Should you have a copywriting niche, or should you generalise?

Gillian Jones

Taith Copywriting - working with b2bs, b2cs, providing web copy pages, bios and profiles. Available for quick turnaround projects.

One of the hardest things I’ve had to wrestle with since I became a copywriter, is debating whether or not I should specialise.

Opinions are split into two camps, those that believe that having a niche is the only way to make serious money and be successful. And those that believe you don’t need to, because it’s more important to be a good copywriter than have a specialisation.

I can see that there’s a good argument for both. If you are knowledgeable in finance or medicine, then that’s a serious specialisation and your skills will be highly desirable. It shouldn’t be too difficult for you to find work, because these are valuable, key industries.

However, many copywriters choose to specialise in more obscure topics, and the worry is, what if you find your topic is covered by at least half a million other people and competition for jobs is high? Or if you choose something so obscure, there’s no demand for it at all?

I have to be honest, I love generalising. There are two reasons for this.

  1. I love covering a multitude of different topics because it makes the job fascinating. You learn an awful lot, and get to research things you would never have known about had it not been for the job. I can’t think of many occupations where you get to cover so many different things in so many different ways.
  2. In the four and a half years I’ve been doing this I’ve not only covered different topics, I’ve also provided lots of different services. That means I’ve learnt a lot about copywriting, marketing, how to sell and all the different ways this is done. Whether it’s through the creation of web content, sales emails or brochures.

You can’t put a price on it, I’ve spent all this time learning my craft and learning on the job. It feels like I’ve been on an amazing apprentice’s journey, and I’ve loved every single second of it.

However, it’ll be five years in the new year and I’m starting to think it might be time I started to specialise. But for the life of me, I can’t think of any topic I know well enough, or love enough, to spend my time writing about it and nothing else.

Is there an alternative? Well, I have chosen to specialise in a way, I’ve narrowed down my services to four key ones I know I’m good at – but still covering any topic.

I read an article recently by Lianna Patch, a copywriter in the US who’d covered the topic of generalizing or specializing for Copy Hackers. One of her suggestions was to either be a horizontal or vertical copywriter. Say what?

These are terms many of you may be are familiar with, but up until now, I’d ever heard of them.

A horizontal copywriter covers all topics but offers just one service. For example, only sales letters but to all clients and all industries. In my case, I’m providing 3 or 4 services but to all clients. So, I’m a horizontal copywriter, of sorts.

A vertical copywriter covers only one topic, but provides all the copywriting services in that one subject. So, if you cover the SaaS area, you’ll provide all of the services but only for SaaS.

For me, it’s all win-win. I will have spent 5 years learning the ropes, finding out exactly what I’m good at, and I’ve narrowed it down to four key services, of which I may narrow down even further. That means I’ll be a specialist providing the services I know I’m good at, but at the same time still covering all the different topics, a part of the job I love.

What are the pros and cons of specialising in one or two key copywriting services? Well, you need to keep up to date with that particular service – things change and what worked 5 years ago may not work now. You’ll need to know your key service really well and keep up with any technological changes and new ways of doing things.

If you specialise in one topic, then you need to make sure you don’t choose something that’s either too vague and obscure, or so popular there’s too much competition. You’ll also have to make sure you know your chosen topic well, any changes in the industry, any relevant advances in research etc.

So yes, it is possible to specialise without having to give up all the fun if you’re a committed generaliser. And why not? This week I’ve covered: bespoke designer lampshades made from natural organic materials, dental treatments, luxury holiday resorts, coaching and the challenge of escape rooms. All the joy and none of the tedium.

Do you specialise or generalise, and are you happy with your choice?

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28th September 2017

Matthew Drzymala

Great article.

I’m a newbie and a client of mine is a web designer. He sends me work when he has some and I’ve done copy for a nail salon and tennis club.

However, these variations are few and far between. As well as being a web designer he’s a wedding DJ and a lot of clients he works for are DJs.

So I write a LOT of copy for DJs.

Not by choice – but because that’s the bulk of the work he sends me. I’m not one to baulk at the work and it has given me an insight in what a wedding DJ website wants.

It’s kind of a niche for me now – but I do find it refreshing when something else comes in.

So I am now targeting DJs as I need to start finding work on my own – not just what this client sends me and targeting DJs from specialising in copy for them will hopefully win me clients.

However, when I’ve written something else for him it has felt much more freeing to be doing something for a different industry,

3rd October 2017

Alasdair Murray

I specialise in recruitment communications. That covers everything from writing online job ad copy to providing the content for a recruitment/careers related website. Why? Because my experience prior to setting up my own copywriting business was gained at ad agencies where I looked after businesses recruitment advertising needs and newspapers where I sold recruitment advertising space. I do take on other stuff too, but the vast majority of my work is recruitment related, and has been for almost 16 years now. I think if you can write, you can write about anything. But I also think that when it comes to a specialist area like recruitment, it helps to work with someone who knows about it, rather than someone who dabbles.

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