As a business, are you a generalist or a specialist? Both can work.

My first Saturday job (way back in the 1980s) was in a department store. A one-stop shop where anyone could buy anything. We’ve since witnessed the rise of specialist shops, starting with brands such as Knickerbox (just knickers) and Tie Rack (just ties). Those outlets would typically charge more per item. Customers who wanted those products got more choice. They were destination purchases as well as opportunist purchases.

My first copywriting job was at Freemans home shopping – at the time, one of the ‘big five’ home shopping catalogues. The equivalent of a department store in a big book. Now, there are thousands upon thousands of niche catalogues, and most shopping is done online at generalist or niche websites.

Maybe my early career is what led me to be a generalist copywriter. I’ll write about (almost) anything. I like the variety. Novelty inspires me. My team includes specialist copywriters with niche expertise, so when a client wants an expert on their topic, they can have one.

The trainer’s perspective

As a copywriting trainer, I could try to sell a general copywriting course. But I don’t. I sell niche courses including Copywriting for Recruiters, Copywriting for Journalists, Copywriting for Marcomms professionals etc.

While the basic copywriting advice is much the same, each course is tailored to suit its own audience, with case studies drawn from delegates’ own documents to make it really practical.

The course names tell trainees that the course is for them, and that’s why they buy it.

The copywriter’s perspective

“You’ve got to have a niche.”

That’s the received wisdom in the US-based copywriting groups on Facebook. It prevents lots of aspiring copywriters from getting started, because they think they have to find their niche first.

I disagree.

I’ve been a successful generalist copywriter since I started freelancing in 2001. Or perhaps you could say I have several niches.

There are certainly some topics I write about more frequently, so have become fairly knowledgeable about them (these include legal, financial services, coaching and consulting, retail, and recruitment). And there are other topics I prefer not to write about at all (including IT – unless the client insists they want simple Plain English with no mention of ‘solutions’).

I know my comfort zone, and specialise in corporate and small business copywriting. I choose not to work with public sector or charity clients as they talk a completely different language (I have copywriters in my team who can do that).

If a client asks how I can write about sectors I haven’t written about before, I tell them: “You don’t have to kill someone to write a murder novel.”

If there is a subject I haven’t written about, I do my research. That’s the secret of all good copywriting.

Benefits of research

You might remember this story as I’ve told it before…

When I was about 14, my mum’s friend asked what I wanted to do when I grew up.

“I want to be a writer,” I said.

She suggested I enter a competition to write a story about the country then called Zaire (previously and now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo).

Google didn’t exist back then, but she gave me a copy of the National Geographic magazine which had an article about Zaire. I used that article to understand what the landscape looked like, know what character names might be, and to inspire my story.

I won the competition, and learned a valuable lesson about research.

By asking the right questions, a good copywriter can write about anything.

Benefits of having a niche

Copywriters who have a niche claim they can charge more.

For example, I heard of a copywriter who specialised in writing for golf clubs. Her fees were waaaaay above average, but all the golf clubs went to her because she was such an expert.

I know another copywriter whose cheapest fee was $750 for 30 minutes. She could charge that because she has a level of fame and a distinctive writing style that her clients just can’t get anywhere else.

Another copywriter told me he charges £20,000 for one sales letter – but that’s for a client who will make £millions as a result of that sales letter.

Generalist copywriters might be comparatively cheap. That said, we know our value and will quote a fair rate.

Remember, copywriting is an investment not a cost. It should always result in incremental sales that more than cover the fee.

What this means to you

If you have a niche, you already know what it is.

If you don’t have a niche, just get started. You’ll soon find out if you have one. And if you don’t, don’t worry.

It’s about supply and demand. Put yourself out there. Do your research. Provide what clients ask for. Then position your service to meet the demand for the best chance of success.

P.S. Wondering if I have another generalist copywriter in my team? Why, yes I do. Meet Sara.

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