If a pipe in your home bursts and water is pouring onto your floor, are you going to call a handyman or a plumber?

A plumber is the obvious choice, because you need an expert in fixing leaks—not someone who does a little of this and a little of that.

The plumber is a specialist.

Stand out from the crowd with specialization

When clients hire a freelancer, they want a specialist too, someone with expertise in the type of freelance work they need help with.

Specializing helps you get bigger, better clients with less work and in less time. You’ll:

  • Know where to find your best potential clients (prospects)
  • Be able to show them you’re the expert they need
  • Stand out from the crowd of other freelancers

Choose how to specialize

Freelancers often specialize by:

  • Industry(ies),
  • Industry(ies) and project
  • Project

Specializing by industry is a great choice for most freelancers, because you can choose industries where:

  • Clients can pay freelancers well
  • There are lots of freelance gigs

Industry specialization is also the easiest way to build your expertise and find prospects.

Combined industry and project specialization lets you focus on specific types of clients and specific services. It’s narrower than industry specialization alone, so there’s less competition. But it’s also harder to find freelance gigs. This type of specialization works best for experienced freelancers who know their industries really well.

Project specialization alone tends to make you more like a handyman than a plumber. There’s not much that’s special, for example, about a freelancer who writes newsletters or designs websites. And since you could work for almost anyone if you specialize by project, how do you market your services?

Look for growing markets and professional associations

So how do you know if the specialty you choose is viable? A great specialty:

  • Has clients who can afford to pay you what you’re worth
  • Offers lots of freelance gigs now and in the future
  • Makes it easy for you to find and reach prospects

Look for industries that are growing and that have professional associations. If you don’t know where to start, check out these growing industries:

  • Healthcare/medical/pharma (my specialty)
  • Technology
  • Education

Also consider industry sectors. For example, my industries are healthcare and medical. But within that, my industry sectors are hospitals, large medical practices, disease-focused health organizations, and communications agencies working in healthcare.

Focus first on industries where you have a foundation of experience and skills to build on, and related industries. Once you’ve got some experience and a steady income, you can expand into new industries (and new types of work).

Professional associations make it easy to get bigger, better clients. You can:

  • Find prospects through the member directory and networking
  • Learn about freelance gigs through other freelancers
  • Learn more about your industries and industry sectors

Go broad–and narrow your specialty as you learn

Most freelancers, including me, start out more broadly and narrow down their specialt(ies) over time. As you get more experience, you’ll learn more about where to find the best clients and the projects you like best.

Here’s how my specialty evolved:

  • Specialty #1: Freelance medical writer. This was way too broad, because medical writing is a huge market with dozens of types of clients and dozens of types of freelance gigs. As I got more experience, I learned that there are two basic types of medical writers (freelance or employed): marketing communications and scientific. With my background in journalism, I was definitely a marketing communications medical writer.
  • Specialty #2: Freelance marketing communications medical writer. So I narrowed my specialty, but even within medical marketing communications, there are lots of types of clients and lots of freelance gigs.
  • Specialty #3: Freelance medical writer for healthcare marketers and health organizations. My third and current specialty is content marketing in health and healthcare, consumer health content, and patient education for hospitals/health systems, large medical practices, communications agencies working in health and healthcare, and disease-focused health organizations. This is much narrower and more focused than my earlier specialties.

Start attracting bigger, better-paying freelance clients

Picking a specialty or specialties isn’t easy. But if you do the work, you’ll get the rewards: bigger, better freelance clients. Once you’ve picked your specialt(ies), update your website, LinkedIn profile, and other marketing tools. Develop key messages that show you understand the needs of your clients and can meet those needs.

Soon, you’ll start attracting bigger, better freelance clients—and you’ll spend less time on marketing.

Lori De Milto is a freelance writer who also helps freelancers get the clients they deserve. Get your free roadmap to high-income freelancing and sign up for the Freelance Success blog.