One of the most exciting parts of freelancing, when I first got started, was branching out from writing for the national business magazine where I worked for eight years to contributing to titles like Good Housekeeping and Marie Claire. I loved being able to try different forms of story telling and to write about subjects, like parenting, that didn’t fit into what I did at my old job.
In the five years since then, however, I’ve realized it makes sense to focus mostly on small-business and career journalism. That’s where I’m most valuable to my clients and in the greatest demand. Because I’ve been immersed in these areas for years, I can spot trends early, evaluate new developments with a critical eye, and tap a deep pool of sources for stories. So, while I’ve written on other topics that interest me, like the environment, I devote most of my energy to my core area.
The results of Elance’s Quarterly Global Employment Report suggest that it makes sense for many freelancers to focus on a niche. Since the same quarter last year, there’s been an increase in job postings on the online freelance marketplace for specialized writers such as speech writers (up 474%), script writers (up 371%) and sports writers (up 282%). The demand for these types of projects is growing faster than the number of writing jobs, which rose 176%.
One reason may be that that the site is attracting bigger clients than ever before, according to Elance CEO Fabio Rosati. “They are focusing not on `Who can I hire for the lowest amount of money?’ but on `How can I find the very best person to do the job?'” he says.
It’s not just writers who need to specialize. In her article “What brand is your therapist?” in today’s New York Times Magazine, my former college classmate Lori Gottlieb discusses the struggles many therapists have experienced in responding to recent pressures to “brand” themselves as experts in a particular area–whether it’s parenting in the digital age or responding to the needs of military wives.
As Lori expresses in the article, it’s uncomfortable to think in commercial terms about a practice that’s built around helping others. Many creative professionals feel the same way about their businesses. They wouldn’t be doing what they do if money was their primary motivator. They’re driven by passion for their craft. Thinking about marketing doesn’t seem to fit into that.
However, therapists who don’t package their services in a way that clients want and spread the word about themselves risk going out of business, as Lori notes. The same holds true for indie professionals.
Entrepreneurs have long known the importance of having an “elevator pitch”–a brief, compelling description of what they do, so it’s easy to connect with customers and investors they happen to run into. Freelance professionals need to start thinking this way, too.
Consumers and business-to-business clients are very sophisticated today. They want to know that they’re hiring the right person for the job. Identifying your strong points–and figuring out an engaging way to convey them to clients–is a must if you want to build a sustainable, thriving business. Figuring out how to do it in a way that’s true to who you are is part of the journey as a business owner. Instead of fighting this reality, we need to find ways to have fun with it–so we can keep doing what we love.