To Generalize Or to Specialize: The Eternal Conflict Of Determining Your Business Niche

April 29, 2021
Business Tips

Chances are, whether as a freelancer or as a business owner, you have been faced with the dilemma of whether to generalize or specialize whatever product or skill you have to offer. This is usually particularly taxing for freelancers who are trying to curve out their presence in their respective industries. It is easy to get caught up in all the confusion of why generalizing in your niche could mean more clients or how specializing automatically translates to charging higher rates. In the end none of that really matters as much as the question, ‘what can you do and do really well’?

In order to figure out whether to offer one specific skill expertly, or cast out your net across a variety of skills, you need to first and foremost focus on what you have to offer. Contrary to the approach that many take by weighing the pros and cons first, this approach lets you consciously think about what you want to do without all the noise from the rest of the world. More often than not, when you’re so busy listening to what everyone else has to say about something, you forget to check with yourself, what you actually want to do.

Imagine if people convinced you that being a logo designer will be more rewarding financially, than being a generalist graphic designer, yet you do actually have a brilliant grasp on multiple skill-sets within graphic design. If you do not give yourself time to understand yourself, you will likely not be very satisfied in the long run, and you may end up hating on the option you chose, rather than see that the actual issue was that you let the rest of the world set the standards of your abilities for you. Remember, in the end, no one else is going to do the work, but you. This means that you need to find a comfortable balance that puts you at the forefront of all your decisions.

Once you have thoroughly considered what your strengths are, you are now ready to run through the mind boggling pros and cons lists of each side. In this article, we will cover both sides of the coin in order to help you make an unbiased and informed evaluation for yourself as to what is the most ideal situation for you to both make relatively great returns, while at the same time give you a sense of  satisfaction out of what you produce for your clients.

First off, we will focus on why generalizing could potentially be the best option for you. Generalizing in an area basically means that you choose to be a jack of all trades, offering a little bit of this and that to a variety of different clients with just as diverse needs. This could mean that you could be a freelance writer who ghost writes, creates copy for social media, blogs and can also dabble in a few academic articles here and there. Or it could as well mean that you are a freelance writer who mostly blogs, but on a wide variety of topics that do not necessarily complement each other, like music, travel and health. Only your skills can limit how much you can take on your plate.

The advantage to this is that, it constantly challenges you to expand your mind in order to be able to deliver all kinds of tasks that you get assigned to. You really stretch your abilities including the  ability to grasp larger varieties of information at a time. This also means that you can constantly get clients for whatever kind of work they require of you. This is such a safe option as it provides the convenience of even providing multiple services to a single client, and thus make even more profits at a time. Many often choose to generalize because they don’t want to feel boxed in or limited to just one particular area. They want to explore their abilities to full capacity and enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes with every new challenge.

On the other hand, as a generalist, one runs the risk of never really crossing the threshold of deep understanding in any subject area. True you know a lot of things, but are not invested enough to get into the nitty gritty details due to  the constant state of having to sort of keep learning new and sometimes unrelated things. This lack of enhanced knowledge and problem solving skills could deter a client who has a very specific pain point that only years of experience can give insight to. Sure, you may also be able to get a great solution, however, it will just take you longer to get to the bottom of it, because you are not 100% familiar with the subject matter.

Which brings us to why specializing could be a great option for you. Specializing means that  you focus on one key area or skill-set and dedicate yourself to exploring it to the depths of its limit. Although there are levels to it, it does not necessarily mean that you are completely constrained. It is actually a matter of choice as to how deep you want to get with it. For one person, specializing could mean, for example that they are a social media manager, who specializes in nothing but Instagram to raise brand awareness. They know all the ins and outs, hacks and are always aware about the algorithms and how they affect visibility. For someone else, they could even go a step further as a social media manager who specializes in Instagram, specifically for health and nutrition brands. Their deep focus is helping health brands to grow their reach and boost engagement exhaustively, leaving no tables unturned on one social media space.

Now this exhaustive method of problem solving puts you at a very advantageous position, because you become an expert leader in that particular area. You are differentiated and unique, meaning that you stand out enough for people to notice you and want to know what you are saying. You can build a portfolio custom built to attract exactly the kind of client you would want to work with. The beauty of specialists is that others always acknowledge how much investment you have put in to get to your level of expertise, and are willing to pay really good money so that you can use that expertise to solve their pain points. Plus clients like to feel special, if you customize a solution specific to their needs, they will keep coming back for more because they feel like you truly understand them and their business needs.

Why many try to avoid specializing is because they assume that you could run out of ideas or box yourself up into a really tiny space with limited access to clients. Which is a very likely possibility. It could also translate to you having little or no grasp on anything outside of your specialty or niche, which could mean redundancy and lack of enough challenges to expand your problem solving skills.

Generalizing vs specializing requires a delicate balance. One definitely has to be careful not to go to either extremities. However, it doesn’t always mean you have to pick one over the other. You could generalize as a beginner, before figuring out what suits you, then slowly specialize in that area. In the same way, just because you specialize, doesn’t mean that you focus on one area for the rest of your life. Once you feel comfortable enough, you can choose something different and invest in it much the same way. Instead of seeing them as opposite ends of a long stick, choose to see and indulge in them in a way that will complement each other as well as help you grow and expand professionally.

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