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

Comments

  1. says

    You are right. I did specialized when I first started freelancing. I was available at the local golf club as a Caddy and I carried the clients golf bag with the clubs. My specialty was selecting the proper club for the client to hit his or her ball.

  2. says

    One myth that makes people nervous about specializing is that if they choose to specialize, they think they will discourage other types of clients from hiring them. NOT TRUE. I specializing in writing for businesses and organizations that target moms/parents and that has never stopped prospects who want me to write in other niche markets from hiring me or inquiring about my services. When you have a particular skill, people could care less about your niche. Unless it’s technical and requires unrelated skill sets (i.e., digital writing), they don’t care. If you can write, you can write, etc.

  3. says

    Stacey, Thanks for sharing your experience. I think you’re right about this. People are afraid that specializing will mean fewer clients. Your story helps to counter that fear.

  4. says

    I disagree with the following statement:

    “Specialization often requires extra training so that you can stay on top of your field.”

    Compared to taking the non-specialized route, I would argue that it takes less training to stay on top of your field if you specialize. In fact, that’s why I chose early on to specialize in Drupal (after evaluating a few other CMS’s and frameworks). When your focus is on a single niche, you learn to live it and breath it to the point where you can become intimately familiar with your target.

    In my case, I doubt that someone who works in 4-5 different niches will be as good in any one of those niches as someone who specializes in a single niche. Sure, it does bring diversity to your income sources, but you can also diversify within your niche. And if you’re already recognized as an expert within your niche, that intra-niche diversification will likely have a more positive effect that inter-niche diversification (at least from what I’ve seen).

  5. says

    Great points Brian!

    I am just saying that some specialties (not all) do require special training or special knowledge.

    For example in my own freelancing field (writing), I wouldn’t feel qualified to take anything but the most basic medical writing assignments without getting additional training because I simply don’t have the medical background it takes. Instead, I focus on other types of writing. However, I do know some great medical writers who have biology, pre-med, or nursing type degrees.

    I’m sure there are other examples where extra training is not needed. In your field (design??) it probably is easier to focus on becoming an expert in a single tool (once you’ve learned it). This may be one of the differences between various freelancing fields.

  6. says

    I think specializing also helps you build self-confidence as a writer. If you consider yourself an expert in a particular field, you’d be more eager to tackle projects in that field, more so if you have a special passion for it. But I definitely agree that specialization is not for people who get easily bored (like me). Variety makes writing more fun and challenging, at least for me.

  7. says

    I’m a webmaster, I have many sites in the web, but those sites still with a very low traffic, I want to create a big website than can generate a very big traffic but I don’t have any ideas, and I don’t have a good web strategies, I still searching, and I will not stop under I get what I want.

  8. says

    I agree with this point “Beware of overspecializing (choosing a niche that is so narrow that there is no demand).”

    I decided to learn Ruby on Rails and wanted to specialized it, but the demand is so narrow at present that I doubt if its worth going, though it has got hell lot of future

  9. says

    When I started my web design business, my first customers were churches. I became pretty good at it. Then I got several freelancers as customers. Being a freelancer myself, that pushed me to make sure that I could make a website that would actually help them get business. So now I’ve added another specialty to my belt.

    I think having a specialty is good, but you can have more than one. Just focus for a while, get it down, and then add another.

  10. says

    I seldom create comments, but I looked at a few of the comments on this
    page When Should You Specialize Your Freelancing Business?
    | FreelanceFolder. I do have 2 questions for you
    if you do not mind. Is it just me or do a few of the
    remarks come across as if they are coming from brain dead visitors?
    :-P And, if you are posting at other online sites, I’d like to keep up with everything fresh you have to post. Would you post a list of every one of your social networking pages like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

  11. says

    Enjoyed reading this. I am specializing in logo / identity design because A) it’s what has naturally revealed itself to be my knack, B) it makes up a lot of my portfolio C) I’m super passionate about it.. I have the ability to create custom lettering which gives me an edge, as well as my illustration skills should I get a more illustrative logo project.
    Thanks for this post. Help affirm some of my questioning specializing.

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