One of the things I’ve learned in my 19+ years as a freelancer and recruiter in the editorial industry is that freelancers should develop a niche.
“BUT,” you may wonder, “how do you develop a niche with no experience?” It’s actually relatively easy and can be done in three easy steps.
1. Make a list of your experiences, likes, hobbies, etc. Why? Because the first step in developing a niche is to go with your strengths. Even if you have no professional experience in an area, if you like it, chances are you will work to become proficient in it.
For example, in my professional life, I’ve been a real estate agent, a loan officer, a credit counselor, a recruiter and a legal copy editor (among a few other things — but we’ll just stop here). Remember, this is just professionally.
My hobbies are running, real estate investing, reading historical romances, sewing, interior decorating and designing ethnic pottery, among a barrage of other things (I have a very active mind and a hint of ADD!).
Now that you have this list, what do you do with it?
2. Target lucrative markets: Not every interest you have will make a viable niche market. This may be because they are not willing to pay for your services, don’t need your services and/or there aren’t enough of their type to market to.
With your list in hand, choose markets where: a) your services are needed on a continual basis; b) your asking price can be met with relative ease; and c) there are sufficient numbers to market to.
Also, you might want to consider competition; as in, how much/little do you have? While there is always room for one more company to offer a product/service, my thought process is why fish in a crowded pond.
Go after a market that not many others are targeting. Sometimes this market will reveal itself in your list of professional experiences and/or hobbies. Other times, you may have to work harder to find it. Just make sure that however you choose your market, you keep in mind the points mentioned above.
Now that you know who you want to market to, how do you get those all important first few jobs which lead to samples, references, etc.? Simple.
3. Do low-cost/no-cost work: Always try to get paid for any work you do. You can target local charities; do work for friends with businesses; contact start-up companies, etc. Your mission starting out is to get those first 4 or 5 jobs under your belt.
If you’re not having any luck landing paid work, try this. Target a company and do the work without asking them (eg, rewrite their badly worded brochure you received in the mail; rework their ineffective web copy; design their logo; etc.). Then, contact them with their original and your NEW, improved version. Not many businesses will turn down improved work they don’t have to pay for. Just like that, a legitimate credit!
Even if a company refuses, you can still use it in your portfolio. Just change the name of the company to something that obviously reflects that it’s a fictitious company with the caveat that the name has been changed, but the revisions made were to original copy.
Now, you’re on your way!