How a Niche Drives My Copywriting Business
By Steve Maurer | April 19, 2017
At the recent AWAI Web Copy Intensive, niches were often the topic of discussion. Knowing my story, Jen Adams, the managing editor for PWA, asked me to share my thoughts on finding a niche and how it’s affected my business. So, this article was born, written in the format of a mini case study. In true I-CSR case study form, I’m going to:
- Introduce the company (me, of course)
- Explain the Challenge
- Describe the Solution
- Present the Results
By the end of this article, you should have some idea of a niche’s value … and ideas on finding your own.
Steve Maurer Freelance Writing — Born of Necessity
I started my “business” back in 2010. As mentioned, it was out of necessity. For almost 25 years, I’d worked a job that paid eight hours of overtime every week.
Then, in 2010, it was like my personal stock market crash. To save money, the company cut our overtime hours. With the stroke of a pen, I lost over $8,000 per year.
To put that in perspective, that cut equaled over a year’s worth of house payments.
Long story short, I took up writing to make extra cash. I wrote for two years in the low-paying job boards, often called content mills. And, for two years, my annual writing income topped out at $2,000.
That was a problem.
The Challenge — How to Make Up $8,000+ in Lost Income
Writing in the mills wasn’t the answer. Those articles were only worth five to ten dollars each. Occasionally, I’d find a set hitting $20, but that was rare. In those first two years, it took almost 400 jobs to make $2,000.
I wrote for every topic or business imaginable. My first article explained how to use a carpet seam iron. I wrote about software, packaging, high-speed internet, and family emergency planning. I penned “fabulous” articles about steel retail buildings and T5 lighting.
Those were some of the better ones. But in most cases, I had little or no experience of the subject matter. That meant that even though the articles paid very little, I had to do tons of research.
At those low prices, I needed four of me to even think about making ends meet. We were running out of money … and I was running out of steam.
Something had to change.
The Solution — Become a Specialist
Now, it’s common knowledge that in most cases, a specialist will command higher fees.
The medical profession is often used as an example. A brain surgeon always earns more per patient than a general practitioner.
It’s simple. It takes more education and skill to heal someone’s brain than it does to cure their cold or flu. Sure, the flu could turn into a more serious ailment. But often, that patient goes to someone who specializes in the advanced illness.
The same applies to professional writing. The more you know about a topic or industry, the more clients value your skills. So, for me, finding a good niche or target market was necessary.
There are three ways to choose a niche:
- Find something you’re passionate about
- Find something you know a lot about
- Find something you’re willing to learn about
The last one is the toughest. Learning about something new takes time, and a difficult topic often has a huge learning curve.
The first choice, what you’re passionate about, is easier to write. But, the pay might not be the greatest. Hobbies are normally what we’re most passionate about … but, often the clients can’t afford high fees.
The middle road is what I chose.
I know a lot about industrial tools, products, and related topics. I’ve lived in that industry for 30 years now. I have good contacts for many of the products and services in that industry — sales reps.
While I avoided it at first, I finally chose industrial manufacturing and safety as my niche. Why did I avoid it? Well, I’d been around that industry for over half my life. I had certifications in several areas.
But honestly, I was beginning to burn out.
I finally wised up, though. Writing for companies in those industries would be much simpler. In fact, my learning curve turned into a blip. All I really had to do was keep up with current changes and events. And, these clients had deep pockets.
When I finally gave in, everything changed. I could kick myself for not figuring it out sooner!
So, here’s what the results were for me … and my business.
The Results — Better Clients and Better Paychecks
If memory serves, that first article — the one that paid me five dollars — was around 300 words long. But, here’s what specializing did.
This past February, a trade magazine published an editorial I’d written for a client. The word count was around 1,500. That means it was five times longer.
But … the client paid me $700 to write it.
In other words, I made 140 times the money. I could write three of them and make more than I’d made for 400 articles in the mills.
But, here’s what that really meant for me. Suddenly, my options changed.
When I started writing for the content mills, it was to replace lost income from overtime cutbacks. Now, I have the very real option to replace my full-time job, where I’m still working a 40-hour week.
But, I’m not chained to it like I had been. In fact — and this is amazing to me — I’ve actually turned down overtime … because it would cost me money!
Last year, I made almost $27,000 by writing and working social media. And I sent just 37 invoices. Client payments totaled over $56,000 in the last four years. I’ve made in four years what amounts to almost seven years of overtime. I finally had a real business.
And all that because I chose a niche. Not one that I’m passionate about.
But, a profitable one … one that I know.
This article is part the series: Success Stories
- Part 1: Leverage Your Strengths for Faster Copywriting Success …
- Part 2: The Road to Copywriting Success Is Paved with Breadcrumbs
- Part 3 (this page): How a Niche Drives My Copywriting Business
- Part 4: Freelance to Full-Time — There’s Many Roads to the Writer’s Life