Although this question has been asked in regards to creating a blog, the same question can be asked of anyone who is interested in pursuing a freelance writing career. There are many differing schools of thought on the matter, but what I find is that you will eventually find yourself gravitating toward a certain niche, even if you never intended to do so from the beginning.
I know that’s exactly what happened with me. When I first embarked on this entrepreneurial journey, I was pretty much prepared to take on any freelance writing jobs that I could get. I would hit up Craigslist on a daily basis, try to filter out the junk, and fire off a bunch of emails to see if companies would be interested in my freelance writing services.
The bulk of my attention would lie in writing for websites, but there were a few magazines and other publications that I tried contacting as well. I didn’t have much of a professional portfolio at the time, so I would offer my services to nearly anyone who would listen. Unfortunately, not many of them listened. I even offered to write for free in exchange for some “exposure”, but without a proper portfolio of work and a series of satisfied customers, they weren’t prepared to take a chance on me. They’d probably be happy to take me on now, though.
My first real gig was with Mobile Magazine, with which I continue to work to this day. Mobile Magazine covers all sorts of fun technology, ranging from cell phones and PDAs to electric cars and iPod speaker docks. Because of the research that I do for the site, I’m naturally in touch with what’s happening in the world of gadgetry. I followed the development of the Apple iPhone, for example, long before the public even knew of its existence. Sometimes I get to review some of this stuff too.
Although I never planned on zoning in as a technologically-inclined pro blogger, that’s kind of where I find my freelance writing career today. In addition to MobileMag, I also write for The TechZone, Think Computers, and BlueFur Web Hosting. In my work with LoveToKnow, I’ve come to focus in on video games and cell phones, and I think that is largely because they see me as an expert in those areas.
There are clearly pros and cons to falling into a niche like computers, marketing, or sports. On the one hand, people will start to see you as an expert in that particular field and they’ll be willing to pay you a premium for your work. They know that you have a certain level of knowledge in the area, so you won’t have to do as much research. They can have some assurance that you’re not talking out of your rear end, because you know your stuff. On the other hand, by being billed as a tech writer, a sports writer, or an entertainment writer, you will have a much more difficult time getting freelance writing jobs in other areas. If your customer sees you as a car guy, it’s unlikely he’ll want you to produce something on fine French cuisine.
That said, if you decide to be a freelance writer for the masses, taking on any project under the sun regardless of subject material, there is a possibility that you’ll spread your knowledge base too thin. In effect, as cliche as it sounds, you can become a jack of all trades (or a writer of all topics, as the case may be) and a master of none. I have also experienced this side of things, because I’ve done some strange SEO articles on topics like music and tattoos. In fact, I wrote 700 word articles on both Nicole Richie’s and Angelina Jolie’s tattoos. Apparently, those are popular search terms.
Honestly, I don’t think you really need to make a conscious decision as to whether you should gear your freelance writing career in one particular direction or you should tackle a variety of topics. You don’t need to choose between picking a niche or taking it all on. Be like me and do both. Accept projects that interest you (and pay well), while respectfully declining topics that you either don’t want to write about.
If an interesting proposition arises that is outside of your niche, don’t cast it aside immediately. There may be some great value for you there, because the research aspect can become a secondary benefit. You’ll end up learning about things that you probably wouldn’t read about on your own. Like Angelina Jolie’s tattoos.