In an ideal world as a freelance writer, you want more than enough prospects to fill your schedule and pay you well. But sometimes competition increases to the point where it gets tough to find new clients. We reach niche saturation.
Today let’s take a look at what freelance niche saturation means, and what you can do to get out of a saturated niche an open yourself to even better opportunities.
What is Niche Saturation?
In freelance writing, niche saturation is when there are enough, or more than enough, freelance writers to fulfill the needs of clients in a particular niche or specialty.
In other words, it means you’ll have a lot of competition in your specialty area.
Why a Saturated Freelance Writing Niche Can be a Bad Thing
Niche saturation can be problematic for freelance writers for a few reasons. For example:
- It can be more difficult to gain visibility in a crowded niche.
- It can be more difficult to differentiate yourself from your competition.
- You’ll have more competition for every potential gig.
Even more important, when over-saturation occurs there’s so much competition there isn’t enough work to go around.
When this happens, you don’t only face more competition. Prices can be driven down too. This, in turn, can make it difficult to earn higher-end professional rates with clients in that specialty.
Should You Drill Down to a Narrower Niche?
One option you have if you’re facing niche saturation in your current specialty is to drill down to a narrower focus.
For example, let’s say you specialize in writing about gardening and landscaping. That’s a pretty broad niche.
If you found it too saturated, and you were no longer landing enough “good” gigs (however you define that), you could get more specific.
In this case, you might specialize in perennial gardens in a particular region.
Or you might focus on incorporating vegetable gardens into landscaping.
Or you could narrow your specialty to urban kitchen gardens as a means of battling food insecurity.
When narrowing down a broad niche specialty, your options are almost endless.
But should you focus on a narrower niche?
Yes, and no.
If you’re still in a position where you’re happy with the gigs you land, the fees you’re paid, and the amount of marketing required, there’s no need to change even if you work in a relatively saturated niche. You might already be an established-enough presence there.
However, if you’re struggling and you think niche saturation might be part of the problem, yes. Consider drilling down.
Won’t a Narrower Niche Mean Fewer Potential Clients?
I’ve heard this question more times than I can count over the years. It’s a common concern freelancers face when they’re told it’s typically more profitable to specialize than advertise themselves as generalists.
And the answer is “yes.” Specializing, and narrowing a specialty, will leave you with fewer potential clients.
Here’s the thing though: it doesn’t matter.
You read that right.
It. Doesn’t. Matter.
Think about this logically.
You’re a freelance professional. You’re not selling products that you can replicate on a mass scale. Your success isn’t about quantity. And you’re inherently limited by the number of billable hours you have in any given day.
You don’t need millions of potential clients waiting to hire you. You don’t need thousands. And you don’t even need hundreds. You need only enough to consistently fill your billable hours at your target rates.
Having a handful of high-quality clients at any given time is more than enough to diversify your freelance writing income and fill those billable hours.
You’ll want access to more than that of course as clients will come and go and not all will be regulars. But you don’t need as many prospects as you might think.
More than that, those clients will be better-targeted. And you’ll have less-targeted competition vying for their attention. When you specialize on their exact needs and more generalist writers don’t, you have an important edge.
Think of it this way: When you specialize in a narrower niche, you’re no longer just a writer available for a project. You’re the writer clients in that specialty seek out.
The Best Way to Overcome Freelance Writing Niche Saturation
Overcoming niche saturation isn’t just about narrowing down your specialty though. There’s an even better way to deal with this situation:
Create your own niche.
This can happen naturally as you drill down to tighter specialties. But you can also find fairly broad markets that aren’t being targeted yet.
I’ve done this several times in my career. Let me share some examples with you.
Creating My Own Niche in Music PR
When I left the nonprofit PR world and moved into self-employment and music PR, I focused on a niche where I saw huge potential and where competitors still didn’t – regional indie artists who were looking to build financially-viable careers without trying to land a label.
This was back when iTunes was still brand new and only starting to work with indie labels.
True indies handling everything themselves weren’t even selling on the platform yet. But they were innovative, using tools like MySpace and YouTube to build large followings, often giving away their music for free and monetizing their careers through third party licensing deals.
They were so far ahead of their time.
At that point, no one targeted those artists. While competitors focused on helping indies land label contracts, I worked with more business-minded artists who had a different vision.
While most doing indie music PR were focused on generic publicity – merch design, event releases, and street teams – we went beyond that. We ran large-scale radio campaigns, hosted charity events to build real community involvement and earned media coverage, set up college tours, and did heavy social media promotion. To this day, I see businesses struggle to “do social media” even half as well as those artists over 15 years ago.
Two New Niches in One
It wasn’t just my PR services where I built a new niche for myself. I also decided to use publication as a promotional tool for those services – not something done often at the time. So I set up an e-zine and found my own niche there too.
The site not only featured regional artists – interviews, reviews, tour diaries, etc. – but also music PR and social media advice for other indies looking to do their own thing sans label. It took off so well we eventually expanded to the point of having a large international readership, and we expanded our coverage accordingly.
It was something that, at the time, simply wasn’t being done on a professional level beyond fan-based zines and the bigger print publications. We made a niche of our own, and it was a huge part of my early online publishing success. If not for that site, All Freelance Writing probably wouldn’t exist.
Creating My Own Freelance Writing Niche
That artist-focused site led me to join webmaster communities where I could learn more about the development, management, and marketing of online publications. And that, in turn, opened my eyes to what eventually became my new business focus.
You see, there were a lot of small online business owners and solopreneurs in these communities.
I kept seeing them ask about things like SEO press releases. But there weren’t any qualified pros to help them. At best, they’d find generic content writers who thought effective press releases came from plugging a bunch of bullshit into a template. At worst, they’d have the sleaziest kind of SEO “pros” pushing keyword-stuffed garbage that would ruin their reputations when pitching the media.
This wasn’t just an untapped market. It was a market with a fair amount of money, seeking legitimacy with the help of professionals who just weren’t serving them yet.
So when I decided to focus more on the writing side of my business, and expand my own web publishing ventures, I made a big change. I changed my focus from exclusively indie music PR to taking on consulting and business writing (largely PR writing) for online business owners and creative solopreneurs.
While being a well-focused group in terms of the types of projects they need, it also left things open to work with those indie artists, indie authors, other creative professionals (photographers, artists, etc.), on top of more traditional online businesses emerging in that market.
That’s still my target market today: small online business owners / solopreneurs, and independent creative professionals. I’m just in a position to be far choosier in what I take on.
People often mistakenly believe these clients don’t have significant budgets, so they stay away. They were wrong then. They’re wrong now. And I can’t say I’m all that bothered by it. It worked out beautifully for me.
Some of those clients whose launches I helped promote went on to become some of the most prominent names in online business and online marketing even though they were “nobodies” when I took their projects on. Never underestimate smaller clients.
In the beginning, this worked because there weren’t experienced PR pros looking to help these particular clients. And there were precious few social media pros (of which I was one of the earliest). But the market wanted something more than some kid who thought having their own social network accounts meant they were a social media marketing whiz.
Over time, more people with legit marketing and PR backgrounds have moved into this specialty area. But because I got established early, and because I built my own visibility channels through online communities and web publishing projects, new competition hasn’t had much of an effect on me.
It pays to be first, or as close to first as you can get.
Finding an Untapped Niche of Your Own
Look. I know sometimes it feels like there are no new niches anymore. Everything’s tapped out. Everything feels saturated.
But if I could figure this out at least three times in my career, so can you.
Opportunities are plentiful. And new niches emerge all the time. The key is to stay adaptable and know how your past experience ties into new demands.
Sometimes this is as simple as drilling down to a narrower focus in your current specialty area. Find a neglected client group who can afford your target rates, then fill the needs no one else is yet.
Other times, it’s about trends. You might create a new niche around a specific tool or strategy gaining popularity. If you go this route, just be prepared adapt again before long because trends don’t last. While demand in the area might stick around some of the time, it’s not a guarantee.
The most important thing is knowing your broader market intimately enough to know what they’re thinking and where they’re going next. I knew in my gut the indie music scene was changing and I was there at the perfect time to help artists navigate things.
Your gut won’t always be right (mine sure isn’t). But sometimes following your instincts opens doors to incredible opportunities you’d otherwise miss out on.
Niche saturation, or even over-saturation, doesn’t have to hold you back as a freelance writer. We’re fortunate to work in an area that allows us to easily adapt as our market changes. Staying competitive is largely a matter of whether or not you’re willing to do that.