One of the things I’ve learned in my 19+ years as a freelancer and recruiter in the publishing industry is that freelancers need to carve out a niche.
“BUT”, you may ask, “how do you develop a niche with no experience?” It is actually relatively easy and can be done in three easy steps.
1. Make a list of your experiences, tastes, hobbies, etc. Why? Because the first step to developing a niche is going with your strengths. Even if you don’t have professional experience in an area, if you like it, you’ll likely work to master it.
For example, in my professional life, I’ve been a real estate agent, loan officer, credit counselor, recruiter, and legal editor (among a few other things, but we’ll stop here). Remember, this is professional only.
My hobbies include running, investing in real estate, reading historical novels, sewing, decorating interiors, and designing ethnic pottery, among a host of other things (I have a very active mind and a bit of ADD!).
Now that you have this list, what do you do with it?
2. Target lucrative markets – Not every interest you have will be a viable market niche. This may be because they are not willing to pay for your services, do not need them, and/or there are not enough of their kind to market.
With your list in hand, choose markets where: a) your services are needed on an ongoing basis; b) its selling price can be met relatively easily; and c) there are sufficient numbers to market.
Also, you may want to consider the 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 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 try harder to find it. Just make sure that no matter how you choose your market, you keep the points mentioned above in mind.
Now that you know who you want to market to, how do you get those first big jobs that lead to samples, referrals, etc? Simple.
3. Do low-cost or no-cost work: Always try to get paid for any work you do. You can point to local charities; do jobs for friends with companies; get in touch with start-ups, etc. Your initial mission is to get those first 4 or 5 jobs under your belt.
If you’re having no luck getting a paying job, try this. Go to a company and do the job without asking them (eg, rewrite the poorly worded brochure you received in the mail; rework your ineffective web copy; design your logo, etc.). Then contact them with your original and your NEW improved version. Not many companies will turn down upgraded jobs that they don’t have to pay for. Thus, a legitimate credit!
Even if a company declines, you can still use it in your portfolio. Simply change the company name to something that obviously reflects that it is a fictitious company except that the name has been changed, but the revisions made were to the original copy.
Now, you are on your way!