Carve out your writing niche and then own it!

Photo of Krystyna Lagowski with a Mini Cooper
Freelance writer Krystyna Lagowski, with one of the rides she reviews for her blog.

At my first advertising agency job, I wrote for a plethora of accounts, from beauty to travel to automotive. It was trial by fire, and I welcomed the challenge. But one day I noticed that I’d met with all the clients — beauty, travel, electronics, even a swanky restaurant chain — but had never met with the automotive client. So I asked the three male partners, how come? And was told, “If they knew a woman was writing their copy, we’d be fired.”

That may have been the moment I decided to specialize in automotive writing. Later, I expanded to the Toronto Star’s Wheels and the National Post’s Drive, and acquired a tidy roster of clients. It seems I’ve always been fascinated by cars — not just the power under the hood, but the details of vehicle design, what goes into buying and selling a car, how they reflect their driver and society in general, and so, so much more. It’s always been a nice little obsession, and thankfully, one that I’ve turned into a money-making proposition.

Has it been a disadvantage, being a woman in this typically male-dominated field? Apart from not meeting that automotive client years ago — never. The minute I start writing, it’s clear that I’m immersed in the industry and knowledgeable about my subject matter. If you have a passion, it will quickly become clear. These days, I spend most of my time writing about the auto industry for a variety of trade publications, as well as different marketing and advertising agencies and other automotive-related clients. I also have a blog, drivelikeagirl.ca, where I road test vehicles and look at the industry from an irreverent point of view.

Fact #1. Specialty writing can spill over into other related topics. Since automotive covers such a wide swath of subject matter, there’s rarely a shortage of markets. There’s transportation, transit, alternative and “green” fuels, trucking, even urban planning. That’s true of many other specialties, like health, education, entertainment, sports and travel.

Fact #2. Word of mouth is huge. I’ve found that having a specialty has been enormously helpful, particularly in finding clients. Once you’ve established a reputation in a particular field, work will come your way through word of mouth. For example, I had worked in a corporate health-care setting for four years, and upon leaving that job, I wanted to switch my freelance specialty to medical writing. But the first big gig that came my way was a textbook for automotive technicians!

Fact #3. Networking is a no-brainer. You tend to spend your time — on and off the clock — with others who share your interest. In many cases, there are associations and groups for writers within your specialty. So you hear about opportunities, potential clients and gigs through your associates. Many times I’ve benefited from an assignment referred to me by a friend of a friend of a friend. And if I’m too busy to take on a job, I’m happy to refer it to a competent colleague.

Fact #4. Building your brand. Being a specialty writer develops your brand, because you have experience and knowledge about a specific area. That’s easy for your clients and colleagues to recognize. For example, I write many videos for a large marketing group, and whenever they need someone for that particular gig, they invariably come back to me. 

Fact #5. Your expertise has value. Finally, once you do carve out that reputation as a specialist, you can usually charge a little bit more for your expertise. And that’s even in a field that’s as crowded as automotive. If you always have something topical and interesting to say, have a solid track record, are reliable, resourceful and enthusiastic, you’ll never look back.

Oh, and that automotive client from way back when? They’re still a major presence in the sector, and I enjoy dealing with them frequently. Especially since these days, its director of marketing is a woman.

Krystyna Lagowski is an automotive writer and the author of www.drivelikeagirl.ca.