Holly Helscher on Niches [image]

#137: Why Your Freelance Niche Does NOT Need to Be an Industry

Virtually every week I read anxious comments and emails from writers (both new and established) about their niche.

They’re freaking out about which path to take. How to pick the right industry or topic. Or basically how to position themselves for success.

My advice is almost always the same: Just pick something … and start there!

Well, kind of. I have a very specific process for making the best possible decision about your niche, specialty or target market.

But there comes a point where you just have to go with what you’ve got … and start taking action!

Today’s interview is even more proof that this is sound advice. My guest is Holly Helscher, a coaching client of mine and a fabulous writer and all-around super person.

In our chat, Holly opens up about how she made her “niche” decision, and how she changed and refined that idea once she got out there and started knocking on doors.

It’s a fun, inspirational and very helpful conversation for anyone who’s struggling with this “niche” decision. It doesn’t matter if you’re a new freelancer or an established pro who’s trying to decide on a new direction, I think you’ll get a lot out of it.

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 to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tell us about yourself and your business

Holly Helscher works primarily with B2B customers in a wide variety of industries. She has done many different types of writing, including short- and long-form articles, white papers, company bios, business bids, and blogs.

When did you start freelancing?

Holly had planned to get into freelance writing as a second career after retirement.

But then her company closed, and she ended up getting into freelancing much earlier than expected. She launched her business about seven months ago.

Tell us how you arrived at your niche

For the past 20 years, Holly had worked in higher education in positions ranging from instructor to senior VP.

Therefore, she initially settled on education as her niche—although she was worried that it wouldn’t be as profitable as she hoped.

When she started with that niche, she didn’t get much interest. But then she learned that a niche doesn’t have to be defined by industry—it can be defined by a particular skill.

One of Holly’s unique skills is the ability to speak with authority to a wide swath of audiences. She understands the point of view of instructors, deans, presidents, curriculum specialists, textbook specialists, etc. She can write for senior executives and frontline staff—and everything in between.

She updated her home page to reflect this new positioning, and she started to get a lot of interest.

How are you getting clients?

Holly prospects for clients with warm emails. She’s also put ads on Craigslist and responds to job boards. She doesn’t limit herself to one prospecting method.

Because she wants to gain experience, she’s willing to make some trade offs. But at the same time, she’s slowly raising her fees and no one is complaining.

Most clients want to confirm that she can write for B2B and their audiences. They want to know her background and credentials, and they may take a look at her samples.

How are you able to have these prospecting conversations with confidence?

For Holly, sending out warm emails and following up is very scary. But she knew that with practice she can overcome her fears. She’s getting better at it.

One thing that really helped her confidence was revamping her samples. Instead of giving clients full samples, she provides them with one sheet that include excerpts of her writing with some context.

This gives her greater control over what the client sees. This is important because some of her samples were a little dated and uneven. This method allows her to select the best parts.

Clients like it because they don’t have time to read a 75-page white paper, for example.

Having “not great” samples is a problem that will solve itself as you land more clients.

Generally, we put too much importance on samples. In most cases, your positioning, and how you talk to prospects, are much more important. By the time prospects look at your samples, they’ve already bought in.

What samples did you have when you first started out?

Holly didn’t have many samples at first. In some cases, she used samples from course assignments. She also used a white paper she’d written in 2007.

She had some creative stories that had nothing to do with her work, but she used some of them too.

Fortunately, the one-sheet portfolio method allowed her to present her samples in a more flattering context.

When it comes to samples, use what you’ve got.

What matters to clients is your ability to write. You don’t have to have amazing samples.

Where do you see yourself in the next couple of years?

Holly has learned that she’s better at writing longer-form pieces. Eventually, she may pivot to ghostwriting longer pieces.

She landed a couple projects where she edited outlines for authors and found that she’s really good at it. This is something she never would have known if she hadn’t taken a chance on those projects.

She remains open to where things take her. She’s always open to feedback and looking for personal and professional growth.

Who cares if you end up going in a totally different direction than you expected? As long as it’s financially viable and makes you happy, it’s all good!

Where can listeners learn more about you?

Holly’s website: http://informationmarketingtobusinesses.com