The topic of niche always crops up with new copywriters, and it can excruciatingly hang around for years. This particular take on it was inspired by Kate Toon’s podcast with Robert Gerrish, where they discussed a few of the aspects and angles copywriters confront — niche amongst them — in their businesses.
Finding your copywriter niche is one of those Herculean challenges that copywriters tend to answer in three ways.
- Some get into the biz knowing their niche
- Others discover it after experimentation and reflection
- Many just generalise (either by choice or by studiously ignoring the niche question)
Now, when I said “copywriter niche”, what words floated up from your subconscious? Health? B2B? Finance?
For a long time, that was my automatic response. “What niche are you looking at?” was a question with a single, industry-specific answer. It’s a bit like…
My pre-copywriting history was in technology, so it seemed the obvious choice. Yet, I resisted the label, because I felt there was more to it. As it turns out, there’s a lot more to niches than what I’d thought in those early days.
The go-to whenever the issue of niche pops up in copy. And that makes sense: people work in a certain field, they get to know it, and it’s easy to “go with what you know”.
In another way, it doesn’t make sense. Professional skills are often defined by what you do, not just the industry you work in. If you’re a software developer for a travel company, you don’t focus on just looking for future jobs with other travel companies.
(Though I’ve known at least one person to do that and it was a pretty clever move on their part).
Most people will work for companies in different industries over the course of their career, because their skills are transferable. It’s no different for copywriters. Sure, there are occasions or opportunities that require specialist knowledge, but that happens in many roles.
The big advantage for nicheing in a particular field is that valuable industry knowledge. Keeping up-to-date with one field is a lot easier than five or six (or more), and lets you jump into a job without having to play “catch up”. It can also be much easier to become a recognised expert in that particular field, whereas the bar for being a world-class “general” copywriter is much, much higher.
Content or Copy?
To most outside the field, a copywriter is the same as a content writer: they both write business-y words.
But there’s a heck of a difference, even though both content and copy are crucial parts to any business marketing.
(If you want a lengthier discourse on the subject, feel free to indulge.)
The skill sets overlap to a degree. Be it a blog post or homepage, a good headline keeps readers sticking around. You also need good research skills, whether you’re putting together a hydroponics website or writing a blog on the latest miniature-based board games.
But like Robert Frost’s road, the skills for content and copy do diverge. SEO is a must-have when it comes to long-form content creation, yet not so important to a sales letter where paid advertising drives most of the traffic to the page.
Types of Copy
I recently got contacted by someone looking for a CRO expert to finetune an existing sales funnel. I’ve written plenty of copy for sales funnels. I know how they work and have discussed them with clients. But I haven’t done much optimisation, so we parted ways after a brief chat.
And that was 100% OK, because I’m not (and can’t possibly be) an expert of everything.
CRO is a fascinating topic, but as a copywriter, you have a smorgasbord of these copy “types” you can specialise in.
Combining the different marketing materials copywriters work on forms an impressive list. Websites, emails, landing pages, sales funnels, CRO, sales letters, video scripts, white papers, flyers, ebooks, lead magnets, video sales letters, blogs, social media… the list goes on.
Becoming an “email expert” or “CRO consultant” that knows their way around these types of copy is as good a niche as any other.
Mix It Up
Clearly, there’s more than one way to skin that proverbial feline. But what if you could niche it to the next level?
Super-duper niche: how about conversion content writing for technology companies? Yep, that’s a thing.
Go deeper into your niche: take a niche like emails, then get even more specific… say, something like onboarding email sequences.
The possibilities are almost endless.
We Interrupt This Blog Post With An Important Disclaimer
Just because you’ve chosen landing pages or websites, it doesn’t mean you’re trapped writing these for the rest of your copywriting days.
This is something a lot of copywriters asking the niche question run into (I certainly did). It feels like once you’re a “technology copywriter”, a “real estate copywriter” or “financial copywriter”, that’s it. You’re locked in.
This is not the case! Taking on jobs outside your niche doesn’t get you blacklisted. There’s no law that dictates “the niche is all”. A niche gives you a point of difference and allows you to focus on work you enjoy the most, but it’s not a definitive line in the sand that you can never cross.
My rambling journey of niche discovery
When I first heard about copywriting, my thoughts were something like “there are people who get paid to just do the writing bit of marketing?”
It didn’t make sense. Marketing were those people who did… well, marketing*. The writing was just one of the many tasks they were supposed to do.
Little did I know…
Unintentional Step 1: Discovering the dark art of copywriting
I discovered copywriting through one of those now defunct investment/business-related newsletter some years ago. I enjoyed my job as a software tester, but wasn’t a huge fan of the whole “wake up at 6, get home at 6, rinse and repeat” thing.
Copywriting seemed like a viable way to break that cycle.
It just so happened that my first exposure to copywriting was the sales-centric (or specifically, “direct response”) through AWAI.
I bought the Accelerated Program and started to dig in, happily dismissing any notion of niche for “down the road, if this gets serious”.
Unintentional Step 2: A little bit of this, a little bit of that
As always, life gets in the way so it wasn’t until about 18 months later that I unleashed my newly-developed (and not very good) copywriting chops upon the world.
One of the first jobs I got was to write blogs. Lots of blogs. For an agency with an insurance client.
It was riveting stuff *cough*sarcasm*cough*.
Not that it mattered too much. In those first days, I tried my hand at anything: websites, landing and sales pages, plenty of emails and the odd flyer or too.
But a lot of those early jobs were blogs. Some were fun, others were a total drag. It was highly dependent on the industry, and it finally dawned on me that I’d be better suited not saying “yes” to everything that popped up.
Intentional Step 3: Finding Conversion
On the flip side to the blogs, the sales-focused copywriting jobs — regardless of industry — were fantastic fun.
The challenge to structure and write a persuasive selling message able to convert was a whole different ball game for me. Despite some early (and silly) mistakes, I threw myself into these jobs with abandon.
Conversion copywriting, whether it was a landing page, website, email or sales page, was my new “thing”.
Intentional Step 4: Whittling the list down
Writing this blog post means I’m not working on a more exciting piece of copy or content. That’s OK, as today’s marked “content day” in the calendar. Come tomorrow, I’ll be elbows deep in sales copy again.
When I was starting out, it wasn’t quite that organised.
I took every job I could grab and more. Everyone wanted blogs, so those jobs were easy to find.
But every hour I spent writing a blog post meant an hour I wasn’t working on sales copy I’d be far more interested in (and improving my skills on). In short, I was building general copywriting experience at the expense of conversion-focused skill-building.
It was an opportunity cost I unwittingly paid for a couple of months.
When I finally got wise, I re-focused my efforts. Sales copy was my thing.
Blog posts were put on the back burner. I’d do them for clients who want other work done (as a secondary service), but stopped accepting “blog only” jobs.
Social media was something I was never a fan of. A 6 month stint in a job where I needed to write a dozen (or more) social media snippets each week left me nonplussed over them. FB or Google Ads to sell something, sure. Social media clips to grab engagement — no thanks!
Future Step 5: Back to my roots?
For all the “don’t put me in an industry box, man” talk, I still feel an attraction towards technology. At some point, I’ll focus on writing for tech companies on a more regular basis. But for now, I’m still enjoying the challenges of writing persuasive sales copy for all kinds of businesses.
What’s your niche?
Finding my niche took over three years, a lot of “errgh, this work sucks” or “wow, I’m getting paid to do this!” and dozens of hours hunched over, deep in contemplation. And it’s something I’m sure to revisit in the not-too-distant future.
Have you settled into your perfect niche yet? How did you find it?
* Plus, marketers always came up with crazy ideas that needed us folk in the development team to bust our butts to make it a reality, so they weren’t always high on our like list