Specialize as a Creative Freelancer
There are many reasons to specialize as a creative freelancer: Clients trust experts, word of mouth works better, and your marketing becomes more straightforward. For your inspiration, and to give you a little push to specialize, I interview graphic designers, illustrators and web designers who already have chosen their niche.
Next out: James Provost. James is a full-time Canadian creative freelancer with clients like Wired, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Boston Dynamics, Toyota, Orange and Air Canada.
I specialize in technical illustration, the visual communication of technical information. I work with magazines, advertising firms and corporations with projects in the automotive, aerospace, architecture, engineering, energy, science and robotics fields.
Why, and when, did you choose this niche?
My favorite hobbies growing up were drawing, dabbling with computers and taking things apart to see how they worked. It wasn't until college that these three things came together in the Technical Illustration program at Sheridan College near Toronto, Canada.
Being a technical illustrator combines my drawing skills, my interest in technology and my curiosity about the world around me.
How did you originally break into technical illustration?
My first job in technical illustration was an internship with Toronto's Transit Commission where I produced instructional illustrations for their training department. During my final year of school I started receiving freelance work which enabled me to continue freelancing fulltime after graduation.
Nowadays, how do you find new clients in this niche?
My marketing strategy is simply to do the best work I can and get it in front of the right people by sharing it as widely as possible online.
Comment: James has an extensive online presence with several websites/blogs, social media accounts, online portfolios, and he is also is co-founder of a forum for technical illustrators. James ranks very well in search engines. At the time of this post James ranked nr 5 for the term “technical illustrator” both in Google and Bing – try out the searches by clicking.
Personal projects, where I'm pursuing my curiosity or exploring new techniques, tend to get the best response and bring in the kind of work I like to do.
What advice would you give a fellow illustrator/graphic designer about to choose a niche?
Be the best at what you do. Define your niche narrowly enough that you are among the best providers of your specific service. This may limit your job prospects, but clients who need your specific service will find you, and you will be prepared to provide exactly what they're looking for.
You should compete on quality, not price. In a global economy you will lose a price war. But if you provide the highest quality service to your niche, they will receive the best value for their money and keep coming back to you.
Technical illustration doesn't receive the same recognition and fanfare as other forms of illustration and commercial art. It's not something most people get too excited about. But for me, creating an illustration that solves a problem or explains something complex is enough recognition.
In which other ways has choosing a niche affected you as a professional?
My career is very personally rewarding. Being a technical illustrator satisfies my curiosity, provides a wide variety of projects to create solutions for, and allows me to work with people that share my interests and enthusiasm.
More examples of specialized creative professionals: The Niche Notebook: 170+ Real-Life Examples of Creative Niches.