Ever wonder how to find a lucrative writing niche?
You know…the kind of writing niche that pays pro rates and allows you to eat well.
Maybe even affords you time to chew your cud, instead of chasing low-paying one-off writing assignments all the time.
Sounds pretty good, right? Now what?
You look out across the lush, green pasture of prospects and wonder where to plant your flag.
What if you’re just too indecisive to settle on one patch of grass?
The truth…you’re a lot more likely to go hungry wandering from one writing niche to the next.
And it doesn’t have to be that way.
When a farmer-turned writer felt the churn of fear and anxiety in her gut about getting paid to write, she decided to find a writing niche that would serve better eats than the content mills.
After some testing, a few blow outs, and greener-pasture detours, this freelancer figured it out.
Ready to find a lucrative writing niche, even if you’re still trying to land freelance writing jobs for beginners? Use the Cow Farts Method (plugging your nose optional). Here’s what you need to know.
Meet the freelancer who writes about cow farts & farm robots
When I decided to shutter my 20-year farming business in the spring of 2019, I had only one other, very rusty skill to turn to – writing.
I had a journalism degree and several years of newspaper reporting experience. But, from 20 years ago. I had no idea what to write about, how to find good clients or what SEO meant.
My light-bulb moment was when I realized that what I knew inside and out – agriculture – would be my ticket to launching a successful (and profitable) career writing about subjects I love.
Even though everybody told me agriculture was a tough niche for a freelance writer.
Most agricultural sales traditionally occur person-to-person at conventions or, literally, on the farm. What marketing does happen was usually done in-house and did not generate written content.
Well, it turned out there are oodles of great-paying clients that needed my particular expertise. I needed to broaden my vision of potential clients and build a marketing strategy that played to my strengths.
Wondering how to find your writing niche to move up and earn more?
Follow the money to find the right freelance clients
My first big lesson was, follow the money.
I tried to work for farmers running small farm businesses, sort of like my farm. But just like I couldn’t have afforded to hire a content creator for my own farm business, neither could they afford me. As much as I love those farmers, they weren’t my clients.
I had to get outside my comfort zone if I wanted to make freelancing work.
I started researching beyond what was comfortable and quickly identified two more focused writing niches:
- ‘Smart farm’ companies with agtech solutions (like robots, drones or using data analytics).
- The sustainable farming movement focused on better farming practices to improve the environment.
The ‘smart farm’ movement was a no-brainer
- It’s projected to nearly double in size in five years and worth $22 billion by 2025, which makes it a great writing niche.
- There are oodles of agtech startups with investment money they need to spend and leads they’re desperate to capture.
- They all need writers that can translate their “techy, data science geek-speak” into “farm vernacular” (as I like to call it). Perfect.
Finding good clients in the sustainable farming movement was trickier
After all, I was a small farmer that used sustainable practices and I already knew the former farmer me couldn’t afford the current writer me! Then I saw a sponsored content piece published in the Guardian about regenerative agriculture, a sustainable farming method I knew inside and out. Maybe I’m zeroing in on a writing niche!
- Who paid for that sponsorship? General Mills. That’s right, the world’s sixth-largest food brand, creator of Cocoa Puffs cereal, for goodness sakes, is creating extensive content about sustainable farming practices. It was something I could have written, practically, in my sleep.
I looked closer. Almost every big company with a toe in:
- Agricultural production
- Land management, or
- An environmental aspect to their business is creating content around sustainable farming practices.
Usually as validation of their sustainability initiatives and to convince their customers their products are Earth-friendly. And they all need writers who understand sustainable farming.
Eureka, great clients in a lucrative writing niche! The sustainable farmers weren’t my clients. The companies writing about sustainable farmers were.
Fun fact: It turns out I can write for, well, almost any sector (I just wrote a piece for a wireless phone company about farm tech using wireless networks). The freelance writing world is my (sustainably-farmed) oyster.
- What niche topics or industries do you know something about or have an interest in?
- If you’re not sure, brainstorm a list.
- What companies and publications are part of your niche?
Where or where might the good clients be?
Finding the right person to connect with in these businesses was another head-scratcher.
- Farmers meet other farmers at conventions.
- Maybe I’d have to take field walks and farm tours
But, as my research had proven (unequivocally), farmers weren’t my clients.
- I needed to find the smart-farm CEOs and marketing directors for large food and clothing companies.
- Or simply any company with a sustainable ag-focused marketing campaign.
Where can you possibly find and connect with executive and marketing directors across many different sectors but all with a common focus?
LinkedIn: The cash cow for freelance marketing
I had a LinkedIn account when I started Carol’s Den2x class in the summer of 2019, but I had never posted to it and had only 200 connections.
So I got to work with a premium account, spiffed up my profile per Carol’s advice, and did the following:
- Targeted potential businesses for connection requests
- Take different “sectors” at a time
- Find mid-size to large businesses (or well funded startups)
- Sending out mass connection requests to their executives
I didn’t worry about exactly who I was targeting, and I didn’t pressure them with follow-up emails – just a simple:
“Thanks for connecting, here’s what I do. Let me know if I can be of any help to you!”
Side note: I tried LOI’s a few times, but quickly gave them up for taking way too long for little return.
How to stand out when you meet prospects for the first time
I quickly realized I got the best engagement when I had something provocative to say about food and farming systems. This built my reputation as a “thought leader” in agriculture.
Farming has many controversial, nuanced aspects (GMOs, pesticides, labor practices, etc.).
By showing I was willing to talk knowledgeably about them, I attracted the attention (and respect) of the types of clients I wanted.
Here’s an example…
Just recently, an executive from a company I would love to work with messaged me and told me he admired my posts. He asked if I minded if he recommended more people in their company connect with me?
- Um, of course not. (And yes, I’ve since connected with that marketing director. Ad I’m on their shortlist for their next content projects!).
In less than a year, I built my 200 connections to over 2,000 (I’m almost to 3,000 connections now). I get quality, inbound leads from my LinkedIn account several times a week (sometimes nearly every day). I haven’t sent out an LOI in over a year.
Fun fact: I recently discovered that when you Google “Ag Writer,” my LinkedIn profile is the first ag-writer profile to pop up (actually, I am the only one in three pages of Google rankings). Several clients have told me they found me just by Googling “ag writer.”
- What do you know about the key players or companies in your niche?
- Have you given your LinkedIn profile a makeover to stand out as the writer in your niche?
- Are you reaching out, networking, and making connections with people in your niche?
Establish yourself in your writing niche
The other strategy I took was building up a body of bylined work about agricultural topics in reputable publications to make a name for myself in this writing niche.
- Trade pubs. I did target some ag trade publications, but I quickly realized most of those are (embarrassingly) low paying in agriculture.
- Consumer pubs. I focused on consumer-facing publications covering sustainable food and farming topics related to climate change, the environment and fun, smart farming solutions (like farm robots!).
Pitching to publications is incredibly frustrating when you are first starting and I hadn’t had a bylined clip in more than 20 years.
But, I was persistent. Through the first half of 2020, I sent out ten or more pitches to different publications a week. A few small wins led to bigger ones. Most recently, I have had a piece published in the Guardian.
Fight back against Imposter Syndrome
When I first started freelancing, the most intimidating thing was the “imposter” syndrome and feeling like I didn’t know enough about marketing and content strategies.
Here’s how I kept going: I spent time that first year working my way through the Writer’s Den library, getting a handle on the basics of SEO, good headlines and writing for an online audience.
I eventually realized that, other than the basics, my clients weren’t hiring me for my deep understanding of digital marketing strategies.
What matters to them are things like:
- Understand farming
- How to talk to farmers and what motivates them
- The ability to translate complex farming and food systems issues into content for their audience
My clients don’t come to me because of my digital marketing chops, they’ve got those (usually hired in-house). But a freelancer that gets “agriculture?” I guess you could say I’m the proverbial “needle” in the haystack in this writing niche.
Tip: Every time I have a bylined piece, I share it with my LinkedIn network and post it on my writer’s website portfolio.
- If you feel like fear and doubt are holding you back, what are you going to do about it?
- What’s stopping you from pitching a story idea, reaching out to an editor or marketing director?
- Seriously, what are you waiting for?
Tap into your writing niche to merge talent + passion
My big take-away for newbie freelance writers, even ones looking at those ‘tough’ writing niches?
Don’t just give-up because everybody else says that writing niche doesn’t work for freelancers!
- Look at the bigger picture. You still have to find the clients that can afford you, but maybe they are in different places than you initially thought.
- Don’t be afraid to be outspoken about what you know and share that with your network (aka potential clients!). My passion for farming is what has built up my LinkedIn following.
Even with a global pandemic, I earned more writing in 2020 than my best year as a farmer. I wrote about wildly fascinating and entertaining subjects.
- Super daddy goat sires?
- Farm robots?
- Cow farts? (This one trended on Twitter for three days). Why, yes, that was me!
This year, one single contract has already eclipsed all of last year’s earnings and I am well on my way to earning more in 2021. I can’t tell you how astounding that is to me. For me, living the dream has turned out not to be farming itself but writing about farming. And the best part? I get to live on my farm while doing it!
Choosing a writing niche is one of the best things you can to do elevate your freelance career to help you move up, earn more, and make a living writing.
Have you found your writing niche? Let’s discuss in the comments below.
Georgie Smith is a freelance agricultural and food writer. She writes content for agricultural businesses, farm-focused food brands and organizations.