When Should You Specialize Your Freelancing Business?

As a freelancer, should you become more specialized?

A regular debate topic that crops up often among freelancers is whether freelancers should specialize or offer general services in their field. In fact, the idea of specialization appeals to many freelancers.

In this post, we’ll take another look at being a specialist versus being a generalist. We’ll also identify some situations where it makes more sense to specialize and some where it does not. Finally, I’d like you to add your two cents about generalization versus specialization in the comments.

Why Freelancers Like to Specialize

The reason freelancers like to pick a specialty is simple. Specialists can usually charge more for their services.

We see this quite clearly in the case of lawyers and doctors. In these fields, generalists usually command a lower fee than specialists do.

Freelancing is not so different. Having a specialty is one way (although not the only way) to justify higher rates.

You can read more advantages of being a specialized freelancer here.

When It Make Sense to Specialize

Sometimes it makes sense to focus on a specialty for your freelancing business. Here are some of those situations:

  • When you have specialized training. For example, for a freelance writer who also has a medical degree it makes sense to focus on medical writing as a specialty.
  • When you have specific work experience. For example, if most of your portfolio features logos that you’ve designed, it may make sense to specialize in designing logos.
  • When you seem to have an “in” with a particular field. For example, if all of your friends are realtors and they are constantly hiring you to work for them, it makes sense to specialize in providing services for this type of client.

You’ll notice that I didn’t list wanting a higher rate for your services as a good reason to specialize your freelancing business. That’s because, by itself, wanting to charge a higher rate is not enough reason to become a specialist.

To charge a higher rate, you must be able to provide quality that justifies that rate. In fact, that’s true of pricing your services regardless of whether you specialize, or not.

I also didn’t list being passionate about a particular area. While passion can be a factor that can lead to success as a specialist, you usually need something more concrete to market yourself as a freelancing specialist.

Actually, in many cases it really doesn’t make sense for a freelancer to specialize.

When It Doesn’t Make Sense to Specialize

There are times when it’s actually better for a freelancer to be a generalist. Here are some of those situations:

  • You are just starting out in your profession. It’s better to get some experience under your belt before you even begin to think about specializing your services. How can you know what type of project you should specialize in until you’ve tried several different types?
  • You have no specialized knowledge to offer. Wanting to be a specialist is not the same as being one. If you market yourself as a specialist, something in your background (education or experience or portfolio) should support your claim of expertise.
  • You get bored easily. One of the strengths of being a generalist in your freelancing field is that you will be offered a wide variety of project types. I know freelancers who have years of experience who still choose to work as generalists because they like the variety.

It’s also possible to select a specialty that is so narrow that there isn’t much demand for it…even if you do have specialized knowledge or skills to offer.

Besides, the reality is that even most specialized freelancers accept work outside of their specialty if business is slow for them. And even freelance generalists turn down work that doesn’t appeal to them or that they are too busy to handle.

If you do decide to specialize, there are some important factors to keep in mind.

Factors to Keep In Mind About Specialization

Specialization is based on having special knowledge and/or experience in a particular area. Not all freelancers are specialists. If you do decide to specialize your freelancing business, you should remember:

  • Specialization often requires extra training so that you can stay on top of your field.
  • It’s best to have a backup plan in case your specialty dries up.
  • Beware of overspecializing (choosing a niche that is so narrow that there is no demand).
  • It’s okay to be a generalist. Many experienced freelancers are.

Your Turn

Regardless of your freelancing field, most freelancers must eventually decide whether or not they wish to market themselves as a specialist.

Are you a freelancing specialist or a generalist? How has your decision affected your freelancing business?

Share your answers in the comments.

Image by katerha