Copywriting niches…do you really need to choose one to make it as a copywriter in this decade?
To answer that, let's consider two scenarios:
Which copywriter is going to land more clients, get more referrals, and make more money?
Harry, who is adaptable and versatile, and prides himself on being able to write solid copy across nearly every industry and niche?
Or Sally, who not only specializes in copy for the B2B SaaS industry, but communicates that through her LinkedIn, website, and portfolio?
You read the headline of this article, so you already know it’s Sally (cheater).
The problem? Harry is a generalist. And generalists blend in with the crowd. Specialists stand out. They’re the ones that are impossible to ignore.
Most new copywriters resist choosing a niche because they don’t want to “cap their earning potential”.
But, having been on both sides of the table, as the freelancer and the client, both working with dream clients, and weeding through hundreds of resumes to fill copywriting positions, I see the mistake they’re making.
The Most Successful Copywriters Have This in Common
Copy Hackers published survey data[*] from 2015-2017 reporting on the distribution of hourly rates of copywriters:
This article was born from a question from a friend, who asked advice on how to charge more for his work.
When I looked across all of my experience with copywriters, having interacted with, hired, been friends with, and coached dozens of copywriters… and even having been on the other side of the table, working with clients and having been able to charge rates that I never thought I’d be able to earn in a month…
Every single copywriter I know that earns $150/hour or more had one thing in common:
They serve a specific, well-defined, narrow niche of companies.
I’ve seen copywriters settle so well into their copywriting niches and been offered so much work that they convinced their spouses to quit their jobs, trained them up and shuffled some of the massive clients they’ve worked with onto their plates.
Other copywriting friends are able to charge more for one piece of copy than most people earn in a week at their full-time jobs.
I’ve even worked with one copywriter who charges thousands of dollars per day from premium clients, companies that you know and love, and is booked solid.
Most of these copywriters are friends or colleagues and have turned down full-time job offers from companies that most people would kill to work at.
This is not the norm (hence the heavily left-weighted distribution on that bar graph). But if you want to:
- Stand out from the crowd of tens of thousands of copywriters jockeying for client’s attention
- Rapidly grow your freelance career and business
- Charge a premium for your work so you don’t have to turn to Upwork just to pay the bills
- Book yourself solid months in advance with clients you’d love to work with…
Then you’ve got to niche down.
Why You Need to Niche Down to Earn Up
Look, people hate picking niches.
They think specializing is pigeonholing themselves, figuring they’ll make less money and have fewer opportunities. They do some quick math:
- If I’m a generalist copywriter, then I have tens of thousands of companies I can serve
- If I’m a specialist that only works with clients in certain niches, I narrow my company pool down to just a few dozen
- Therefore I have a lot more opportunity if I’m a generalist.
Here’s why this is flawed:
#1. Standing Out
I posted a job for an eCommerce Copywriter a couple of years ago.
I was open to freelance, contract or full-time, as most companies tend to be for this type of role. There were 463 applications for the copywriter role.
I didn’t even bother looking at the generalists. I know the learning curve would have been steep, and frankly, with a team of 11 direct reports I didn’t have time to close the gap. I used a few keywords to filter just to copywriters who had experience in the nutrition industry, and then narrowed down even further to the specific eCommerce industry. Bingo.
Being a specialist, even if you haven’t had a ton of clients in the industry, can turn a pitch that falls flat into a pitch that gets noticed and stands out.
Before you establish yourself in the industry and are able to let potential clients come to you, you’ll have to actively seek work. If I’m a Creative Director or head of Marketing for an outdoor gear eCommerce company, what will be more impressive?
“I’m an expert copywriter who has worked with a wide variety of clients” or
“I’m an expert copywriter in the outdoor gear industry”?
Most heads of marketing do not have time to get you up to speed, so knowing that they’re bringing on a copywriter who knows the specific pain points and intricacies of the industry is a no-brainer.
Link to pitch template
#2. To Charge More For Your Work
Look, copywriting is hard work.
It’s portrayed in the media as something you just have a knack for — like lightening strikes and you have a good idea for a quippy one-liner, which then makes the firm millions.
Not the case.
Copywriting is really an intense knowledge of the industry, of the customer (more on that in a bit), and on human behavior. It’s quantitative and qualitative, mixed with intuition.
It’s a unique blend of art and marketing and psychology and science. One piece of copy can either make a campaign flop, or generate millions of dollars of revenue.
High performance copy deserves to be paid well.
Generalists are rarely paid well, because of three things:
- It’s tough to write high performance copy as a generalist (you’ll see why below)
- Companies that hire generalists can rarely afford to pay a premium for copy
- Perception and price sensitivity of generalists vs. specialists (people tend to be more willing to pay a premium for a speciality item than a do-it-all tool)
One copywriter I hired to work with a client in the diet supplement industry was known for working with brands in that very specific diet.
Her business earns more than $15,000 per month, working with just a select couple of clients, because being so niched solves for all of the three points above.
#3. To Ensure You’re Top of Mind When Clients Think “Copywriter”
When somebody thinks “organic cosmetics copywriter” or “B2B eCommerce SaaS copywriter”, you want your name to spring to mind.
And let’s be real… that’s just not going to happen when the word “copywriter” comes to mind. I personally think of Peggy Olson.
This opens doors within the industry to go beyond copy.
When you become known in an industry for something you’re in great demand within that industry, and also in shouldering industries. I have been approached by more eCommerce supplement and food product companies with job offers, consulting requests, and opportunities than I even knew existed.
#4. To Capitalize on the #1 Source of Clients for Freelancers
The #1 source of new clients for freelancers is referrals from previous clients.
Companies talk to each other. I both request referrals and am asked for them regularly.
But rarely will leaders of these companies refer generalists. They know that it’ll make more work for the that person, which is exactly opposite of the goal of hiring any contractor or full-time employee.
When I’m asked if I know any [content marketers/copywriters/consultants] by a friend or colleague, I want to be as helpful as possible. So I refer those who specialize in the types of businesses or industries that the person works within.
Some of the copywriters that have been referred to me weren’t even referred by previous clients, though.
One, that I ended up working with for months, was a LinkedIn connection of a friend. They’d never worked together or even met one another, but when I said I was looking for a copywriter, my friend recalled the freelancer and that she specialized in my industry, and made the introduction.
#5. To Write Copy That Truly Converts
To become a highly paid, highly respected copywriter who is booked solid, obviously you have to write copy that converts.
And if there’s one key to writing high performance copy, one silver bullet, it’s this:
Know thy customer better than thy customer knows herself.
Not much of a silver bullet because it can take years of intense study to understand enough about a certain target audience to fully understand how they behave.
And you can’t possibly understand every audience enough to be an effective generalist.
The variations in the audience types of a specific niche are wide enough. If you’re a fitness industry copywriter, there are:
- male and female bodybuilder audiences
- postpartum weight loss audiences
- triathlon audiences, trainer audiences
- HIIT audiences
- jump rope audiences
- bodyweight workout audiences
- CrossFit audiences.
There are audiences who want to lose weight, gain muscle, perform in competitions. You get the picture.
Each of these specific audiences will respond to different things. If you don’t know the audience intimately you won’t be able to write effective copy for them.
I’m talking the psychographics, not just the demographics. Demographics are easy, but you can’t write effective copy without knowing psychographics.
You can’t know the audience of 50 different niches, let alone 5.
#6. Because Every Industry is a Special Snowflake
Even if you think you can get to know the wide range of target customers across dozens of niches intimately enough to be able to write effective copy to convert them (lol), you won’t be able to gather enough industry knowledge across several niches to be effective.
Let’s say I’m the VP of Marketing for a company in the travel space that helps people book ayahuasca retreats.
That’s a pretty specific industry. Within that industry, there’s a lot of specialized knowledge.
As a VP, I don’t have time to spend the days (weeks more likely) necessary to train a copywriter on the intricacies of the ayahuasca, the research behind it, common misconceptions, the specific applications of ayahuasca and the value props of booking a retreat with us.
It’d be faster to just write the copy myself, and probably more successful too, because I have… you guessed it! Industry knowledge.
I wouldn't even get to that point, of course, because I’d never hire a generalist, opting only for copywriters who specialize in the psychedelic industry, especially with knowledge of retreat.
#7. To Open The Door to Endless Opportunity
I started my marketing career as a writer. I got really good at writing about productivity and marketing. Specifically marketing for new bloggers. That’s pretty niche.
Because I got really good at that, I was approached by Sumo to be a content writer. I started a freelancer, still writing about marketing, but now for an audience that had more established businesses.
Then my role transitioned more into content marketing rather than just writing. It naturally evolved to have a brand marketing focus. I became known as a content guru, and was invited to speak about content marketing. People began to think of me when they thought “content marketing”.
I then went on to be the VP of Marketing for one of the fastest growing CPG companies in the world and, as employee #4, built the marketing function from the ground up.
From there, I started my consulting company and now work with B2B and eCommerce clients on marketing and growth strategy around the world.
I no longer write content or copy — I manage the directors that manage the people who manage the content and copywriters.
But I started in this company as a content consultant, and I got there by being hyper-focused on a specific niche.
Even if you love copywriting, choosing a specialty niche won’t pigeonhole you. It’ll open up opportunities for you.
#8. Because the Riches are in the Niches
You want to be an insanely successful copywriter, right?
Whether your end game is freelancing and working on a retainer, or you want to end up working for your dream company as the Head of Copy, you probably don’t want to earn $50 per piece of copy.
If you want to be paid appropriately for your work, you need to work with companies that can afford to pay you generously for your work.
And those companies tend to be in specific niches.
The types of companies who not only hire copywriters but can afford to pay a premium for good copy (because they can actually track the difference) are niched companies. And niched companies want niched talent, because of the knowledge necessary to succeed in these niched industries.
If you look at salary data for, for example, lifestyle media companies, or a SaaS company that tries to do it all even within their specific industry, you’ll be disappointed.
Companies that do one or two things and serve one type of customer, and do it well are the ones that thrive. Those are the companies that experience the hockey stick growth curves.
And those are the ones that can — and want to — pay you appropriately for your work.
Copywriting Niches Open Doors Rather Than Closing Them
Generalists are a dime a dozen.
And they’re great if you want general work done. But nobody wants general work done.
No company, hiring manager, VP of Marketing, or founder looks at the needs of their business and thinks to themselves “hmm, what do I need? A marketer. Yes, a marketer is what I need”. (Hint: if they do, run for the hills because that company is a sinking ship).
You’re not pigeonholing yourself by specializing in a niche. While it might feel like you’re closing doors, really you’re opening them.
Do not be afraid to get specific.
You’ll end up carving out a niche for yourself eventually.
You’ll work with a client in a specific niche, who will be impressed with your work, and refer you to a contact who is in the same niche. But choosing a niche and dominating it now will just shorten that runway period (and allow you to choose your specialty, rather than it choosing you).