If you haven’t seen The Walking Dead before, it’s a hit TV series about… zombies.
Well, zombies and much more than that. There’s no shortage of action, suspense, and blood and gore. But there are deeper layers too. One of the reasons why it’s such a popular show is the compelling character development.
You get to see how people from different backgrounds handle a harsh, post-apocalyptic world. And you get to wonder how you might react if you were thrown into a crazy scenario like that.
In addition to being a wildly successful TV show and comic book, The Walking Dead is full of interesting lessons you can apply to grow your business. Especially if you’re a freelancer trying to scrap for business in an ultra competitive niche!
So read on. Unless you don’t mind having your face chomped off by a horde of zombies…
An Unforgiving Environment
The Walking Dead portrays a world gone mad. A massive virus or plague or something equally horrific has turned 99% of the population into zombies. The people left have to duke it out with these things and each other to survive.
There’s a ton of competition. It doesn’t take long for the situation to get desperate with civilization’s infrastructure gone. There are turf wars. Supply runs. And things like guns, ammo, and medicine become prized commodities.
Only the strongest and smartest players survive to fight another day.
This post-apocalyptic scene—strange as it might sound—is a lot like trying to establish your freelancing business in an ultra competitive niche.
Freelancing Is Only Getting More Competitive by the Minute
There are countless freelancers out there. An unstable economy has people churning through jobs like there’s no tomorrow. More freelancers are popping up every day. Many of them will become your competitors; they want the same clients as you do.
Freelancing can be more profitable and far more rewarding than a standard 9-5-office job. And with the flexible working hours, being your own boss, and geographic freedom, there’s a lot to love.
The barriers of entry to freelance are also minimal. If you have the skills, it doesn’t take much time or money to hang up your digital shingle and start selling your services.
What’s Wrong with a Little Competition?
Most freelancers fear competition. They want to run away from it as quick as they can and find a new, untapped niche no one has ever heard of. The actions they take based on this fear can mess up their business.
The competition itself isn’t the problem. It’s the mindset that it’s bad. Competition is actually a good thing, if you play your cards right.
There wouldn’t be so many competitors in a niche if there weren’t money to be made in it. Competition is just confirmation that there are plenty of people seeking out those services. There’s more money to go around, and there’s more you can make.
The name of the game is to mitigate the competition, not avoid it completely. There’s no reason to run away whenever you find yourself competing with others for the same pool of clients.
How to Thrive in a Crowded Niche
Okay. You’ve decided you aren’t going to shy away from a little competition anymore. You’re ready to get your hands dirty and build a profitable, sustainable freelance business.
What should you do differently than what you’re doing now?
Here are 4 lessons from The Walking Dead that will show you not only how to survive, but thrive in your competitive niche:
Carve Out A Special Place For Yourself
In The Walking Dead, most of the survivors are constantly on the move. They aren’t sure when a horde of zombies will show up at their doorstep and ruin their day. Crowded, urban areas aren’t an option because they’re overrun with zombies (or “walkers”.)
This is how Rick (the main character) and his little group live for some time. Traveling from town to town, eating everything they can find, and always having to watch their backs. Things change when they find a former prison and claim it as their own.
How does this apply to freelancers in a competitive niche? Well, the metaphor is casting your net far and wide. It means accepting almost any job from any type of client. No matter if you really want to work with them or not.
Some freelancers have to do this when they’re just starting out and trying to make ends meet. That’s understandable. But once you get on your feet and have a bit of financial stability, your best bet is to find your own “prison.”
How to Do It
The best way to separate yourself from your competitors is to carve out a sub-niche for your services. You go deep instead of broad. This seems counterintuitive, but specializing within your niche actually can help you get more, higher-paying clients.
As a freelancer, there’s no way you could serve every potential client in a large, ultra-competitive niche like writing or web design. And that’s fine! The ideal situation is to work with a few, high-paying clients so you can deliver top-quality work without working 100 hours a week.
How do you start? By finding the overlap between: 1) what you are best at; and 2) the types of clients you’d like to work with the most. It’s a streamlined way to build your reputation, get well-paying clients, and separate yourself from your competitors.
Don’t worry about boxing yourself in to one specialty. Your specialty doesn’t have to be permanent; you can alter your services to serve different sub-niches later, after you’ve built your reputation and made a name for yourself in your first sub-niche.
Don’t Freak Out
The Walking Dead world is a scary place. That’s an understatement. It’s absolutely terrifying. One mistake or moment of carelessness, and next thing you know your former friend is a zombie trying to chew your face off.
Freelancing in an ultra competitive niche isn’t that scary, but it’s not smooth sailing either. You face a ton of your demands on your time to be productive, find quality clients, and track down late payments. And you’re expected to do all of this and maintain some semblance of free time too!
There’s a pattern in The Walking Dead that applies here. The people who let their emotions control them and freak out don’t get very far. In the TV show, most of them are out of the picture by the end of the first season. That’s what happens when the hindbrain takes over and rational, logical thinking shuts down.
Building a thriving business in a crowded niche demands rational decisions. Connecting with people on an emotional level is a great way to convince them to become clients, but you want to run your business based on dollars and cents, not fleeting feelings.
No Need to Be Flashy
What are some practical ways to do this?
First, don’t neglect the basics of building and growing a profitable business. Make sure you deliver what your clients ask for when they ask for it. Produce top quality work. Ask your clients for feedback and make it as easy as possible to work with you.
Technology and tools are always changing, but the foundation of building a sustainable business is constant. Make sure you build yours on top-quality work and top-quality client service. Accept constructive criticism, learn from it, and apply your new knowledge going forward.
It’s amazing how far just being a professional will take you. Your competitors will stumble over the basics. They’ll miss deadlines. Fail to follow instructions. And when they hear about it from their clients, they won’t handle it well.
The most emotional freelancers won’t make it to the top of a crowded niche. But if you’re calm, cool, and collected, you give yourself the best shot to thrive. No matter if it’s in the freelance world or a post-apocalyptic scenario.
Play Well With Others
Freelancers tend to be independent types. After all, wouldn’t more of us have regular jobs if we didn’t have a problem with authority?
Independence and intrinsic motivation are great. They’ll serve you well in building your business. But in a cutthroat niche, too much of this can backfire on you.
In The Walking Dead, Rick spends a lot of the time as the leader of his group. He’s the stereotypical strong, silent type. I won’t spoil the show, but there’s a point where he goes through a really tough time. He closes himself off to the rest of his group and almost leads everyone into disaster. Luckily he comes to his senses before it’s too late.
You Don’t Have to Do This on Your Own
We’re doing business behind computer screens now, but that doesn’t change the fact that business is done between people. That’s why it’s so important to remember to make an effort to connect with others.
Are you seeking out a mentor? Reaching out to key players and influencers in your niche? Asking your clients for feedback?
Some of the greatest (and most profitable) connections you can make are with your competitors. Don’t be afraid to get to know them.
There are plenty of top-quality clients to go around for top-quality freelancers, and your competitors might be able to offer you exclusive business opportunities or access to a whole new client base.
You don’t have to dominate your niche alone. There’s plenty of room at the top.
Don’t Get Complacent
In The Walking Dead, 5 seconds of carelessness is all it takes for someone to go from a survivor to a flesh-eating zombie. There’s no leeway or room for mistakes.
Things aren’t quite so hardcore on the freelance front, but that doesn’t mean you can afford to coast. If you aren’t constantly learning new skills, applying them, and improving the services you deliver, you’re losing ground.
There are plenty of hungry freelancers out there who would love to work with your clients. But that doesn’t have to happen if you commit to staying on top of your game and to always improve.
How to Stay Sharp
The most effective way to stay sharp is to always be learning more about your industry. Set aside time to read books, articles, and blog posts. Schedule a regular part of your day to listen to podcasts or interviews from successful people. This alone will separate you from 99% of your competition.
Live and breathe your industry. It will help you build new skills, stay relevant in a rapidly changing niche, and stay on top of industry trends. Don’t get swept away by all the new gadgets out there—skills trump shiny new tools—but figure out what new stuff would be useful to help you grow your business.
Freelance work can be a bit “feast or famine;” It comes and goes in waves. Use the good times to prepare for the lean ones. If you find yourself with plenty of work and a bit of free time, how can you improve for when things slow down? This could be anything from making a new system for invoicing clients to asking for testimonials.
Setting aside time for marketing every day is the best way to keep your pipeline of leads and clients full. Even if you have as many clients as you can handle right now, it’s important to continue producing content and networking to build your platform. You’ll thank yourself later.
Dominate the Competition
A super competitive niche is nothing to be afraid of if you enter it with the right mindset and commit to doing what it takes to succeed.
There are massive opportunities for those willing to put in the work, be a professional, and separate themselves from their competitors. Use these skills to help you get to the top and stay there as long as you want.
Oh yeah… and watch out for walkers!
Do you watch The Walking Dead? Is there anything else you could apply from that show to being a successful freelancer? Leave a comment below and let us know!