In this post, we’ll look at the benefits of “niching down”, different ways to define your design niche, as well as tips on how to find the right niche.
It’s a strange concept for many freelancers. The idea that you’d carve out a narrow niche for yourself and then turn away prospective clients that don’t fit it.
Why in the heck would anyone turn down paying gigs in this day and age?
It’s because that’s not really what happens when you create a web design niche. As you ease into your specialty, you won’t attract ill-fitting clients anymore. Instead, people looking for a specialist will actively seek you out. And, more often than not, be willing to pay good money for your expertise.
One of the smartest things you can do as a designer is to niche down.
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The Benefits of Creating a Design Niche
By taking the time to define a niche for your design business, you’ll find that success comes a whole lot easier than if you were to brand yourself as a “web designer”. Here are some ways in which niching down may spell greater success for you:
You’re Going To Be More Effective as a Specialist Than a Generalist
Let’s say you have three websites you’re working on this month. One is for an accounting firm and you’re building it in WordPress. Another is for a local retailer and you’re building it with Shopify. And the last one is for a church and you’re using Webflow to build it.
Whether you’re doing them simultaneously or working on them one after another, it will take your brain some time to adjust to the different modes of working as well as the different business models you’re designing for. Without a niche, your web design process will become sluggish and inefficient because you’re constantly having to readjust how you work.
That’s not the only reason why generalizing dulls your effectiveness.
Think about skills building. How much time do you spend following the latest trends, tools, and techniques? Now imagine having to do that across a variety of industries or CMS. It’s easier to improve your skill set and grow your knowledge base if you’re focused on a single niche.
Marketing Becomes Cheaper and Less Time-Consuming
In the next section I’m going to show you different web designer websites that have niched down. What you’ll notice with each of them is how everything — from the content on the pages to the navigation links — specifically addresses their target clients.
So the next time someone does a search for “hospitality web designer” or “UX designer in Dallas”, a website that is optimized for those niches has a much greater likelihood of ranking than one that claims to do web design for all.
It’s not just SEO that becomes easier to do or more effective in getting you results. Your overall marketing strategy will too. That’s because a niche allows you to craft a very specific offer that addresses the exact pain of your target users.
If you’d rather spend your time designing websites instead of chasing down new leads or running marketing campaigns, niche down.
Client Testimonials Will Be More Relevant and Meaningful
Consider these two testimonials:
“Hopsinger Design was great. They built a website for me in a couple months and I am thrilled with the results.”
“Before Hopsinger Design built my restaurant website, I was relying on Facebook ads to drive traffic to the restaurant and on OpenTable to capture reservations for me. The whole thing was taking so much time and costing too much money. The designers at Hopsinger knew what I was dealing with before I ever had a chance to explain it. My website is bringing in more diners now than we’ve ever had. And our new reservation system has helped us cut costs. Thanks, Hopsinger!”
As a generalist, you can certainly get rave reviews. But getting a client to speak directly to the pain they were experiencing and the specific solution you developed will be much more impactful if it clearly resonates with others going through the same thing.
A Niche Makes You More Competitive
Do a search for “web designer” on any job board and you’re likely to find thousands of matching results. For the sake of this argument, let’s say that there are two positions you’re interested in — they have the right work schedule and fall in the pay range you are looking for.
The “Web Designer” posting will likely attract a wide range of people who consider themselves designers. The hiring manager will have to do a lot of digging into resumes and portfolios to find the right designer out of the bunch. So unless your resume stands out in a big way, it is likely to get drowned out by the others that more or less say the same thing.
The “Telecom UX Design Specialist” posting, on the other hand, will attract a much smaller group of applicants. The hiring manager might have to weed out folks whose portfolios don’t match. But that will leave them with a small handful of UX specialists like yourself to consider.
Who would you rather compete against? 200+ candidates all claiming to have the same basic skills? Or 3 or 4 candidates with their own unique work experiences and skills?
You’ll have much more success at finding, applying to, and getting jobs if you can narrow the playing field with a niche.
You’ll Make More Money
There are a number of ways in which niching down can enable you to make more money.
For starters, you’ll work much faster as a specialist than a generalist. Since you won’t have to switch gears from project to project and niche to niche all the time, your focus will stay strong.
What’s more, you won’t be spending as much time on sales and marketing since your niche-specific website and marketing channels will do a lot of the work for you. That means more time you can devote to paid work.
You’re also going to be able to charge more to build a website as a specialist. Unlike a generic designer that hiring managers can find anywhere, your specialty makes you a rare and valuable find. So clients will be willing to pay more for your services and expertise.
5 Different Ways to Niche Down as a Designer
Typically in business, having a niche suggests that you have special expertise and experience. But there are other ways to carve out a unique value proposition for yourself as a designer.
Here are some ways you might go about defining your niche. Feel free to mix-and-match these niche factors as you develop your own:
1. By Industry
Communicating with prospects and clients can be tricky. Sometimes it feels like you’re speaking different languages or that your priorities aren’t in alignment.
One way to solve this is by focusing on an industry (or two) that you know inside and out. You might have personal experience working in the field or you might’ve built those kinds of sites before. Either way, an industry-based niche is a great way to close that gap between clients and designers.
Take Medical Web Experts, for example. Their main focus is on designing websites and apps for healthcare companies.
It’s clear from their website that this design agency understands the needs of their target clients well. Just look at the navigation. It’s not often you see security and HIPAA compliance addressed in a website’s architecture. That’s a good sign that this agency is effectively targeting their niche.
2. By Company Size
This is a good niche to consider if the industry you’re targeting has different subsets within it.
For example, let’s say you’re interested in creating websites for the hospitality space. However, you don’t want to build products for huge hotel chains. Instead, you’d like to serve smaller lodging establishments trying to increase visibility in such a congested space.
You can take the route that Q4Launch has and go after smaller, boutique businesses.
Q4Launch does web design and marketing for vacation rental companies, boutique hotels, inns, lodges, as well as bed & breakfasts.
Get to know your industry and see if there’s a way to focus on a specific segment of it based on the size of the operation. You can go big or small so long as the demand is there.
3. By Web Design Specialty
There are different ways to flesh out your web design specialty.
For instance, you could focus on UX design. Even within that specialty there are sub-specialties, like UX researcher and interaction designer.
You could also differentiate yourself by building custom websites. Or go to the other extreme and sell turnkey websites that require little work from you other than the initial setup.
Another option is to come up with a different way to package your services. For instance, you could offer a monthly website fee where, after you’ve built a site, you offer ongoing maintenance and upkeep services.
And yet another way to specialize would be to focus on a different part of the website lifecycle. UX research would be one way to do that. Another would be to do as GoingClear does and specialize in redesigning B2B websites.
This specialty might seem a little too specific, but it makes sense if you understand that industry. Software companies always have to be on the cutting edge of design and technology — both of which change frequently. A (re)designer would be an indispensable resource and partner in that case.
4. By CMS Preference
Some clients might have no idea what we mean when we talk about content management systems or website builders. For the ones who do, they’re going to be on the lookout for a designer with expert skills using their preferred or existing platform.
Whether you’re looking to attract clients with a CMS preference, or you want to boost clout in a CMS community by specializing, this is one way you’ll want to niche down.
I’d suggest focusing on the most popular CMS. For open source, that would be WordPress. For simple website builders, you’ll be looking at Wix and Squarespace. And for ecommerce, Shopify.
Jeremy Hickman’s website is a good example of how to promote yourself as a WordPress web designer without going overboard with technical speak.
That’s something you’ll have to be careful about when choosing a CMS niche.
While you want prospective clients to see you as a specialist, you still need to appeal to them by crafting benefits-focused content. So go light on the CMS jargon and highlight what clients will get out of this relationship.
5. By Location
Another way to niche down is by location the way that U7 Solutions, an Ottawa-based design agency, does.
There are a number of reasons to do this.
For starters, if you’re not looking to freelance, then marketing yourself as a location-based designer will be helpful in the job application process. Even if the job doesn’t require you to go into an office, having first-hand knowledge of the area in which the company operates could give you a competitive edge.
Then there’s the matter of operating hours. I ran into this problem at the old agency I worked for. I was based in Florida (EST time zone) and we had a designer in the Philippines (PHT time zone). That meant that when I got online at 8 a.m., it was 8 p.m. in the Philippines and our designer was long done for the day.
If you’re working with clients or employers in different time zones, client communication and deadline management can be difficult.
How to Find the Right Niche
Choosing a web design niche is a lot like choosing any career. While you want to make money, there has to be something more appealing than just $$$. Otherwise, you risk growing disillusioned with what you do and eventually burning out.
There’s got to be something more to sustain you as you build your web design business. So when it comes to choosing the right niche, there are certain factors to weigh in your consideration.
The right niche will sit somewhere in the middle of these factors:
Examine your past as a web designer. Even if you’re just out of school and beginning your career, reflect on any design work you’ve done on a personal, academic, or professional level.
Where were you strongest? What came easiest to you?
Play up your strengths and you’ll find that it much easier to build websites. Plus, the faster you get your work done, the greater your profits will be.
Being good at something doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll enjoy it. So it’s important to consider what you’re interested in, what makes you happy, and what you find most rewarding.
For instance, are you particularly fond of the city of Boston and want to help local business owners build websites? Or perhaps you have a passion for animals and want to build sites for animal care businesses?
Really think about what brings you joy. If you can bring it into your day to day work, you’ll decrease the likelihood that you’ll get bored with your chosen niche.
Are there a lot of people looking for the types of websites you want to build? If that’s true today, do you think that will always be true?
Think about the last few years, for instance. Certain industries have fared better than others.
As you examine customer demand for your services, look beyond the current state of affairs. You may find that among the few niches you’re toying with, one is more recession-proof or disaster-proof than others.
The last thing to consider is your earning potential in the niche you’ve chosen. A good way to think about it is to ask yourself how long you’ll be satisfied with performing the same tasks over and over for the same types of clients?
If you can sustain that energy and dedication forever, then that’s great. But it’s not all that realistic.
Eventually, you’ll get to a point where you start wondering what you can do to shake things up. You’ll also be thinking about how to earn more. You might be able to raise your rates once a year as your reputation grows, but it won’t be a substantial amount.
Finding a niche that has room to grow in size and profitability is important.
Learn More About Web Design and Business
While it might seem counterintuitive to choose just one niche for your web design business, you’ll find that success and profitability come more easily if you carve out a clear-cut area of expertise.
Now, I’m not saying that you can’t ever do design work outside of your niche. Nor am I saying that you can’t expand into multiple niches down the road.
However, starting out, it’s a good idea to choose one niche and stick with it. It will make it much easier for you to attract high-quality leads, turn those leads into paying clients, and build a profitable business that you enjoy running.