JACK OF ALL TRADES OR MASTER OF ONE ?

ARE YOU A SPECIALIST OR A GENERALIST ?

Another question related to positioning to ask yourself is this: Do I position myself as a generalist or a specialist?

As a generalist you have more competition, but that’s matched by a larger audience for what you offer. As a specialist you have less competition, but that’s matched by a significantly smaller target market.

At first glance, it might seem like specialization should always be the answer, particularly if we acknowledge the importance of being unique. Despite that, I don’t think you need to be a specialist to be unique and remarkable. The route you choose should depend on an honest assessment of your skills and the kind of goals you’re working towards.

Generalists

Don’t position yourself as a generalist unless you’re

a) among the best at what you do;

b) have a unique selling proposition, which I discuss below; or

c) are multi-talented, or accomplished in a few different fields.

Let me explain the reasoning behind each of these propositions.

As a freelance photographer, for example, you’ll be lost in a crowd of thousands unless there are a lot of people out there who know just how good you are.

On the other hand, a sensational generalist photographer who confines him or herself to wedding photos only might be limiting the growth of their business.

If you’re multi-talented or accomplished in a few different fields (in a way that’s worth talking about), positioning yourself as a generalist could be a very good idea. The first point to consider is that you don’t need to trade on all of your skills financially.

Being a copywriter with a degree in Graphic Design who speaks four languages and works remotely via laptop from Nepal doesn’t mean you need to sell anything more than plain old copywriting. Your other skills and accomplishments will help differentiate you from competitors, even if they don’t strictly relate to the work you do.

Specialists

Don’t position yourself as a specialist unless you’re

a) among the best at what you specialize in;

b) comfortable doing a lot of one thing; and

c) sure there’s a target audience looking for your particular services.

If you specialize in one area, your target market shrinks. To sustain your business in spite of a small target market, you need to capture a larger share of attention to compensate. To do that, you need to be among the best at what you specialize in — if not the best.

You might see the perfect opportunity for a start-up selling hand-painted PC cases to a small cluster of high-paying clients, but if someone else is doing the same thing better (or cheaper), your business won’t be sustainable. An eye for profit-making opportunities must be matched by the skill to be a leader in your niche.

The second factor to consider is whether specialization will prove too limiting for you. A blog on collecting about stamps might tap into an undiscovered and highly profitable niche, but you’d best be sure that you’ve got ideas for at least 100 articles on stamp collecting each year. Without passion and an unstoppable interest, specialization won’t work.

Lastly, being a specialist seller of wax fruit, for example, will be useless to you unless there’s a previously neglected demand for waxy, fruity products.

Tapping into an under-served niche and being the single go-to guy or gal for that market is a dream shared by many freelancers, bloggers and entrepreneurs alike. My advice is to avoid any kind of guess-work.

Do your research…

Generalist Specialists

It’s possible to work in the financial services industry and be a specialist in call centres for example. If neither the specialist or generalist route captures your imagination, the solution is probably to do a bit of both: portray yourself as a generalist with additional specialized skills and expertise, preferably in an area that’s of high value to your target market.

This will give you a broader client base while particularly attracting those who could use your specialized services.

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