• Advice

Why freelancers should specialize (not generalize)

What if I told you that you could charge more money as a freelancer, be more memorable to clients -- and save time?

You’d probably think I was selling you a fancy app. This is a lot simpler. It’s the ancient art of specializing. For example, you wouldn’t sell yourself as a copywriter, you’d sell yourself as a copywriter who specializes in writing about consumer tech (apps, phones, tablets, etc.). Not a designer, but an interior designer who’s an expert in optimizing small spaces.

Here’s why you should specialize:

1. Clients want experts. Let’s say you want a Wordpress blog and you have two applications or queries in your inbox: one from a Wordpress developer, and one from a “web developer”. Which would you pick? Exactly.

2. Clients trust experts. Clients trust experts to direct projects and provide valued advice. When a client trusts you, your relationship is much smoother, the client doesn’t try to micromanage or direct you, and the end result is often much better.

3. Your work will (probably) be a higher quality. Mastery takes time and practice. As you freelance in one specialty, you will be developing mastery of a specific set of skills that you use over and over again. The quality of your work may improve faster than a generalist.

4. Experts are more memorable. After your project is finished, if your client ever has a similar project, you’ll be the first person they think of. You’ll also be top-of-mind when that client is talking to another person looking for someone like you. When your client is at a networking event speaking to someone looking for iOS UX design, do you think they’ll recommend the iOS/mobile UX designer or the UX designer?

5. Experts save time. Let’s say you’re a copywriter who writes all different kinds of news articles. A lot of your time is spent researching because you’re always starting from a low level of knowledge. As a specialist, you’ll probably cut your research time in half. You already have a deep-level knowledge of your topic, and you can dive right in to the latest news in your field.

6. You’re already a specialist. If you’ve been freelancing as a generalist, chances are there is already an area of your work that you enjoy more, are better at, or get the most work in. If you’re a new freelancer, you already have unique strengths and a unique background. Some freelancers don’t pin themselves down because they’re worried about not getting the gigs that aren’t in that field. In my experience, if you decide to specialize, you will fill in those “lost” gigs with new gigs in your specialty (remember, you’re a more attractive candidate now).

7. Experts get paid more. Saving the best for last. Expertise is naturally perceived of as being of higher value, and clients are willing to spend more for it. If you decide to specialize, you can increase your rate.

Freelancers, do you specialize? Was it a natural process? Do you think you get more gigs or get paid more as a specialist?