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Friday, March 14, 2014

Free Advice Friday: Building a Specialty Writing Niche

What's on the iPod: Late in the Evening by Paul Simon

It's been a slooooow week. Where normally I'm inundated with work, I'm sitting idle. I'd be concerned if I didn't know I had some projects about to appear. Still, I market as though nothing is in the works. You never know when a project budget will disappear.

I am three days away from my own personal holiday (and the anniversary of this blog). I take St. Patrick's Day off every year. If you need me on Monday, I'll be at Molly Maguire's Pub. Pull up a chair and I'll buy you a beverage while we talk business.

In the meantime, we have to finish this week. In this latest installment of Free Advice Friday, let's tackle specializing. Do you have to specialize? No. Does specializing at the beginning or even in the midst of your career give you an advantage when looking for clients? If you go about it right, it sure can.

Free Advice Friday: Building a Specialty Writing Niche

Deciding what you'd like to specialize in can be the toughest part. How you figure that out is going to vary depending on what you like, what catches your interest, or what seems to be a natural path for you. Here are a few suggestions on where to look:

  • What you're currently reading/discussing
  • What kind of writing you like doing already (press releases, websites, SEO, etc.)
  • What industries are in your area - maybe where family/friends work
  • Something you know a lot about already (music, animal care, healthcare, welding, etc.)
  • Something that intrigues you for whatever reason
Let's assume you've landed on your specialty idea. How do you develop it?

Create your presence. Let's assume you've chosen to specialize as a fitness and health writer focusing your efforts on the manufacturers of the products/equipment (yes, specialties can get very specific). You'll want to create language on your brochure/marketing materials that speak to that specialty. Make sure your website mentions prominently your specialty (or devote one page of your site to this specialty if you're wanting to still generalize). Locate the trade shows and publications that face this audience. Start a blog in your specialty area as an example to the trade show folks that you're writing in the space (could get you free admission). 

Learn it. Every industry has jargon and nuances; fitness and health is no exception. Subscribe to blogs, newsfeeds, and magazines. Contact PR people (do a quick search and you'll see names on those press releases) and asked to be sent their releases and company newsletters. Pay attention to what people are talking about. Look also for the questions that aren't being answered. There's your first article pitch.

Meet up. If you can, try to get in front of some of the industry people. Trade shows are a great opportunity for meeting, but don't rule out meeting local people for lunch or at networking events. 

Let them know you exist. If face-to-face isn't immediately possible for you, send out letters of introduction (see here for how to put a LOI together). Let them know you're writing in the space, guide them to samples of your writing and to your blog, and ask to be considered for writing projects. Then keep in touch regularly.

Commit to building one new relationship every few weeks. Until you get well known, those personal connections are going to be golden. Look at who's being quoted and get in touch. Just schedule a conversation or send a friendly email. Don't ask them to open their address books and spew out their secrets, but do introduce yourself, explain your interest, and ask questions about this person's job. Look at is as building a friendship, not a sale. End by thanking them. Stay in touch periodically.

Use creativity to penetrate the market. By the time you read your fifth or sixth article in the space, you're going to think you have to dull-down your content to match the tone of the experts. Not true. Experts tend to talk authoritatively and in business-speak, so their writing isn't always the best example of what editors, or companies, want. Instead, trust your own voice. Be creative with your ideas and your approach. 

Writers, do you have a specialty or niche area?
How did you develop your business?
What methods worked best for you?

8 comments:

Cathy Miller said...

As you know, Lori, my specialty is healthcare and employee benefits. After a 30+ years in a corporate career in that niche, it was a no-brainer. ;-)

I am launching a separate niche - more for me than anything - that stems from over a decade of participating in the 3-Day Walk for the Cure. We'll see where the journey takes me. ;-)

Eileen said...

When you specialize, it makes it easier to market because you have a focus. You know what companies and people to target. When I went from a generalist to a specialist, I almost doubled my income the first year.

I specialize in writing copy for dietary supplement companies, which is nuanced and has regulatory issues that marketers must be aware of. A lot of copywriters are drawn to this market but can't grasp the nuances involved to stay legal in their copy. Add to that a different perspective from each client on what's legal and what's not, and you really have to have wisdom.

Lately, I've refined my pitch even further, pointing out to prospective clients that one thing I'm particularly skilled at is taking scientific language and putting it into plain English that is also compliant with FTC/FDA regulations.

Lori Widmer said...

Cathy, I love both your niches. :)

Eileen, you have a fantastic specialty. I think it points to the fact that a specialty can require research and study. How long did it take you to come up to speed with the legal nuances?

MsJWoodard said...

Lori,

Thanks for the article. I want to write and market for the financial services industry, the problem that I find is that many in this area do not understand what keeping an updated website/blog can do for their business, they are stuck in the old ways of doing business and many are afraid of compliance issues. I have worked some clients in this with marketing and it is difficult for them to not make the writing boring and technical. Many are completely afraid of social media and the larger firms either have staff or make their brokers use canned articles. Many also do not understand that social media is great for engagement and want to know when they are going to get clients, they understand nurturing in the way that they have done things in the past but not nurturing clients through social media.
Any suggestions on to break past these barriers?

Jenn

Lori Widmer said...

Jenn, I've run into similar situations in my specialty, too. You can lead the horse to water, but...

Have you tried making a case study showing the benefits of fresh content? If you don't have client successes in that area yet, you might want to interview some of the companies that are doing it right. Then you could perhaps present an article/blog post to your potential clients showing the results.

Some clients just won't see the value, but the more courageous will. For some reason, some clients are still a bit gun shy when it comes to the Web.

Paula said...

Another link to my old LOI guest post? I'm honored!

My main niche sort of crept up on me. I started out writing business articles - sales, marketing, promotions, incentives, advertising. A lot of the advertising and promotion pieces dovetailed with entertainment (what networks or shows were commanding the big ad dollars, or how a company boosted sales with a promotional tie-in to a feature film), and before long the bulk of my articles were for entertainment trades.

Back then a writer friend cautioned me against focusing on one area. But I never really did that. I love the variety of assignments you get as a generalist so I've always tried to mix it up a bit, while keeping my main focus on the entertainment sector.

The funny thing is a few years later the same friend told me I was wrong NOT to specialize in just one area. I realized that particular writer wanted to feel like a freelancing expert, so whatever I did - or didn't do - would be wrong.

I actually like having a couple different areas of expertise. That helps keep the job interesting.

Eileen said...

Lori, there are some copywriter-generated study courses to get up to speed in the dietary supplement niche on the regulatory issues. The FDA and FTC also have guidance documents available. So I've certainly used those, but mostly it's about experience and learning from my clients. It's a gradual thing. And I'm still learning. Right now I have a Canadian client who is doing two versions of copy, one for Canada, one for the U.S. So far there's typically only a difference in a phrase here or there and even I have to stare at it for awhile until I can figure out what's appropriate for each version.

Jenn, I am wondering if you're finding the right fish in your pond for financial services. It seems to me the best prospect is going to be the marketing and communications directors at corporate levels, not branch levels. Small independent financial service companies will not have the budget to hire you, nor will they understand the value you bring to the table. If you have to spend time educating a client as to why they need a copywriter, IMO, they're not a viable client.

Lori Widmer said...

Eileen, thank you for the additional info. It's helpful to those starting out for sure, but I appreciate it, as well. It's not just motivating to know that there are courses and such to help -- it's essential to learn all you can, in my opinion.

Great suggestions for Jenn, too.

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