#080: How to Pick the Best, Smartest Niche for Your Freelance Business

The process of picking a niche can be extremely stressful. But I’ve found that most of that stress and frustration is the result of bad advice.

In fact, most of what I read and hear on the topic of picking a niche is misguided. It treats the issue as a simple, one-dimensional decision. But in reality, this is a complex, multi-faceted topic that requires you to think about your business at a deeper level.

At the same time, it requires you to take action, even before you feel 100 percent comfortable with your decision. Because in most cases, your best niche ends up finding YOU.

I’ve addressed this topic before. But in this episode, we’re going deeper. My guest is Ilise Benun from marketing-mentor.com. Ilise is a frequent guest in my podcasts and classes. And in this interview, she’ll share some practical ideas to help you solve your niche puzzle.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or on Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Do you have to pick a niche?

If you look around, you can find lots of people who seem to be doing well without focusing on a particular niche. But you don’t really know what’s happening in their business.

In reality, many people who look successful struggle with how to market themselves.
The idea that you have to pick just ONE niche (and stick with it) is a myth.
Instead, start with three areas you’d like to explore. Get feedback from the market to figure out which niche works best. And keep in mind that it may take years to find “the one.”

Tell us some of the ways you can define a niche

  1. Vertical industry sector. Here, you focus on a particular kind of client. It’s easy to find prospects in this kind of niche because these sectors usually have trade associations are aligned with them.
  1. Horizontal. In this niche, you focus on a particular kind of service, e.g. copywriting, SEO copywriting, photography and web design. But you still have to figure out whom to market to.
  1. Horizontal and vertical combo. You combine the first two niches. For example, web design (horizontal) for the software industry (vertical). You can get very specific in this type of niche, which means little competition.
  1. Technology specialization. And example of this niche would be a web designer who specializes in Drupal, Square Space or WordPress. But you still have to figure out who need this service.
  1. Umbrella focus. You look at all projects you found most lucrative, satisfying, etc. and figure out the common denominator. For example, a niche of “clients who are in the business of transforming lives.”
  1. Related industry focus. You focus on two or three related vertical markets, such as healthcare and wellness.
  2. The “We understand your customer” niche. You specialize in a certain kind of customer, e.g. baby boomers, women, or brand enthusiasts.

How should people start?

Review as many niches as possible and then narrow them to three.

Once you’ve decided on your niches, test them before putting them on your website.

Dip your toe in the water first. Maybe update your LinkedIn profile, and see who wants to connect. Once you’ve gotten some feedback, you can put them on your website, even if they have little in common.

Over time, you may find you start to emphasize one of the areas over the others. Your positioning will evolve. Don’t hurry and don’t hesitate to change it.

You have a new training program. Tell us about it

Ilise’s Pick a Niche Kit helps people through this process. The kit contains niche examples and screenshots as well as interviews with people who describe their niche and how it’s working for them.

The kit is on sale now until early July.

You can also download Ilise’s Niche Checklist for free.

Ilise Benun’s website: Marketing Mentor.


  • Another great episode, Ed! I have struggled with this question for almost three years now. I assumed that being a “content writer” was niche enough, but I am ALWAYS asked when I meet someone, “What’s your niche?”

    Now I have some solid information and strategy to figure something out to tell people! Thanks for this one~

    • edgandia

      Awesome! Glad to hear that, Bobby. Thanks for the feedback.

    • I’m finding it’s the “who” that’s it. For whom do we do whatever we do?

  • Great insights. Being a niche site developer, I use to get perplexed on this question.

    • edgandia

      Good to know this was helpful — thanks for tuning in!

  • Ilise & Ed thanks so much. Most folks who will enjoy your podcast don’t take time to comment. But I wanted to say that, it gave me lots to think about of ways to niche. What I found most helpful was Ilise’s emphasis on the fact that it’s a process. So many online voices make niching sound like it’s an quick thing, just make up your mind. But as a former educator I can see that she’s basically saying start with a bit of real-life research and then grow. Sow the seeds talking and outreach etc, see response and then continue with pruning and so on, if it’s starts to give sign’s of blossoming well then you have a niche! Voila.
    Versus diving in making a big announcement and finding either you chosen prospects who can’t afford you or it’s huge time & money investment to educate them as to why they need you.
    The latter is a problem I kind of fell into initially, there needs to be some awareness of the NEED for your services or it’s not a worthwhile target- simply because you might starve while trying to get a foothold.
    There are some ways to do this research that Ilise touched on, I’ll explore more on my blog- but LinkedIn can be a great avenue for freelancers.

    • Ilise Benun

      You got it, Vivinne, that’s exactly the point I keep trying to make. I’d love to use your comments as part of my next blog post…may I?

      • Sure go ahead! Maybe the link could be posted here if folks wanted more of your info? That would be great, actually I might be on your list now? I think I got the business areas list…..
        Linked In is starting to work for me.

        • Ilise Benun

          excellent, thanks, I’ll post it here — great idea.

    • edgandia

      Thanks for the feedback, Vivienne! Great to hear this resonated with you. Love your pruning metaphor — spot on!

  • Ilise Benun

    Hey everyone, I quoted Vivinne in my latest “Quick Tip” — which includes a video on “how to find your focus” and many more niche-related goodies. Check it out here: http://us11.campaign-archive1.com/?u=169ddaeca79898136cce54ed3&id=7f43e17615&e=0bba2b7d4e