When I first started freelancing over four years ago, I turned to Google. As one does.
I looked around online for wise people who could teach me a thing or two about how to make a success of it, and the word “niche” was absolutely bloody everywhere.
Every article I read and podcast I listened to told me that if I wanted to thrive as a freelancer, I needed to “niche down”, or “find my niche”.
And that worried me. After all, I was working as both a translator and a copywriter, and was turning my pen to pretty much anything. Concrete. Rabbit hutches. Botox. You name it, I probably wrote a blog post about it.
But everything I saw suggested that if I wanted anyone to take me seriously, I needed to pick a lane, and then decide on a very specific subject area to specialise in within said lane.
But as I was still starting out and, I’ll be honest, I didn’t have the slightest idea what I was doing, I decided to just carry on as I was.
Taking jobs that interested me and, realistically, sometimes just taking any translation or copywriting jobs that paid.
As I built my business up over the years, I was able to start having the luxury of choice. To be brave enough to say no to jobs that didn’t interest me, and figure out what I was best at.
I now mainly market myself as working with brands and companies in the worlds of tourism and sustainability.
But along the way, I also realised that the combination of my translation and copywriting skills also meant I could help translation agencies or freelance translators with their copy.
Multiple niches are a safety net
So these days, I’ve kind of accidentally-on-purpose ended up with a couple of strong niches to focus on, along with a smattering of other unrelated work.
And my god was I glad, and so lucky, not to have all my fingers in one pie when the pandemic hit.
Sure, I’d love to spend all my time translating texts about exotic destinations and writing blog posts about sustainable, slow travel.
But as it was, roughly 40% of my pre-pandemic work was travel-related, and I’m so thankful it wasn’t more.
All that work dried up before we even went into lockdown here in Spain. The travel industry saw what was happening in Italy, and marketing budgets had to be slashed, literally overnight. And, over three months on, with travel still looking so uncertain, it still hasn’t bounced back for me.
I know some other travel writers and translators are in the same boat, although some have already started to see a trickle of work come in.
But as work has been quiet for lots of other translators across the board, I’ve found myself being asked to do more work on website copy, as people invest in their marketing.
Learning the hard way
Just as a lot of very wise freelancers say that you should never rely on one customer for more than 30% of your income stream, for me this has confirmed that customers in any one niche should ever be more than 50%.
Niching is great and showing off your specialised expertise can help you to draw in those dream direct clients, but in the unpredictable world we live in, we need to hedge our bets, and diversify.
A couple of strong specialisations, or even a couple of different skills, won’t only keep your workload varied and interesting. They’ll also mean that you’ll never have ALL your clients cancel on you overnight. Touch wood.
Think of diversification as an insurance policy against another pandemic or similarly momentous global event that’s just as incomprehensible to us now as a world-wide COVID-19 lockdown was just a few short months ago, at the beginning of 2020.
Were you a big believer in niching before now, or have you always been a fan of diversification? I’d love to hear your thoughts.