First, you decide to freelance. Next, you choose a field such as writing, programming, design, and so on. The next big decision you make as a freelancer is choosing your specialization.
If this is the way you started out as a freelancer, you may be off to a rocky start.
Yes, I know that nearly every freelance blogger tells you that you need a specialized niche to succeed as a freelancer. Well, that’s not always true.
You’ve probably heard it said before,
Freelance specialists can charge more for their services.
That statement is true. However, many freelancers rush to specialize solely so that they can earn more. They often pick a specialty without doing any research whatsoever.
Unless they have several years of specific experience in a particular industry or with a particular tool, most freelancers are not ready to specialize when they begin freelancing.
In this post, I fly in the face of popular advice and share nine ways that freelance specialization is overrated. If you liked this post, you’ll probably also like 9 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Specialize Your Freelancing Business..Yet, which lists even more reasons why you might not be ready to specialize.
Why Specialization Is Overrated
Here are seven reasons why you might want to think twice before you specialize:
- Not all freelance niches are in demand. Some niches are highly marketable. Others are not. Too often, a new freelancer chooses a specialization based solely on his or her interests rather than on what is in demand. You may charge more for your services, but you won’t earn more money if you rarely get a client.
- Specializing may discourage potential clients. It’s common for freelancers with a specialty to use that specialty to brand themselves on their website and through social media. The trouble with that is that potential clients who have work that doesn’t fit into your specialty are discouraged from contacting you.
- If you’ve never done it before, you’re not a specialist. Unfortunately, many freelancers base their specialization on wishful thinking rather than actual knowledge or experience. If you say that you have a specialty, you should be able to back that up.
- Specialization keeps you from learning as much as you could learn. Even if everything else goes well, narrowing the work that you do keeps you from learning new things that you don’t perceive to be related to your specialty.
- Technologies change rapidly. It’s common for some freelancers to define their niche based on technology or trends. For example, a freelancer may say “I’m a WordPress specialist,” or “my specialty is Adobe Photoshop.” If you do this, make an effort to keep up with other new technologies as they develop.
- You don’t really know what you want. As I see it, this is a huge issue for new freelancers. If you haven’t worked on many different types of projects, you can’t really know whether there is something better out there for you.
- Specialties can be tough to change. If people perceive you as a certain type of writer or a certain type of designer or a certain type of whatever–changing your specialty can be a lot of work. Basically, you will have to rebrand yourself. Rebranding might even involve creating a new website, establishing new social media accounts, and/or creating a new portfolio.
As you can see, specialization is not right for everybody.
What’s a Freelancer to Do?
I’m not totally against specialization. In my own freelance business I have specialties, so I’m not telling you never to specialize in your freelancing business.
What I am saying is that there’s a wrong time to specialize and there’s a right time to specialize. Specialization isn’t right for every freelancer and it’s especially not right for most brand new freelancers.
Here are three takeaways:
- Start out as a generalist. A year as a generalist will give you valuable insight into both the market and into your freelancing field. Plus, you might discover a niche you never would have thought of otherwise.
- Choose several specialties. When you are ready, after you have the right training and experience, consider choosing several related specialties. That way, you are not pigeon-holed into always doing the same type of work.
- Stay informed. Don’t limit your learning to just your specialized niches. While you’ll want to focus on your specialty, at least be aware of what else is going on in your freelancing field.
What advice would you add for a freelancer who is thinking about specialization?