Finding Clients as a Freelancer

Finding Your Niche

Paul Boag

Paul Boag

Finding Clients as a Freelancer

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The "Finding Your Niche" Lesson is part of the full, Finding Clients as a Freelancer course featured in this preview video. Here's what you'd learn in this lesson:

Paul describes the minimum viable audience as the smallest group of potential clients that's capable of generating enough work for 2-3 years. An audience that boosts a freelancer's voice/presence can create leads across an entire sector. Another factor is if the audience can afford the cost of a service. Targeting a more niche sector can lead to higher quality work.


Transcript from the "Finding Your Niche" Lesson

>> Let's move on and look at, okay, how are we going to find our minimum viable audience, right? So this is the smallest group of people we can find that is capable of generating enough work to keep us busy for at least two or three years, right? That's what we're after.

And this audience has to have certain characteristics for this to work well, right? So let me run through some of the characteristics that you're gonna look for as you come to choose, to think who your audience might be. First of all, we are looking for an audience that provides certain characteristics.

And one of those characteristics is that they boost and amplify your voice. Well, what does that mean? There are some groups of people, some sectors that have got a strong sense of community, right, that talk to one another a lot. So for example, developers, right, they share a lot, they talk to one another.

There are conferences you can go on, there's blogs you can read. They interact with each other a lot. And so that means that you're more likely to get, anything that you put out into a sector like that is more likely to get handed around the sector and promoted across the sector without you having to do additional work.

While there are other sectors that are highly competitive with one another and they don't talk to one another, right? And so those, you're not gonna get that same amplification. So you're ideally looking for a sector where there is a sense of community. And we'll come on to that in a little bit more in just a second.

But there's some more fundamental questions we need to ask about our chosen target audience, whoever it is we're tryna reach. For a start, can they afford us, right? Before you worry about anything else, really you need to establish whether the audience that you wanna reach out to can afford the kind of services you offer.

Have they got the kind of size of clients, right? Because if they can't, then you might as well forget it, they're no good for us. Now, going back to this thing about boosting your message and having a community and passing your name around, right, which is what we wanna happen.

One of the things that's really good to look for in a sector is, do people move around a lot in that sector? So do people tend to work at one company for a few years and then go to another company within the same sector? That is a great way of getting your name and reputation spread around, right?

So for example, you remember I was talking about an insurance company earlier that I'm doing loads of work for. Well, my primary point of contact in one of those companies is now moving to an American insurance company. Aha, now, we're opening up the American insurance company sector as well as the UK, brilliant, loving it, right?

So if people are moving around in the sector, that's good. And you just look at people's job history on LinkedIn and you can quickly get an idea of whether that's happening or not. So can they afford you? Do they move around? Do they talk to one another, right?

So some sectors are very protective of things like their intellectual property. So there's little communication between the different companies. Others, on the other hand, are very open, and you'll want the latter. So some of the sectors I've worked in, for example, higher education, they talk to each other a lot, they don't really compete, at least in the UK, I don't know what it's like over here.

Charities, they don't feel like they're competing very much, they tend to talk to one another. Is there a community, right? So does the sector have dedicated blogs, conferences, online communities? Do they have forums? Do they have mailing lists, places where that sector, that community assemble, right? So for example, if I know I wanna reach developers like you guys, I know that I want to contribute to Stack Overflow, right, cuz that's where you are.

I know I maybe wanna write a guest post on, I don't know, I have forgotten the name of the blog, the Chris Coyier, CSS 1.
>> CSS Tricks.
>> CSS Tricks, that's it. I might wanna work right there, or there are places I know that you guys go [LAUGH] that I can go and find you.

And then finally, are there influences in that community, right? Are there people that kind of stand out within that community? So a great example of that was in higher education, all right, when I decided to target higher education in the UK, with one, one higher education client. It had gone really well.

I'd really enjoyed the project and I thought I wanna do more of that. So at the end of the project, I asked my client, where do you guys meet? Have you got any conferences? Have you got any blogs or anything like that? And he said, well, we do have this mailing list called the IWMW mailing lists, the Institutional Web Managers Workshop mailing list.

Wow, what a snappy title that had, right? And I tried to join it, and I couldn't, because I didn't have an domain name, which is the equivalent of edu. And they knew that I was an evil commercial person trying to sneak in and sell. But instead of giving up, I actually contacted the guy around the list and said, can I join it and just listen in and see what's going on?

And I actually started chatting with this guy cuz he was obviously an influencer in the sector. He ran this list. I found out he ran a conference, and we've become really good friends. And to this day, I've never asked him to sell anything for me, I've never been pushy at all with him,.

But I've actually keynoted his conference for about ten years on the trot. And I've become a big part of that community just by joining in and offering advice. So looking for people like that as well is really worthwhile. So don't be afraid to go niche when it comes to thinking about your sector.

I'm hoping even right now as you're listening to this, you're beginning to think of different sectors maybe that you've got a little bit experience in, or that you've worked in. But you'll have this desire to go broad, right, because you're afraid of not having enough people. But this one sector doesn't need to support you in isolation.

There's no reason why you can't do multiple sectors. So don't be afraid to go niche, because, actually, you could do, I don't know, instead of higher education, I could have done just universities, right? That immediately knocks out all the further education people, that enables me to go. And effectively, that's what I ended up doing, because they were the ones that could afford my services, right?

And that was actually enough to sustain my agency for quite a long time. But I could have added to that, charities, or mental health charities, or charities that work with a particular community or whatever else. Cuz you can have more than one sector on a go, that's not a problem.

And it doesn't take that many people to sustain a business, that many organizations. If the sector has just got a handful of publications, a few events it puts on every year, it's got one or two communities, and approximately maybe 1,000 companies in the sector as a whole, that's about the right size.

It doesn't need to be enormous. So as you're thinking about possible sectors that might fit into this category, I would also suggest that you consider your own experience. If you've got experience before, look at your own portfolio of clients, look at previous employers, who have you worked with in the past.

Are there any reoccurring sectors, right? Do you have any good contacts in a particular sector? Maybe somebody that knows a lot of people, he's is an influencer. But don't feel constrained by that experience necessarily. It's more important to find a sector that excites you than has the proper criteria, because if it's a sector you don't really care that much about, then you're not really gonna really go for it.

More important, it's something you really enjoy, got passionate about. So as I said, there's three sectors that I've targeted over the years. So I did UK charities for a while. That one went pretty well, I had a good degree of success there. Worked with, not top tier charities, I mean we did a few, we did Oxfam, which is a big charity, I've worked with UNICEF.

So that was a few of those, but there was a lot of kind of middling ones underneath that, that were really good long-term sustaining work. There were loads of charity, conferences, and publications, and online communities, and I just joined in with those. I did the same with Heritage, I mentioned that earlier.

And then of course, universities is where I got on this mailing list. And that's quite an interesting one, the universities one, because it's very easy to give up too soon, right? So I went to this mailing list, I couldn't join it, but I didn't just give up at that point, I contacted the guy that ran it, and he gave me very strict instructions.

Obviously, I said, look, I'm just trying to learn about the sector. And he said, fine, you can be on the mailing list, but you cannot post. Well, it would be tempting to think then, but why am I bothering, what's the point? But I did sincerely wanna learn about the sector and understand it better.

So I joined the mailing list and just read what their problems were, what their challenges were, what they were struggling with. And actually over time, there started to be questions that I felt I could answer. So I wrote up my answer and sent it to the guy that ran the list and said, can I post this?

And he would say, yeah, that's fine, you haven't, so go for it. And I did that again, and again, and again, and eventually, he said, look, Paul, just post, but don't sell. So that's what I did, and I started joining in. And then I discovered they had a conference every year, and I said to Brian, the guy that ran the conference, can I speak at the conference?

And he said, no, you're commercial, you can't. And I said, can I come to the conference? Yes, if you pay, and you don't sell. So I went along and I joined in. I bought everybody drinks, always a good way of getting people on your side, especially in Britain.

So I had a great time, met loads of people. Next year, I said, can I submit a talk? He said, you can submit one, we'll see. So I submitted a talk. And they said, yeah, all right, you can give that in this tiny little room out the back [LAUGH] as long as you don't sell.

So I did that for one year. And then the next year, I submitted another talk. And because everybody had been very nice and I hadn't sold, I got to stand on the main stage, and so and so on, and it went on like that. So you gotta kinda commit to doing this over the long-term.

You can't just swoop and poop on the sector, beautifully worded there.

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