Growing up, I had two goals in life:
- To write
- To get someone to pay me for writing
I gave very little thought to what I’d actually be writing about.
And that is the short version of how I became a business writer – a niche, incidentally, that took me a long time to embrace.
Most journalists can turn their hand to a wide range of writing but the ones with longevity end up specialising.
Because it’s a crowded market out there and you have to stand out. The smaller the niche, the better your chances of becoming the go-to writer for that topic.
This is my advice – choose your niche early.
Otherwise you may look up from a 2,000 essay on the merits of brie versus cheddar, commissioned by Dairy Lovers Monthly, and think: “But I don’t even like cheese.”
Here’s what I didn’t fully grasp all those years ago when I skipped out of college, armed with a journalism degree: your first job is often the one that determines the rest of your career.
I chose my first job based on location (South of France) and money (enough that I could live alone).
It was for a business news publisher, not a field I had any particular interest in, but I figured writing was writing.
And I liked being able to buy a pain au chocolat on the way to the office.
I’ve no regrets. Writing about business has proven very fulfilling, it’s a wide ranging and interesting topic most of the time.
But I didn’t pick it. I fell into it.
So a note of caution for any young journalist. To paraphrase Robert Frost, way leads onto way and you might never come back.
Make sure each job takes you somewhere you want to go.
So how do you do that?
Follow your interests
You’ll naturally gravitate towards subjects you’re interested in.
And that’s a good thing.
A reader can tell when a writer enjoys their work. Passion is contagious.
Think about the future
To build up a good reputation and body of work in a niche, it’s important to sustain your passion for it.
If all goes well you could be writing about this topic for the next 30 years. If that thought fills you with dread, you might need a re-think.
It’s terrifying being a young writer at the start of your career.
Faced with the toxic combination of mounting debts and a deep sense of insecurity, it’s very tempting to grab at the first job offered. Or the first you think you have a shot at.
Take some time to mull it over. Think about where it will lead, what contacts you’re likely to make on the job and whether it plays to your strengths.
Once you’ve found your niche, immerse yourself in it.
For me that meant a lot of research.
I’m self-taught in a lot of aspects of business because I don’t have any financial training whatsoever.
I loathed maths at school and still get the urge to phone my sister when confronted with any figures over $100 (she’s an accountant).
But I quickly figured out how to read a balance sheet, not to be intimidated by numbers and how to decipher the jargon.
Your sources can help you here too. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the experts and ask them to share their knowledge.
The more you interview, research, discuss and write, the more you’ll learn.
And before long you’ll have the expertise, and the contacts, to rise to the top of your chosen niche.