Boss Responses

#42: Niching Down vs Being a Generalist with Liz Heflin

June 25, 2024 Treasa Edmond
#42: Niching Down vs Being a Generalist with Liz Heflin
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Boss Responses
#42: Niching Down vs Being a Generalist with Liz Heflin
Jun 25, 2024
Treasa Edmond

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The niching down dilemma: to specialize or not to specialize. In this episode of the Boss Responses podcast, host Treasa Edmond and guest Liz Heflin delve into the topic of niching down in freelancing. The discussion addresses the common advice that freelancers must specialize to succeed. Treasa and Liz share their personal experiences and viewpoints on the importance of niching down versus maintaining variety in their work. They explore the benefits of specialization, including efficiency, reputation, and financial goals, while also emphasizing the freedom to experiment and diversify. The episode offers practical insights into building a successful freelance business, managing client expectations, and maintaining integrity in client relationships.

About Our Guest
Liz Heflin has been a freelance writer and editor since 2006. She’s also the founder of MACE Writing, her content marketing consultancy. After fifteen years of seeing firsthand the benefits of freelance, she launched a second arm of her business. Designed to help her fellow freelance writers have more success, these services include group and private coaching, resource creation, and the Inkwell community. Liz is excited every day to do her job, and her mission is helping other freelancers capture that in their lives!

Links You Might Want
Check out Liz's Inkwell community 

Connect with Liz on LinkedIn 

Interested in Liz's "Find Your Floor" course? Learn more about it.  

Support the Show.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to listen to Boss Responses. Have a question you'd like answered? Send it to info@bossresponses.com

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

The niching down dilemma: to specialize or not to specialize. In this episode of the Boss Responses podcast, host Treasa Edmond and guest Liz Heflin delve into the topic of niching down in freelancing. The discussion addresses the common advice that freelancers must specialize to succeed. Treasa and Liz share their personal experiences and viewpoints on the importance of niching down versus maintaining variety in their work. They explore the benefits of specialization, including efficiency, reputation, and financial goals, while also emphasizing the freedom to experiment and diversify. The episode offers practical insights into building a successful freelance business, managing client expectations, and maintaining integrity in client relationships.

About Our Guest
Liz Heflin has been a freelance writer and editor since 2006. She’s also the founder of MACE Writing, her content marketing consultancy. After fifteen years of seeing firsthand the benefits of freelance, she launched a second arm of her business. Designed to help her fellow freelance writers have more success, these services include group and private coaching, resource creation, and the Inkwell community. Liz is excited every day to do her job, and her mission is helping other freelancers capture that in their lives!

Links You Might Want
Check out Liz's Inkwell community 

Connect with Liz on LinkedIn 

Interested in Liz's "Find Your Floor" course? Learn more about it.  

Support the Show.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to listen to Boss Responses. Have a question you'd like answered? Send it to info@bossresponses.com

Treasa Edmond:

Welcome to the Boss Responses podcast. Are you niched down? Or maybe you hear people talking about the importance of niching down if you want to grow your freelance business and you want to know more about it. For day two of our week, with guest Liz Heflin, we're answering a question about niching down, but it might not be the question you're expecting. If you're a freelancer, business owner or anyone who deals with clients, you're in the right place.

Treasa Edmond:

I'm your host, teresa Edmond. I've been dealing with clients and running my business for nearly two decades and in that time I've dealt with my share of doubt, imposter syndrome and not knowing what to say when a client asked a question I wasn't ready for. I created this podcast to empower you with the boss responses you need to grow your business. Each week, my guest co-host and I will bring you five episodes packed with practical insights. Monday through Thursday, we answer your questions, and Fridays we dive deep to explore how our co-hosts embrace their role as the boss of their business. Welcome to Boss Responses. We are back for day two with Liz Heflin. Liz, what is the question for?

Liz Heflin:

today. All right day. Two question One piece of advice I hear a lot from freelancing experts is you have to niche down if you want to be truly successful as a freelancer? I'm not sure I want to. I like doing different work for different people. Do we need to niche down as much as we're told? Can a type of service, like a specific need, process, problem solution, quality, etc. Be its own niche?

Treasa Edmond:

Yes and no. This is one of those topics that I'm kind of countercultural on, because I started out as an editor and which was very niched down, and then I went to ghostwriting, which wasn't at all, because I wrote for the people who needed the ghostwriting, and that was a wide variety of people, everyone from influencers to senior pastors to business leaders. So I've done some really fascinating things and I loved doing that. There is, however, value in specializing in some way, and I recognize that just because I don't always want to do it doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. It depends entirely on where you want to take your business. If you want to grow to the point where you are working with five high-paying clients at a time and that pays everything for you, that's a really good way to increase your bottom line. Because you're focusing on one thing, you can really get it done quickly and you're excellent at it and people and you're excellent at it and people know you're excellent at it. So then you have the reputational benefit. There are a lot of benefits of choosing one thing the type of service part of the question this one is something I hadn't thought about until I attended an event with Ed Gandia, and he's pretty passionate about this topic and it's one of the things I always thought I disagreed with him about, until I went to that event and I listened to what he had to say about it and how he talked about verticals. He's like it doesn't always have to be a topic or a type of client. He said it can be a vertical, you could just do white papers. But you can do it for a large variety of clients. You could just do case studies, or you can choose a specific type of client and just do white papers. He said so you get to choose how big you want your pond to be.

Treasa Edmond:

And I think that is brilliant because that's what I did. So against my will, I had niched down all of those years by just being a ghostwriter. And to me I'm like, oh, I've been fighting against something I was already doing, and don't we all have those moments? So you're like, no, I don't agree with that at all. Oh, but it's one of those things. So how do you feel about this topic?

Liz Heflin:

I feel like our paths were very similar because I, as I said, I've been doing this for 18 years now. I have never niched down because I like the variety, but very much like you, I'd never really thought about it, contextualize it in that way, until I saw people talking about it on LinkedIn. I do. I gravitate towards long form content. Now mine is even broader because I do a lot of different kinds of long form content. Now mine is even broader because I do a lot of different kinds of long form content. I do full ghost writing, I do business eBooks, I do longer blogs, all of that kind of stuff.

Liz Heflin:

But when I was starting out I would take anything and everything and I have probably done every writing job that you could possibly imagine under the sun at some point. And for me that was really valuable because I got to learn what I really liked, what I didn't like, what kind of clients were rewarding, what kinds weren't, what kind of work was sustaining me, what wasn't. And I was just like okay, if I have to write another PPC ad, I'm going to tear my hair out, I'm going to stop doing PPC ads. So you learn. I think there's value in learning what you like and you don't. I will absolutely say that niching down, I think, is a way to fast track If you're going for financial goals and success. In that sense, niching down is a way to accelerate your way there, because I feel like I got there but I did it on the back of just delivering incredible quality, great customer service, word of mouth. Eventually, like I said, I built my business a lot on referrals, so I got there, but I know that I got there a lot slower because in my positioning and my marketing, all that stuff, I was kind of anything to anybody and while I enjoyed that, I liked the variety and all that stuff.

Liz Heflin:

I think if you're looking to hit the ground running, niching down is a way to get there and I think it's also important to remember, like your agency and all of this, in all of your client facing, marketing, your website, your social media presence, all of that, you can be that a hundred percent niche down super focused writer, but there's nobody looking over your shoulder and tutting you if you take a job that's interesting to you. That's outside of that. I think there's, like you said, there's absolutely value in being known for something, in getting fast and efficient and a real expert at a certain thing, but that never precludes you from going and trying something else, and it's your business. You're in the driver's seat, you get to decide. So I think that's something that people lose in that niching conversation. They go. I don't want to write about that all day, every day, for the rest of my career.

Liz Heflin:

Well, you don't have to. Maybe it's half your clientele, Maybe it's 75% of your clientele, whatever it may be. So I think that's kind of something to keep in mind too.

Treasa Edmond:

And I think that's kind of something to keep in mind too, and I think that's a really good point. Both of us we had that freedom to experiment when we started out, because no one told us otherwise, because it wasn't a huge topic back then Freelancing wasn't even really a topic that many years ago and I will absolutely. If someone comes to me and says I'm just starting out, I'm really stressed about this choosing one area, then don't Try a few things, figure out what you like and then choose it, because I think that's what's really important. The other thing is you have that freedom when you're first starting. You realize eventually okay, I need to choose something here and get really good at it, because that's what my business is about.

Treasa Edmond:

Then you get to the point where Liz and I are at and you can play again. You're like okay, I've done this for a long time, I'm really good at it, it's making me a good living. I can step back from this 25, 50%, try a new thing, see if I like it. If I don't, it's no skin. I can absolutely then go back to doing it 100% of the time if I want. So I'm a big believer of not building yourself into a box. And that's the whole thing with boss responses, million ways to run a freelance business. You do you, but make sure that you're doing the right things. And it's the same thing with trying something new. Do it in a semi-structured way that still allows you to have fun with it, and then just run.

Liz Heflin:

And.

Treasa Edmond:

I'm a huge fan of that. Do I see the benefit, though, of choosing one specific area or type of service? Absolutely yes, and not the enemy of the concept, like I thought I was for so many years.

Liz Heflin:

Yes, and I think, especially in this like particular landscape, where it is just more competitive now there are just more people in this space and part of that's the pandemic and part of its layoffs and part of it's all kinds of global reasons. But finding ways to make yourself stand out in a sea of applicants, that's only going to serve you. I think I've lightened on my oh, you don't need to niche down advice. I think in this landscape it is a way to differentiate yourself, and I've heard from many heads of content hiring managers things. They're asked point blank what do you look for when you throw out a call for writers, what factors are you looking for? And that industry experience is almost always, inevitably one of the things at the top of the list.

Treasa Edmond:

So they are looking for it and I'm glad you said experience, and I'm also glad that you mentioned the layoffs, because that has led to an influx of new people freelancing and I love them. I'm glad they're here. I hope they enjoy it as much as I did. But I'm also seeing a lot of people use titles that aren't representative of what they actually do, and that is interesting for us because both of us as ghostwriters. There are a whole bunch of people all of a sudden who say they do ghostwriting, but what they're really doing is writing for hire. It just doesn't have their name on it, and then they think if it doesn't have their name on it, then it's ghostwriting, which is not.

Treasa Edmond:

Ghostwriting is very nuanced. It involves voice and tone and keeping the people's ideas intact and making them better, and it's the same thing with every area of specialization. There are certain things that need to happen, and some people don't know that, but they still say they do that, which that doesn't matter, because they still look like they're your competitor in title. So what I would really clarify with that is if you specialize in a specific area, make sure your messaging is on point and make sure it proves that you know what you're doing. That's going to go a long way, and it took me a long time to figure that out and really start talking about it, and at one point I taught a little bit on ghostwriting, because it's just, ghostwriting specifically is one of those things that's behind the veil.

Liz Heflin:

It is definitely its own beast.

Treasa Edmond:

But I see the same thing with white papers. It's what do you do? And I write white papers. That's great. How many have you done? Two, okay, how'd you learn how to do it? I just did one. There's a difference between doing something and specializing in something. There's also a difference between being willing to learn something and saying you're an expert. And I think that if you choose to specialize, start off by saying yes, I can do that, but don't call yourself an expert until you actually are, please.

Liz Heflin:

Yes, and I'm sure that we'll touch on this in a bit, but that's so much about building that trust with your clients. And that is one way to retain a client is by going in with open, honest communication, setting realistic expectations and delivering on exactly what you say. And part of that is not over-promising and under-delivering, which can happen when you come right out of the gates and you read all of the advice about okay, here's how I position my marketing, but you don't have any of the practical experience to bolster all of the principles.

Treasa Edmond:

Yeah, and Liz and I were talking before we started recording today about the whole premise of boss responses, which is there are a bunch of different ways to run a business. Do it your way, but there are some things you have to do if you want to be successful and if you want to be good at running your own freelancing business. One of those is exactly that Do not over-promise and under-deliver ever. Just don't do it. It gives your business a bad name and you don't want that, and so that's one of those consistencies that every single one of us needs to pay attention to Absolutely.

Treasa Edmond:

All right, that's day two. Come back tomorrow when we're going to talk about managing deadlines and avoiding that feast and famine cycle.

The Value of Niching Down
Specializing vs Claiming Expertise

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