Part Five: Should you find a 'niche' as a freelancer?

Answering the age old question

“Be faithful to that which exists nowhere but in yourself- and thus make yourself indispensable.”
― André Gide

I may or may not have Googled “quotes about being unique” this morning and stumbled across the one you just read - but it’s a perfect summary of this week’s newsletter, which is all about finding your niche as a freelancer and whether you should strive to do that.

Welcome to The Freelance Fraud, the newsletter where I write about my personal and professional struggles as a freelancer with actual, practical advice. Subscribe if you haven’t already!

The question of specialising is one I’m asked a lot and think about all the time. As a multimedia journalist, am I doing myself a disservice working across different platforms and covering a really wide range of topics?

On the one hand specialising is a great way to build a bit of a “brand” for yourself and be known for being an expert on one topic. However, there’s a danger of closing yourself off from different opportunities. So what’s the best way to progress in the beginning of your freelance career?

The arguments for finding a niche/specialising

  • You become an expert on a topic and will have more confidence working on stories in that specific area

  • Editors may start reaching out to you for commissions related to your speciality

  • In some ways it’s easier to specialise because you’ll spend less time researching other fields

  • You can always specialise first and generalise later on

  • It’s better to be good at one thing than bad at multiple things

  • Your niche might be a topic you’re really passionate about and exploring it brings you joy

The arguments for just going with the flow

  • Great for finding out what things you like and don’t like

  • More flexibility when it comes to the existing gigs available

  • More potential streams of income from doing different things

  • Still developing transferable skills ie. interviewing, transcribing, framing, writing, finding the story

  • Teaching yourself to work outside your comfort zone and learning new skills

  • Good for people who get easily bored or start feeling boxed in quickly

  • You can still ‘specialise’ if you want to but in multiple areas at the same time, just at a slower pace

How to decide what’s best for you

The bottom line is, you have to trust that your work and insight will carry you through and make your work yours. Whether that’s through specialisation or because your voice and critical analysis is distinct, your work will always have a piece of you in it and be unique. There are multiple paths you can take to evolve your career.

My personal experience has been very general. I was writing everything from news to opinion to long features when I was working in-house. I also had a trash TV column and indulged in popular culture, which again, is very broad. In my time three years of working in the media, I’ve done illustrations, been on radio, TV, edited, led investigations and collected all sorts of random experience along the way.

I now write features about digital and popular culture, interview people from different backgrounds, write celebrity profiles, have a podcast on current affairs and dabble in all sorts of work in between. It’s been amazing and difficult at the same time, but I know that I’m building up a wide range of skills which can be adapted to almost any situation in the long term.

I also recognise that this doesn’t work for everyone.

To find out what’s best for you, ask:

  • Who are the people I really admire and what do they do?

  • Am I content focusing on one thing?

  • Does specialising help or hinder my work life balance?

  • Am I boxing myself out of opportunities by focusing too narrowly?

  • What’s my end goal?

Things I really loved this week:

Stuff I’ve written recently:

You may have noticed that these newsletters have been a little sporadic. They have. Taking my own advice, I’ve been trying to log off a little more and reduce my screen time. In a time of a global pandemic, it’s vital to take care of ourselves.

Nonetheless, I hope you’ve been finding these newsletters insightful and helpful. Send me an email if you want me to write about something specific in the upcoming editions or if you have any questions!

Stay safe out there and look after yourself,

Diyora x