobody seeks out services. They want to solve their problems. Instead, I’ll try to convince you to focus on the problems of a specific industry (vertical). The goal is to spend the least amount of time winning work, and more time billing.
Problem based selling
Sell solutions to a painful problem, with proof of results in a particular industry, and you will win work with ease.
Clients don’t shop around for services, like content marketing or conversion optimisation. They seek out the best person to solve a particular problem, like “More sales for my online shoe shop”, or “More fans of my sports team”. They will also have concerns about skills not being transferable between industries. For an easier sell, you should show solid examples and results from working for other businesses in the same industry.
So the way to think about your niche is in 2 parts:
- What problem am I solving?
- Who am I solving it for?
And then get specific enough to make yourself uncomfortable. Really specific. You’re talking to one business, whilst excluding the rest of them. This works because most successful businesses have many competitors. If you’re targeting one particular type of business, you’re actually able to talk to many of them the same way.
A bad example, that I see often, would be: “Re-designs for Small Business”
A better, but still not specific enough example would be “Conversion optimisation for online retailers”.
A good example would be: “Increased sales for online sport retailers.”
In the good example, we’ve picked the biggest problem we can think of for a particular type of customer in a specific industry. And that type of customer is easy to find. Google “buy sports equipment online” and you’ll have many businesses to talk to. Most importantly, you’ve made it easy to show these customers why they should hire you to solve this problem. One case study of your skills applied to this problem in this industry should put you way ahead of any other freelancer.
Now we’ve decided on online sports retailers, how do we know we can build a business around them? We need to test out the size of the market, and how repeatable our sales could be.
Testing your niche
Now you’re convinced that problem based selling is easier than service based selling. But how do you know which businesses have the most pain from this problem?
1. Pick an industry you have experience in, e.g. Team Sports and pair it with a painful problem for this industry, e.g. Community building
2. Find out how to repeatedly contact and pitch your experience to those customers. Trying giving them free advice related to solving this problem.
3. Track your conversion rate from pitch to winning work, aim for 10%. If you get over 10%, you’re onto something.
This will require a lot of research and experimentation, but it’s worth doing to make sure you aren’t missing better opportunities. I recommend re-doing this every 3–6 months even if you are comfortable, because if the market shifts you don’t want to be left behind.
Specialists win customers, generalists keep them.
Once you’ve won a customer based on solving a specific problem for them, there are many ways you can solve that problem. This will help you scale your freelance business efficiently — by up-selling to existing customers, as well as finding new ones. Show you can solve their problems, and there will always be work for you to do.
Remember the goal
The less time you spend finding and selling to potential customers, the more time you will have to bill them. Companies in the same industry talk to each other, share contacts and emulate their competitors. You should be able to build recognition for your work in a single industry, and eventually start expanding into others.