Finding and Developing a Niche
One of the biggest problems that many freelancers have is finding a way to stand out from the crowd of providers, especially in disciplines that are popular. Generalists have a more difficult time getting noticed, because there are more generalists than specialists in most fields. And while some people are natural specialists because of their training and experience, even those who are not can increase their chances of getting freelance projects by focusing a niche where good jobs can be found.
One reason why developing a niche is valuable is that it is more practical to focus on a small aspect of a particular field and get really good at it, than it is to try to excel at everything. It’s hard to say (honestly) that you are, for example, the best programmer around, but you can become the best at programming a particular type of application, or using a specific language.
One common example of a generalized field where competition is fierce is transcription. Doing really good quality, high-speed transcription takes considerable skill, but average quality, “ordinary” transcription can be done by pretty much anyone with a computer and a decent understanding of the source language. Many experienced transcriptionists who go online are frustrated to see that the work for which they used to charge $60 an audio hour is now going for under $10 an audio hour. This work goes mainly to overseas providers, who do not have the skill of seasoned transcriptionists, but make up for this by “brute force”—putting in a lot of hours to earn that ten bucks. As a result, it has become very difficult for North American transcriptionists to compete in the general transcription field (at least at rates they’d like).
However, there are specialties in this field that require much more expertise, such as transcription of technical documents; recordings with speakers who have accents; legal or medical transcription; and so forth. Jobs in these niches command much higher rates than “general” transcription, because they cannot be easily done by anyone with an ear and a keyboard.
You don’t need to already be an expert in a particular niche, nor to have years of experience in that specific field, to build a career as an area specialist. (Though it certainly doesn’t hurt!) You do have to know the basics, and be willing to put in the time, money and effort it takes to get very good at what you do. If you have the skills and the patience, and you build your work history, you can eventually become recognized as someone who is especially capable in that area.
It’s also essential to keep your eyes out for opportunities that may arise. Take myself as an example. I like programming work, and early in my freelancing career, noticed that there were many employers looking for workers to copy data from various sources and paste it into Excel worksheets. I recognized that this was the sort of task I could automate using software, and over time, I built a nice side business for myself in automated data extraction, processing and conversion. It took considerable time and money to get the software and develop the tools and techniques, but it paid off.
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Last Site Update: October 21, 2011
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