How to establish your expertise as a freelancer in a saturated market

Freelance Expert
According to a recent estimate from Freelancers Union, there are over “42 million American independent workers.”

How are you supposed to stand out in such a saturated market?

What needs done for potential clients to see you as an expert in your line of work?

It’s not easy, but by no means is it hard either. Establishing yourself as an expert and standing out in a saturated market comes down to two things: finding your niche and branding around that specifically.

There’s a bit more to it, so let me elaborate.

First you must have confidence

A big struggle for most getting started in freelancing is having confidence. Competition is intimidating and the task of being your own boss is very daunting. However, it’s important to remember that you won’t wake up one day knowing everything that you’d like to know.

When you work with a client, they’re working with you for a reason. If they knew how to do what services you’re providing them, then they wouldn’t need you in the first place. In their eyes, you’re already the expert. As long as you can back up your words with results, then you’re set.

Think about when you deal with any specialist – for example let’s use the person standing behind the counter at your local print shop – you naturally, without giving any thought, trust this person to help you with whatever services or questions you may have about printing. You have a certain vision or result that you’re going for, and you feel confident talking to this person, yet, you don’t personally know them or their experience.

Do you see where this is going? As the customer, you expect the best and most accurate advice.

For all your clients know, you’re the know-it-all of your line of work, even if you are a newbie. You can’t let your lack of confidence or not knowing everything hold you back.

As long as you learn as you go, take risks, and form your own opinions, you’ll build confidence and establish your own status of expertise.

Finding your niche

The first step to standing out in a saturated field of work is to find your niche. Whatever it is you specialize in (e.g. graphic design, development, writing, etc.), focus on the type of work you enjoy doing most and the type of clients you’d like to work with. Then specialize even further and incorporate that information into your branding. This way, you’re effectively telling a select group of people (your target market) that you’re the perfect freelancer for them.

You’re purposely limiting your market, meaning, you also have less clients out there to work with. But it balances out, because clients are paying for results, and since you can deliver those exact results (whatever you specialize in), you can charge higher rates and cut down time to convince clients to work with you.

With being the expert comes responsibility—your clients trust you to give them the best and most accurate advice that will get them results. That’s the trade off for charging higher prices.

Here’s an example where acting as an expert and finding your niche would help you stand out: let’s say a client – a marketing director for a record label is looking for merch designs for a new tour coming up. He could stumble upon many designers in many different ways, but for this examples let’s say he searches “band merch designer” or “freelance graphic designer band merch”. Searches can be sporadic, but it’s the keywords that are important. First, only freelancers with those keywords will show up in the results, so if you’re branding yourself as just a graphic designer, then you’re already out of the race. Next, the higher ranked designer will most likely be the one with extra content and resources about merch design (in the form of blog posts most likely.) This is where the expertise is perceived. Then it’s a matter of who has the specific style and level of professionalism the client is looking to work with.

That example is just one of infinite opportunities that are out there. So how will you distinguish your brand from the others?

Optimizing your brand

You’ll have a much easier time branding yourself for one or two markets, and just by knowing the work process and jargon for your niche, you can optimize your website for the terms your clients are searching for, rather than broadly stating what you do. You can also write marketing materials that specifically address your ideal client’s needs.

When it comes to your marketing, spend time learning about where your target market is and curate content to get your name out there. Interact on social media, write blog posts, comment on blogs and forums, attend industry events and conferences. Even if you don’t like writing or don’t feel confident in it, do it anyway. I was lousy at writing in school, yet here I am, sharing my thoughts with you.

There’s so much you can do to help clients find you, and if you can optimize your clients to one or two specific markets, you’ll have a much better chance at standing out.

In summary:

  • Find your niche by focusing on the work and clients you enjoy most.
  • Focusing around your niche, use imagery, keywords, color, etc. to optimize your brand. (You can go as specific as you’d like with your branding, like, being a freelance graphic designer in Ohio specializing in t-shirt design and band merch.)
  • Curate content specific to what your clients may be searching for. (Using the previous example, you could write about the perfect formula to selling out of band merch while on tour, or how to design shirts for water-based screen printing. The more knowledge you can share about your niche the more of an expert you’ll be seen as and you’ll also enhance your chances at popping up in search results.

Also very important: treat your clients like gold and deliver the results as you’re expected.

When I take on a t-shirt design project, I don’t just design something in Illustrator and send it over – I give my opinion and share advice throughout the entire process. I explain the different types of screen printing methods, their benefits, and I even recommend printers. In my client’s eyes, I’m their absolute go-to person for shirt design because of the wealth of information I have to offer. I wasn’t always an expert on this stuff. I started off not knowing much more than the average person, but I loved the work, learned as I went, took many risks, and my “expertise” has built up to what it is today.

I hope you were able to pick some insight from this post.

Let me know, have you defined a niche for your freelance business? Have you noticed the benefit of it?

As always, if you have any questions whatsoever, just leave a comment below. Thanks for reading!