By Sarita Harbour
Are you trying to grow your freelance web development or design business? Do you want to spend more time designing websites and less time trying to figure out what the client really wants and needs?
By finding the right web designniche, you can increase productivity and revenue and make your freelance business more profitable.
Web design is a competitive industry, but there are excellent opportunities for those with clear goals. A Google search on “freelance web developer United States” yielded over 51 million results, yet the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that IT jobs for web developers, information security analysts and computer network architects are expected to grow by 22% between 2010 and 2020. According to the website, “Employment of web developers is expected to grow as e-commerce continues to grow. Online purchasing is expected to continue to grow faster than the overall retail industry. As retail firms expand their online offerings, demand for web developers will increase”.
While the study focuses on jobs within IT businesses, the potential for freelance work is also clear. Freelancers just need to learn how to market and run their business. One way to improve your freelance business is to specialize in one or two niches. Choose a profitable niche and you’ll reap the rewards.
Advantages of niche working
Instead of generalizing in many areas, niche web designers can focus their time and energy on narrower areas. You could become an expert on the needs and challenges of one group of clients very quickly, instead of learning little bits about many different businesses, regions or website styles.
Focus on trends in one or two industries
Focusing on a niche market will help you better serve clients in that particular industry. Your productivity and efficiency will improve as well because you won’t be spending as much time figuring out the needs of varied clients. Instead, you’ll work with a smaller group of clients with similar requirements.
Time to develop specialized services
With a narrowed focus, you’ll be better equipped to meet your clients’ web design needs. You’ll be more familiar with new developments and common concerns affecting your target market. By being able to discuss the latest techniques of teeth whitening with dentists or by presenting the evolving demands of tech-savvy real estate customers to realtors, you’ll show prospective clients that you can meet the particular challenges of their businesses.
Narrow your focus to researching and developing new products and services for your niche clients. Ask yourself, “What product or service could I create that fills a particular need for this target market?”
Establish yourself as an expert
Establishing your reputation as an expert in one area of web design or development is easier than establishing yourself as an overall expert in design because there is just too much competition. Clients will have confidence in you if they know that you are a specialist rather than a generalist and that you are familiar with their unique concerns.
Why would a company want to work with a specialist rather than a generalist?
If your web design business was going through an income tax audit, would you rather have the assistance of a general accounting firm or one that specializes in taxes for web designers? A generalist could do the job, but a specialist has more detailed knowledge of your situation.
Having a niche designer means potentially less work for the customer. The client will have fewer revisions to make due to incorrect information or terminology used by the designer in the mockup. They will benefit from your industry-specific services and your knowledge of the language and issues of their business.
Choose an interesting, profitable niche
Find a profitable niche based on your interests, experience and abilities. While you will need to generate enough income to support yourself, money isn’t everything. Don’t work exclusively with one group if you know you will be bored by the work. Either avoid it completely, or include one or two other niches that you’re passionate about or find enjoyable.
Focusing on a single industry or field is one of the simplest ways to specialize. You could quickly get tagged with an awesome nickname—“the wedding planner web design guy,” “the personal injury lawyer web design gal”—which you could incorporate into your marketing and SEO strategies.
Organizations and groups
Creating websites for organizations and groups will quickly generate word-of-mouth referrals and help build your niche business. Sports leagues, service groups, business organizations, religious groups and non-profit or fundraising organizations are examples of groups that need websites. However, think carefully about the financial opportunities before deciding to work with a particular group. Some organizations, such as business-networking services, are more profitable than others—although volunteering your services for a charity website is a worthwhile endeavour and a good way to showcase your skills and add to your portfolio.
Regional and local web development
Despite the global scale of the Internet, some customers prefer dealing with local businesses and having face-to-face meetings. Discover local business opportunities by looking around your area to see how many organizations need websites.
Businesses are finding a web presence to be increasingly important in attracting customers. Depending on the population and activities in your area, you might be able to concentrate on web design services in your city, region or state. You could fill a niche by focusing on just one industry in your region.
Do you enjoy creating e-commerce sites, or do you prefer setting up informational websites? Maybe you only want to work with WordPress. Promoting yourself as a web designer who provides very particular website styles to a range of businesses is another way to find a niche.
Renos, upgrades and speciality services
In the construction world, there are renovation businesses that will fix problems that the initial contractors left behind. Web developers and designers could do the same thing. Find a niche in web design renovations or upgrades, perhaps for a certain industry, region or type of service. For example, you could upgrade websites to be mobile-friendly or to better engage users.
Still can’t think of a niche?
Turn to the media. Look at the headlines in the business section of the newspaper or on a news website. Which businesses are expanding and getting funding these days? Also, look at your previous clients. Which ones did you really enjoy working with, and which ones are busy and growing?
As you consider different areas to focus on, avoid niches that are too small, that you don’t like, or that don’t pay.
Choosing a niche that is too small could result in an unsustainable business. While you might be passionate about creating websites for fans of 17th-century German literature, you’ll likely earn more by making websites for clients with bigger marketing budgets. Traditional fields such as medicine, law, accounting, dentistry, financial services and healthcare all might be lucrative niches for freelance web designers. But before committing yourself, make sure you are willing to invest time and energy in learning about that particular subject and figuring out whether you’ll enjoy interacting with the people who you’ll be working with and for.
To niche or not to niche
Not all freelance web designers are sold on the idea of working in a niche. In fact, you might cringe at the thought of turning away clients who don’t fit in your niche. But remember: while large web development firms have the resources to profitably serve a wide variety of clients, a freelancer doesn’t.
If you’re still on the fence, see how many hours you spend gathering information and preparing work for your clients. If you charge by the project, figure out how much money you would save if you already had this information from previous projects. For example, if you have to spend four hours researching, at $75 an hour, that’s $300 in lost revenue, because you could have spent those four hours working on other projects.