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Friday, February 3, 2012

Can you Specialize and Diversify at the Same Time? Sure!

I've been sharing the results of the 2012 Freelance Income Survey the last couple of posts (how much money freelancers made and the types of work freelancers are doing), and something occurred to me. Especially in today's changing freelance market, it makes sense to diversify the types of work you're doing. That doesn't mean you can't continue to specialize, though.

Here's what I mean. Very early in my freelance career I realized that most of the writers I knew who making a good living weren't generalists. They chose to specialize, whether it was writing about business and technology; health and parenting; parenting and technology; or health and fitness. When I consciously chose to specialize (in health, fitness, and nutrition), my business took off. Even today, I find it easier to navigate the freelance world as a specialist with a depth of knowledge in several popular subjects.

That doesn't mean, though, that I don't diversify the type of work I do. In the last couple of years, my work has included:

  • Writing original consumer magazine and trade magazine articles
  • Writing original online magazine articles and blog posts
  • Selling reprint rights to previously-published articles to U.S. markets
  • Selling reprint rights to previously-published articles to non-U.S. markets
  • Public speaking at a variety of events and venues
  • Teaching online classes and leading Webinars for pay
  • Collecting royalties from traditionally-published books
  • Collecting royalties from POD and e-books (both fiction and nonfiction)
  • Ghostwriting books and book proposals
  • Editing books 
  • Ghostwriting articles 
  • Consulting with/coaching potential book authors and freelance writers 
While the overwhelming majority of my work falls into the health/wellness/fitness/nutrition area (or my other niche, successful freelancing), you can see that the type of work I do varies. My point? Yes, I suggest you specialize, but that you perform a variety of different kinds of writing about your specialty as well. You'll stay more flexible in a challenging economy, and help boost your overall freelance income.

***Freelancers, what do you think? Two questions--number one, do you agree with my idea of specializing while diversifying? And number two, what topics do you want to know more about? I've been getting hundreds of hits on the blog lately but few comments. If you find this blog valuable, please chime in and tell me so...and what else you want to know about, freelance-wise. Thank you!


  1. How funny to read this post today! I have been all over Google looking for the answers to my questions about niche writing, and this gave me exactly what I was looking for. Thank you.
    I am a staff writer and columnist (part time) for my local newspaper; it feeds my soul but doesn't pay the bills. I have one consistent ghostwriting client, but I want to create more income for myself. Recently I began copywriting for non-profits and small businesses. I still want to write for magazines, and now I have an idea of which publications to target. Thank you!

  2. Glad to hear it, Stephanie--thanks for your comment, and good luck with your freelance career. Copywriting is a great niche, and one that seems to be weathering the recession better than some other ones. Please continue to comment and let me know what you think! :)

  3. I like your practical posts best, about putting ideas into action or what aspects of the writing life really look like--ie, royalty statements and such.

  4. Yes. I pretty much started out with two "niches"-medical/biotech writing and fiction. I branched out into all sorts of medical/biotech areas - medicine, regulation, technology, business, then I also started writing in other areas - general features for a newspaper, wrote about personal finance, small business issues, topics for plumbers and contractors. Then I went through a contraction year and most of the stuff unrelated to medicine or biotechnology fell away. But I found it a lot easier to find work related to medical/biotechnology writing. And I decided there were worse places to be.

    I don't really write much consumer medicine pieces, but I write a lot of white papers, market reports, press releases, e-newsletters, website content, trade journal, e-books, etc. related to several areas of medicine and biotechnology. I'm basically an "expert" on clinical diagnostics, but I've got an extremely solid background now in health IT, medical practice management and a good enough grounding in biotech that I can write in a lot of areas like that. The work's easier to find.

    And the fiction somewhat helps keep me sane (debatable, I know).

  5. Thanks, Eliana! I'll keep that in mind.

    And thanks for your comment, Mark. I like the way you've expanded and then retracted your niche, and how it's helped you build, as you said, a solid background in the areas you write about. I think that kind of depth and specialization help writers, especially today where more clients are looking for more than just a freelancer--they're looking for freelancers who have some knowledge about a particular subject. Thanks to both of you for weighing in! :)

  6. I would say the advantages to specializing are you become more than a writer, you become an expert, and clients sometimes come to you and assign you work. Also, many specialty areas - medicine, computers, marketing/business - seem to pay better.

    Disadvantages are that, well, you're always writing about the same stuff, more or less.

  7. I agree that specializing but diversifying is essential. Pick a niche or two, get known for it, and then leverage your skills to produce all kinds of writing (see Mark above). One of the confusing things for new writers is understanding that focusing on a few publications for pitching doesn't mean you don't seek other kinds of writing work.

    Love the blog, Kelly. I read this one and another one every week, and I be sad if something changed.

  8. I suppose I'm drawn to writing articles and essays about topics that interest me most--which often involve teen issues and parenting teens (probably because I have teens! :o) But as your first commenter said, I need more than this to "pay the bills" so I've diversified into copywriting as well (& I write fiction for fun).

    All this being said though, I still remain open to even more diversity in my writing projects.

  9. Thanks, Joanna! I'm glad you find the blog helpful. I'm going to keep it going, believe me; I get a lot of hits even on my older posts, which tells me people find it valuable. And you're right--just because I choose to specialize doesn't mean I don't do other kinds of work as well.

    Holly, you're right about diversifying. The days of a freelancer doing just one thing are about gone--I think the more you can provide a client, the more "hirable" you are, you know?

    Thank you both for your comments. :)