When you decide to start freelancing, the very first thing you need to do is figure out your niche. If you’re like I was 15 years ago, you’ll have no idea what I mean by that. “What in the world is a niche? Why do I need one? Can’t I just ‘wing’ it?”
That’s what we’re going to tackle in this article. By the time you’re done, you’ll know what a niche is, why it’s critical to success in freelancing and have yours all picked out and ready to move on to the next step.
Here’s what we’re going to cover:
- What Is a Niche?
- Why You Need a Niche
- The 3 Criteria For a Perfect Niche
- How to Find YOUR Niche
- Eye-Opening (and Weird) Example Niches That Are Real
So, if you’re ready, let’s dig in:
By the way, I also have a full video course that covers all this, plus building out your service offerings, pricing and more… if you’re interested. You can learn more about getting free access to it here.
What IS a Niche?
Here’s Google’s definition:
BOTH of the definitions I marked are relevant to us, but let’s start with the second one. A niche is a “small, specialized subset of the population”. So, let’s say you’re a web developer. I use the words “market” or “industry” when referring to “web development” as a whole.
Web development is a broad activity that encompasses lots of things. You could be a WordPress developer, an app-builder, specialize in Node.js or PHP. So, if we were to break this down, it’d look something like this:
That’s the basic idea. The tricky part is there are no hard, fast rules separating a market from a niche. For example, PHP could be considered a market. It’s still a broad concept. In fact, PHP could encompass WordPress, WooCommerce and Landing Pages since all those things are or could be built using PHP.
So, the way to think about it is as a hierarchy, like this:
One last example to drive this home. Let’s take fitness. The word “fitness” is the broad market or industry. Within that, you could be a body-builder, a runner, on a Keto diet, on a vegan diet, trying to lose weight, trying to gain weight, an athlete — and on and on.
You can break it down in 1,000 different ways.
The important thing is understanding how your niche affects everything you’re going to do as a freelancer. If you want to be a “fitness freelancer”… well, what kind of fitness? Are you helping body-builders or vegans, helping people lose weight or build muscle mass?
You have to decide.
Fitness is to broad of a topic to offer services in for every possible segment. That and people won’t believe you can be an expert in all those things. By trying to appeal to everybody, you end up appealing to nobody.
But, that’s getting into the next section a bit, so let’s dive into that head-on:
Why You Need a Niche
Bottom line: it’s going to make your life 1,000 times easier and you’re going to make more money freelancing. Why? Here’s where we need to have the specialization talk. It’s as the saying goes:
As I’m writing this, I see there’s been some push-back on this idea recently. “Why can’t you be a jack of all trades?” I want to be very clear about what I’m saying. YOU might not believe this old saying. YOU might believe you can be a jack of all trades.
Most people don’t. When I say “to specialize”, I’m not saying you should never learn another skill or pursue other interests or even offer other services at some point. I’m saying purely from a marketing perspective, specialists win.
Specialists are more believable. Like I said, most people will not believe that you can be a master at PHP, Node, Ruby, Go… building membership sites, building e-commerce sites, building landing pages. They just don’t.
So, when you specialize, you gain instant credibility. Think of it this way. When, you have a clogged pipe in your house that you can’t fix, who do you call? The majority of people will call a plumber. Even though, most handymen can do the same job. That’s the idea.
Specialists are valued more. Often, specialists get asked to do things that the generalist can’t. Most of the clients I built membership sites for had their own in-house developers. So, why hire me? Because, this is what I do.
I could build their membership site faster. I knew how to set up all the technology without reading a bunch of documentation. I knew what pages they did and didn’t need. Etc. And because I could do what their developer couldn’t, I was highly valued and appreciated.
Specialists make more. For all the reasons I just mentioned, then, specialists tend to get paid more. For example, a plumber can cost as high as $200/hr. Whereas, a handyman generally tops out around $65-$75/hr.
Here’s some examples:
And, here it is for a plumber:
If you’re a new freelancer, take this and multiply it by 100. The way to break into an industry when you’re new is to “out-specialize” the existing providers. If they’re a body-building coach, be a “chest muscle specialist”.
So, when we talk about “picking a niche”, we’re talking about specializing. These two ideas are intertwined. In fact, you might here myself or others use the phrase “niche down”. We’re really saying “be more of a specialist”.
Hopefully, at this point, I’ve convinced you of the need for finding a specific niche. Now, let’s get into how to actually do it.
The 3 Criteria For a Perfect Niche
Now that you know you need a niche… what does a “good” niche look like? How do you know when you’ve got it right? I’ve got three criteria I look at whenever I analyze a niche:
Let’s look at each:
What YOU Want
Let’s go back to our definition of “niche”:
Now, we’re looking at the first definition, “He feels he has found his niche.” His place in life. What he’s meant to do. Her passion. Her destiny. These are all the different ways we describe the idea.
But, it’s critical.
I know you’ll have people who’ll tell you that this doesn’t matter. You should focus on what makes the most money. Or, what’s most practical. They’re just wrong. And, if you actually look… most of them don’t even follow their own advice.
This is the reality.
There are a ton of things you’re going to have to do to start and run a freelance business. Especially, at first. Many long nights. Lots and lots of hard work. Doubts, fears, insecurities. You’re staring at a mountain that you’ll spend the rest of your life climbing.
What’s at the top better be worth it. Otherwise, you’re going to give up, at some point. So, you have to start with what you want to do. It doesn’t have to be specific. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Here’s where you can say “web development” or “graphic design”.
The big thing is to imagine the next 50 years of your life. Imagine doing this activity day in and day out for 12-16 hours per day. Does that excite you? Or, does it sound awful? That’s how you know. Just make sure to follow your instincts here.
What THEY Want
This might seem obvious, but it’s more nuanced than what most people think. The big idea is… most clients do not want a service. Let’s say you’re a photographer. Most of your clients don’t want “photography”… they want “wedding photos”. Or “senior pictures”.
That’s why it’s no surprise a lot of photographers list these things on their websites:
They want to make sure that potentials clients see that “Yes, I do wedding photos”.
Another example. If you’re a web developer, your clients don’t want “web development”… they want a website. Or a landing page. If you’re a fitness coach, your clients don’t want “fitness”. They want big muscles or “ripped abs” or a longer life span.
Point is… clients think in end results.
NOT services. So, when you are thinking about what services you could offer and how to specialize and “niche down” and all the things we’ve talked about… think in end results. Think of your services more as products.
I’m going to show you how to do this in detail in the next section.
But, first, let’s finish up with…
WHO They Are
The final criteria in a perfect niche is who. WHO are you providing this service for? Well, everybody right? You can do that, but, again, getting clients will be harder. You’ll make less. You won’t be appreciated. All the rules of specialization still apply.
So, what do I mean by who?
Let’s say I decide to be a fitness coach. My what is specializing in running. Let’s imagine I’m a marathoner myself (I’m definitely not), I’ve competed and done well in several long-distance running competitions and I can help a lot of people with what I know.
Well, there’s all different types of people who run.
Marathoners, like yourself, who want to compete. High school athletes looking to get into college or go to the Olympics. Single moms. Overweight dads trying to lose weight. And, we could go and on with different examples.
Well, all those people want and need different things.
Marathoners are going to want more advanced training. They already run a lot, but they want an edge to get to that next level. An overweight, however, is just starting out. He needs eased it and he cares more about losing weight than winning a competition.
For a single mom, the thing might be time. She’s busy… with work and the kids. She wants to stay healthy and look good, but not spend hours at a gym:
Trying to develop a service package that appeals to all these different people is impossible. And, again, by trying to appeal to everyone… you end up appealing to no one.
Therefore, it’s important to know WHO your services are catered toward. It makes it easier for you to market, get hired and deliver for those clients. You’ll also gain deep loyalty from these clients because they appreciate you catering specifically to them.
So, those are the criteria. We know what we’re after. Time to go find it.
Are you brand new to freelancing? A little confused on how to get started and what steps to take first? If so, consider taking my Beginner’s Guide to Freelance course because it shows you what those first steps are, how to start and grow your freelance business and how to start getting clients right from the beginning. You can learn how to get free access to it here.
How to Find Your Niche
Here, we’re going to do three things:
- Use data to brainstorm niche ideas
- Check the viability of each idea
- Decide on a niche
This is the critical mistake a lot of freelancers make. They get everything I’ve said up to this point, but then just start thinking up niche ideas and guessing. No, no, no. Wouldn’t you rather KNOW that your niche idea is profitable? That it’s something people want.
That’s what we’re going to do.
Start by Getting Ideas From Fiverr
Fiverr takes some heat because of its pricing, but that was intentional on their part. Their strategy to break into a market with some dominant players. And, it worked. Now, you’re seeing them expand and prices are starting to rise a bit.
The big thing, for us, is how they categorize and “productize” their services. It’s perfect for figuring what niches in our market are hot. So, head over to Fiverr and take a look at the top menu on the site:
Right away, we’re seeing potential niches for our service. So, if you’re a graphic designer, you could specialize in:
- Logo Design
- Business Cards & Stationery
- T-Shirts & Merchandise
- Photoshop Editing
If you’re a web developer:
Some of the ones I mentioned:
- Mobile Apps
The thing to keep in mind is they wouldn’t put these in their menu if they didn’t know they were popular services. Take Joomla development, for example. It’s a thing. People run Joomla sites and developers build them.
It’s nowhere on here.
Maybe “Website Builders & CMS”, but there’s probably not a ton of gigs for it. Doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t do Joomla development, but it’s important to know how popular something is or isn’t. And, this just gives us the answer.
So, go through the menu for what you do and write down the ideas that appeal to you. Next, click on a specific service. I’m going to select Programming & Tech > WordPress:
On the next page, change the “Sort by” dropdown to “Best Selling”:
Look at what this is showing us. It’s showing us some of the best selling services under the “WordPress” niche. Remember our hierarchy from before? This is exactly that, but driven by actual revenue numbers. And, look at some of the niches:
- Avada Theme
- WordPress Customizations
- Beaver Builder Plugin
- Business Website
- WordPress Security
I’m guess that at least one of those you hadn’t ever thought of. And, that’s just what first couple rows. Check out this gig a few rows down:
Look how specific this is. It’s WordPress. Speed optimization. According to a specific site: GTmetrix. It starts at $45 and he’s sold over 1,000 of these. So, at a minimum, he’s made $45,000 doing this one specific thing… at a fairly low price point.
If that doesn’t open your eyes to what’s possible, I’m not sure what to tell you.
So, again, go through this list. Look at the numbers and the price points. Pick out things that appeal to you and make a list of all the different niche services you could offer. Nothing has been decided, yet. We’re just brainstorming ideas.
What we do next is check each service’s market viability.
Check the Niche Viability on Upwork
This video shows you how to check the viability of your niche ideas using Upwork. But, I will also explain it below:
Next, we’re going to head over to Upwork. Forget if you hate Upwork and never plan on freelancing there. That doesn’t matter. We’re simply using it as a research tool, because it’s the largest freelancing platform out right now.
There’s 1000s of new jobs posted to it every day. And, we can look at some real-world data to see if our niche is market-viable. So, if you don’t have an Upwork account, create one. You want a freelancer profile and we’re going to simply search for our niches.
So, take your list of niche ideas and search them one-by-one on Upwork.
Let’s take one of our earlier examples, WordPress speed optimization:
As obscure as that niche might sound, there’s 175 people on Upwork, right now, looking to hire someone to do it for them. And, notice the quality of the 2 clients. Payment verified, 5-star ratings, and money spent on the site. 30K in one case.
That was our most obscure niche!
Let’s so a search for “wordpress security”:
370 jobs found. I think you get the point. You just want to go through and search your niche and see what kind of results come up. Now, there are some criteria to look at to evaluate each niche for viability:
- Number of jobs
- Quality and relevance of jobs
- Quality of clients
We’ve talked about the number of jobs and I think that’s pretty self-explanatory… more is better, right? But, you also want to look at how relevant they are and how good of projects they are. So, let’s talk “wordpress security”:
There’s 370 jobs, but look at the top 3. They’re really not relevant to our search. They’re more generic “wordpress” jobs. That’s a negative sign in terms of market-viability. Compare that with a search for “woocommerce”:
And, you can see, there’s 1,595 jobs and every posting is directly related to WooCommerce. That’s a sign of a more healthy niche. So, that’s one way to asses the quality of the jobs in a niche. Another is using the search filters:
Here we’re filtering out clients who haven’t verified their payment method, have a budget below $1k and are looking for an entry level freelancer. In the “woocommerce” 560 of the 1,595 jobs still show up. A full 1/3. That’s a pretty good sign.
It means there’s a lot of quality, high-paying jobs in this niche. Do that same thing for “wordpress security” and you get this:
Yes, it’s 149 jobs, but it’s the same problem we had before. The actual jobs aren’t relevant. In fact, none of the jobs on the first page of this search, with these filters, is specific to “wordpress security”. That’s a bad sign.
So, that’s the second way to asses project quality. Finally, then, let’s look at client quality. And, you’ve already seen this a bit, but let me give you a clear example:
This is a search for “joomla”. Three of the top 10 jobs that come up are “payment unverified” and the client has never hired anybody. Yes, you could filter these out and probably find some decent jobs in this niche, but the more of these there are… it’s another negative signal.
So, that’s the process. You go through each one of your niche ideas and do this analysis. Figure out which niches are more viable. It does not mean you have to pick the most viable niche. You can do what you want.
But, at least, know what you’re getting into. A moderately viable niche that you love can still be quite profitable. But, if there’s almost nobody hiring in a niche or the projects are all low quality with low quality clients… save yourself the heartache.
The final step in this section, then is, to…
Make a Decision and Own It
This one’s really on you. I can’t make it for you. But, I will say this. Your first niche does not have to be perfect. In fact, it won’t be. It’s your first time doing it. It’s gonna be off in some way. What’s more important than getting perfect is getting it done.
Do your best. Pick one and move on. The absolute worst thing you can do is to be nowhere 6 months from now because you “couldn’t find the right niche”. Don’t over-think (like I do everything). Pick one, own it and move on.
You can always refine or change it later.Always remember: it’s action that matters. THAT is where change comes from. Not just “knowing” how to do something. Doing it.
By the way, if you are interested in using Upwork to get freelance clients, my Freelancing on Upwork course is the #1 rated freelancing course on Skillshare and it will show you how to build your profile, bid on jobs, write proposals and more. You can learn how to get free access to it here.
Eye-Opening (and Weird) Example Niches That Are Real
At this point, you have everything you need to go and figure out your niche. But, I’ve found it’s helpful for most people to see some examples. And, I like to show you crazy weird ones to reassure your that whatever your niche is, it’s probably viable… if these ones are.
So, let’s start with…
This a restaurant that is exactly what the name implies: just food for dogs (and cats). They don’t serve “people-food” here. It’s not a restaurant where you can eat with your dog. No. They only serve food for dogs and cats.
The founder, Shawn Buckley, had got curious about what was in his dog’s food and started doing a bunch of research. He discovered that a lot of commercial dog food is highly processed and not good for your dog.
So, he started making homemade dog food. Friends got curious. One thing led to another and he opened this restaurant in California. Today, they not only have the restaurant, but they sell their dog food right off their website, are stocked in Petco and have an annual estimated revenue of $5.9 million:
Next up, is:
This company sends people potatoes with messages on them. Yep. That’s it. For $11.99, you can have whatever message you want written on a potato and send to whomever you like:
They ended up on Shark Tank and made a deal with Kevin O’Leary. The company now brings in 6 figures per year:
The last one I’ll show you, then, is:
Now, to be fair, this service is now closed:
But, notice the reason why. Demand got too heavy and they couldn’t figure out how to scale the business and cope with all the people wanting their service! And, it’s exactly what it sounds like it is. You can hire someone to pretend to mourn a loved one’s funeral.
It’s not a joke or a prank. It’s for people who didn’t have a lot of friends or their friends and family had all passed away already. And, you didn’t want their funeral to be empty. For $30-$40 per hour, you could hire someone to attend the funeral.
And, pretend they knew the person.
And, they closed because they had too much demand!
I don’t know how much clearer I can make it. Whatever your niche is, whatever it is you’re thinking about doing… yes, check the market viability. But, it’s a lot more likely to be viable than not. And, don’t be afraid to take a risk or try something new.
You can always tweak it or change it later.
So, there you go. That’s how to find and pick your freelance niche. If you’ve got questions, feel free to drop me a line in the comments below. If you’d like more direct access to me, then consider joining my Q&A-style course where I talk your questions and make dedicated videos answering them for you. You can learn more about getting free access to it at: https://letstalkfreelance.com.
Now that you’ve decided on your niche, it’s time to figure out what services you’re going to offer, how to package them and what to charge. So, if you’re ready, let’s dive into the next step: How to Package and Price Your Freelance Services.