“There’s riches in niches…”
I’ve heard this said over and over (and over) again.
And in general, I agree with it.
In fact, it’s part of the reason I’ve doubled-down recently on the financial copywriting bit, and largely ignored almost every other opportunity that’s been put in front of me. (With the exception, of course, of serving my Breakthrough Marketing Secrets readers and BTMSinsiders members.)
But, I do think it’s possible to take this advice TOO EARLY.
That’s the subject of today’s Mailbox Monday essay.
Remember: Every Monday I answer YOUR questions about marketing, copywriting, selling, business-building, your career, and a whole lot more. Click here to submit your question, to have it answered in an upcoming issue.
I’m 20 years old and have been studying copywriting for the past 2 months or so. I can quite confidently say, I’m OBSESSED with it.
More specifically, I want to work in the direct response field. My “dilemma” and the reason why I’m asking you this is… how can I best settle on my niche?
I’m determined to pick a niche because I know that it will fit in with my personality better. I can be a productivity machine as long as I do ONE thing at a time. So I don’t want to make things harder than they need to be…
… with that being said: My top 2 choices right now are either Health or Fitness.
Now, I’m not expecting you to tell me exactly which one to pick… but what is your take on the fitness niche? I already know that health is gigantic and has many possibilities.
Further, are there any practices you can recommend once I choose my niche?
I thought writing spec sales letters would be good for starters…
My first reaction is: don’t pick a niche yet!
Now, this is very specific to “F” and their situation, but I’ll give you my reason behind it and why it might be the right advice for you, too.
When you’re two months into ANYTHING, you don’t know enough about it to decide the direction of the rest of your life.
You can have an idea. And that idea can inform what you do today. And what you do today will set you on a certain path that will influence the rest of your life.
But a couple months in and only 20 years old means you have a LOT of life and career in front of you. You also have what effectively amounts to ZERO experience.
Your first goal MUST be to get experience.
And here I’m talking about more than just your first project.
Early on, you want a mix of experience, across industries, and across responsibilities. A copywriter who can only write, for example, will never be as good as a copywriter who understands how to buy targeted traffic. Likewise, a copywriter who has confined themselves to even a larger vertical will lack the inspiration that comes from cross-pollinating across a pile of different industries.
Some of this can be made up for with research. But nothing beats good-old-fashioned experience.
Consider this: If you were to go to medical school, you’d be forced to have a wide variety of experience.
For the first two years, you’d start with some more generalized courses, to get you up to baseline “doctor” book learnin’. Sure, there’s some real-world experience thrown in (though mostly hands-off), and some labs.
Then for the next couple years, you do rotations. The first of these two years, you rotate through the fundamental specialties that all doctors must understand on an experiential level. Then, you get some choice of rotations in the areas (niches, if you will) that interest you.
Then, for the next few years, you’ll end up in a residency. This is where you’re finally really niching down and determining the path you’ll take for your career as a doctor. Of course, this can always change as you grow, but this is where you’re really focusing in on a specialty that is likely to stick with you.
Sure, with copywriting you probably don’t have anyone’s life in your hands, but you really think you’re prepared to pick a niche after two months of studying?
Here are some ideas of what to do before you pick a niche…
Get a marketing job at an entrepreneurial company…
First, I think the path straight into copywriting without having some kind of marketing experience is fraught with peril.
I’ve often said that your copy doesn’t exist in a vacuum — and I’ll likely write more on that soon, per the request of one of my readers.
But here’s the thing: your copy doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
Just writing copy — even good copy — doesn’t make a business. You have to understand markets, and getting qualified prospects to see your copy. You have to understand economics, and how customer value works. You have to have a sense of how marketing and sales interacts with the other aspects of a business, and how that contributes to overall success.
And I believe the best way to get all these lessons is firsthand, by getting a marketing job that allows you to practice direct marketing inside an entrepreneurial company. Doesn’t have to be long-copy, Halbert-esque emotional direct response, but it should be measurable so you can see what works and what doesn’t. And you’ll want it to be in a culture that allows for experimentation.
Get clients in the niches you think you want to work in…
That said, you should ALSO be working on your copywriting career.
While your marketing job pays the bills, you can experiment with freelancing on the side, and get both experience and a reputation (hopefully a good one!).
The advantage of doing it this way is you can be more flexible and less desperate while you’re working on your freelancing and developing your copywriting chops. Because no matter how ambitious you are, you’re probably going to struggle quite a bit in creating success for a bit on the freelance side. So it’s nice to have a full-time gig that pays the bills.
Hopefully, as you do work in the niches you want to work in, you’ll discover that they’re as good as you were hoping. And the experience and reputation you’re building will only help you going forward.
But you may discover you don’t love these niches as much as you thought you would. Which is why you must also…
Get clients in other niches…
I wrote for erectile dysfunction supplements. I wrote for software. I wrote for coaching services. I wrote for who-knows-what-else.
I also didn’t just write direct response. I wrote ebooks. I wrote content. I wrote shorter emails for sales pages I didn’t write. I wrote what needed to be written, for people who would hire me.
I didn’t always like those projects. Or, necessarily, succeed.
But I always learned from them.
Even if it was just to never take another erectile dysfunction assignment again (and on a deeper level, to trust my gut when it says, “nope, that’s not a good project or client for you”).
From your perspective, getting this experience probably would feel like a waste. But after you’ve had it, you’ll look back on it as being some of your most valuable.
One more thing…
Launch a side business where you have to do everything…
I call this a “sandbox” side project.
It’s not supposed to make you a lot of money, though hopefully it does well for you.
Rather, this is a project where you have to and get to do everything, so success and failure is completely up to you.
Digital publishing makes a great product category for this. Though you’re probably better aiming more for a hobby market, rather than competing with the “big boys and girls” in one of the bigger health or wealth markets.
Or if you have something else worth selling, do that. The general idea is to create a marketing and fulfillment system that lets you really experiment and develop your skills.
Even if the product has nothing to do with the niche you eventually work in, it’ll be valuable experience.
How to pick a niche, once you have some decent experience…
So, you’ve done some or all of the above, and you have experience?
The “picking a niche” question will likely be less of a question, at that point. Because you’ll be able to make the decision based on at least some level of experience.
But that said, there are some things that will likely influence your choice…
Pick a market you can talk to…
This often gets misunderstood as “follow your passion.”
If you have a passion in a market, you’ll likely be able to talk to the people in the market in a way that resonates. Which will give you an advantage in persuading them.
Even better, if you have a passion in the market, you’ll probably still want to talk to them in 2 years, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years and beyond.
But you can always learn a market if the desire and fit are there.
Pick a market that’s big enough…
My example of a bad market is the foam wing cutting for model airplanes market. I owned that market in a sandbox side business, for years. But it was so small I could’ve never made a living.
On the flipside, the investment market is HUGE and there’s room there for a ton of big publishers. Plus all the other businesses serving investors.
You want a market that’s actually full of competition, because unless the market disappears, you’ll likely never run out of opportunities.
Pick a market full of opportunities for people like you…
I’ve tried to work with startups, a few times. As much as I’d love to, I can’t do it anymore.
I’m much better off working with people who are ready, willing, and able to pay my fees, for the kind of work I’m good at, and who can make the most of the work product created.
A good indicator of a good client for me is someone who has hired others to do the same kind of work I’m offering. A good market is a market full of clients like that.
Finally, some thoughts on fitness versus health…
I’ve tried and failed at a couple health projects.
As a young and fairly healthy man, it’s been hard for me to resonate with the buyers in that market, who tend to be older and have multiple ailments that plague them.
No matter the opportunity there, I’m pretty much staying away from that market for now, because it’s just not a priority for me to learn to connect with them.
Fitness is a bit of a different market, full of younger marketers and younger companies. They don’t have the same lists that the health marketers do, but for me they’d be a better bet. Because I’m pretty big into fitness, I know a lot about what’s going on in that market, and could probably connect with prospects in a powerful way.
I’m guessing for a 20 year old, F would likely lean even further in that direction.
The good news is that both of these markets are huge, and there are also a ton of direct marketers in the fitness niche.
So my answer to the superficial question is that fitness is probably a better bet, from the little I know.
But only in the context of all the other advice here.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,