If you’re a writer, you have a lot of competition out there, especially if you sell your services on the web. There are thousands upon thousands of writers clamoring for clients, and buyers have a vast choice of which person to choose.
That’s why specialization is important. You can’t just be a writer these days. You have to figure out what type of writing you do best and promote that specialty heavily.
Most buyers aren’t looking for a great writer. They assume that if you market yourself as a writer, that you write well already. Buyers look for writers who perfectly to their needs: the specialist.
Start With the Basics
You’ll need to decide which type of writing you like to do best before determining your specialty. What type of writing do you like to do best? Is it articles for magazines or writing ebooks? Do you itch to improve someone’s website copy, or do you love writing on current events? There are all sorts of areas to choose from, so pick your niche.
What’s Your Expertise?
So you’ve decided that you’re not just a writer, you’re an article writer, or a journalist, or a website content writer. Good job. You’re on your way to specialization – but that isn’t enough to make you stand out just yet.
Narrow it down further. If you’re a magazine writer, which topics are you best at? Do you love travel and tourism or parenting? If you’re an article writer, what type of articles do you write? Are you great with real estate topics or best with gardening subjects? Figure out the expertise you have that makes you the pro in the area of writing you’ve chosen.
Be the Go-To Person
You have your area, you have a niche, now you need to become the go-to specialist for a very specific type of work.
Let’s say you’ve decided that you’re a travel mag article writer. Perfect. But travel is a vague term. What kind of travel and tourism do you specialize in? Is it outdoor adventures? Are you the expert on all things Japanese?
The more you establish exactly what your specialty is and market that to prospective buyers, the better your career will solidify. You’ll become the pro in the know, the writer every thinks of first when they want exactly what you do.
For great info from pro in the know on how to build the best writing business you can have, check out James’ book, the Unlimited Freelancer. You won’t regret it.
I have a different point of view.
Specialization is important, but so is versatility. I spent the first seven years of my career as a sportswriter and was being pigeonholed as someone who could do nothing else, so I started taking real estate and accounting classes to prove I could do more than walk and chew gum at the same time. (To be honest, I’m still working on those “skills”).
I was moved to education because the paper thought I would fail there, and figured they could help me fail by assigning me to the spelling bee, which the paper sponsored and last two writers had basically ignored. I had a couple of articles a week on the bee during all levels of it, with different angles. It was never written about so much before or since.
After three years in education, paper moved me to transportation more so they could move other people around than due to something I did or didn’t do.
Six months later, they recognized that I was educating myself in various aspects of business, including part-time work at a tax prep company, so they moved me to business.
After the paper, I moved on to cover financial services for a magazine, and a year later that job moved to DC. I did ok in freelancing, but didn’t do well until I developed an expertise in writing about technology. More recently, I’ve added some background in PR writing.
Specialities can serve well, but I stress diverisity when appropriate in a pitch (recently landed me a gig with an Asian fuels pub).
Every time I diversify, I expand the horizons of my business. But I am still basically a journalist, so the nuances of advertising are not a skill set of mine, nor do I plan to pursue it.
So I believe expertise/specialty is good, but too much focus in an area can hurt (I’ve seen a lot of financial services writers struggle since the downturn in the economy).
Great post James! This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and your post has given me more angles to consider.
I’ll have to agree with Phil on this. While being a specialist is great for that field, it’s also important to be able to cover a multitude of areas. Knowing everything of gardening is great as a gardening writer, but it means squat if no one is looking for that kind of writer. Saying that you’re excellent in gardening and knowledgeable in some other areas looks good and will keep you employed when no one is looking for a gardening writer.
Thanks once again for the wonderful information and advice. I will take a longer look at what my area of expertise is and promote that to the fullest! And yes I will be versatile as well because I don’t want to become ‘typecast’ like an actor would in the movie world!