Which is Better for the Freelancer: Specialization or Diversification?

You’ve probably heard it said time and time again: finding the right specialty is the key to having a successful freelancing business.

If you’ve read any business advice recently, it may seem that everyone from bloggers to textbook authors to marketing specialists is touting the advantages of choosing a specialization to small business owners.

My question for you today is: what do you think about specialization and freelancing Is being specialized as important to freelance success as many people seem to think that it is?

I can see arguments for both specialization AND diversification and I’ll share them with you here.

Five Advantages of Having a Specialty

A specialized freelance business gives you fewer things to worry about. Here are five other advantages to specializing your freelance business:

  1. Your initial learning curve is less steep since you are focusing on learning about a single area.
  2. Your projects are likely to be similar and it will be easier for you to apply what you learned in one project to the next one.
  3. You will develop an expertise in a particular area and you can charge more for your services.
  4. Your advertising costs will be lower since you are targeting a single segment of the market and need to advertise in fewer places.
  5. Your startup costs may also be lower since you can spread the costs for similar projects over many clients.

Key point for specialization — Make sure that there is adequate demand for your services. Some freelancers overspecialize and find that there is no market for their product or services.

Five Advantages of Diversifying Your Freelance Business

In a troubled economy, diversification may help a struggling freelancer stay afloat. Here are five other advantages to diversifying your freelance business:

  1. You will not be tied economically to one specific segment of the market. (If you’re too specialized and the area that you specialize in is struggling, then your business will struggle too.)
  2. You’ll have increased opportunities for sales and revenue because your target market will be larger.
  3. As your customer base increases you may also be able to sell your existing services or products to your new customers.
  4. You’ll have less downtime since you’ll be getting projects from several different market segments.
  5. You will always working on something different and therefore are less likely to become bored.

Key point for diversification - Don’t spread yourself so thin that you can’t do anything well. Quality is still key!

Is Your Freelancing Business Specialized or Diversified?

Personally, I would say “yes, my business is both.

Let me explain what I mean by that

I am somewhat diversified because I do not focus on a single type of writing, but rather do several types of writing and even some editing. For example, although I’ve written literally hundreds of blog posts and web content articles over the past few years a significant part of my income also comes from developing course materials for business professionals.

On the other hand, I am also somewhat specialized because most of what I’ve written or edited, whether it be web content, marketing material, training materials, or other types of writing is based on my overall business knowledge. I guess that you could say that my specialty is writing about various aspects of business.

Is your freelance business specialized or diversified?

Share your experiences and opinions on which option is better for a freelancer.

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Comments

  1. says

    Being diversified has been what’s made my business a success while others have been slowly sputtering out in this terrible economy. I’ve found that people are looking to get more bang for their buck, and saving on the administrative fees, time and extra cash that it takes to hire several people for a project by going with someone who is multidisciplinary seems to really appeal to a lot of people.

    There’s definitely something to be said for being a master at something, but why not be a master at as many things as possible? :)

  2. Karan says

    In my opinion Specialization is better for a freelancer.. A specialist in his/her field have more value…I think it is better for a person to have vast knowledge and expierence in one field rather than having little knowledge about more than one thing….It has no use..
    If I am wrong some where please rectify….

    Wishes
    Karan

  3. says

    My business is both too. I’ve developing web apps, CMS implementation, and mostly web design/XHTML coding.

    But now i want to specialize in web design/xhtml coding so i can do better works and charge more for my services.

    Thanks Laura!

    (PD: and sorry for my bad english)

  4. says

    I started out as a web programmer but I also decided to learn web design so I can give a complete package for my clients. You can learn other things as long as the work quality will never be compromised. Thank you for this article.

  5. says

    Now a days, it’s not only important to be specialized but also to have the ability to take challenges and keep learning everyday. In small countries like El Salvador, it is valuable to be specialized, the problem is that the big agencies have it all, hence they will most likely want you to “produce” over than create. And with the economical crisis, it seems the best to diversify. To beginners it may be a headache but a good structure and a planned agenda, it all gets done with quality and fun.

  6. says

    I think you have to diversify within your specialization. For instance, if I focused my business exclusively on writing blog posts for insurance agents and financial advisors, I might have some difficulty. Instead, I do any insurance and finance writing necessary, editing, proofing, ebook writing, etc. I think that having a focal point for your advertising and marketing is imperative–which is why topic specialization is key. Finding ways to make that topic more comprehensive and offering a large selection of varying services within that topic is the next step to ensuring continued income.

  7. says

    Well Diversifying is a great thing! But sometimes when you stay specialized you have a greater chance of becoming known within that niche.

    I expanded my freelance business by teaming agreements with other freelancers – which grew into an agency. Now we are diversified, but before we were a team of specialist.

  8. says

    Diversify to survive, unless you happen to live in a large economy where specialisation can be sustained. Here in New Zealand I have always been expected to be a “jack of all trades” ever since I began freelancing for ad agencies in the seventies. It’s a small economy and there has always been a lot of competition for work. So you need to be able to take on different types of work and still maintain a high standard.
    When the sources of my traditional work (visualising, finished artwork, illustration) began to dry up I was able to make the transition to computer layout, then to web design and HTML. I wouldn’t have been able to survive if I hadn’t been able and willing to diversify.

  9. says

    I very much enjoyed Yolander diversifying within your specialization. However, while it might be just a case of wording, I think it’s more about forming specializations within a diversified set of offerings. I think it’s great to have the capabilities to do many different functions – which often can provide the necessary foundation for completing larger scale projects and continued business with new and existing clients/companies. At the same time, within this “jack-of-all-trades” mentality it’s always important to focus on the core things you excel at. If a project is significant enough, you can always reach out to the extensive networks of freelancers in different communities to collaborate with. My (twenty) two cents …

    Best,
    Ian

    Twitter: @iangertler

  10. says

    Nice theme again:)
    I do both at the moment,but slowly we’re focusing on specialising in 2-3 areas only,also very needed areas of design.I think when you specialize in some areas you become an expert and when people need let we say “wooden biz cards”they will come to your site or shop and buy that stuff…sorry for my english:)

  11. says

    Great article.

    I would consider myself more specialized in what I do. Web development has all sorts of languages and systems to work on and my specific area is LAMP (Linux Apache MySQL PHP/Perl/Phyton). Although I do work with other development platforms which shows the diversification in my skills, I would still consider myself as specialized as that specific skill is far beyond the others. I think many people in the web industry are like this as well.

  12. says

    I personally believe in specialization. However, like Yolander said, its wise to diversify within your specialization. This will not only keep you afloat but ensure you have multiple income streams. Like I always say, specialization will help one become an expert and recognized for that. My business is very specialized that at times i feel like am putting a noose around it. But, i’d rather specialization than casting my oats in an open field without knowing where my fruits will be reaped from…
    Great post, Laura.

  13. says

    I believe both are very beneficial to a freelancer. Every freelancer is different: some do have the time to diversify, and some only have the time to specialize.

    I personally diversify because I can do Web Designs, xHTML/CSS Coding, WordPress Designs, Logo Designs, and various other Graphic Designs. I am also learning more programming languages to diversify even more.

    One day, I may stick with Web Design and xHTML/CSS coding, but right now: I will take advantage of as many skills as I can. It helps with making money and expanding my client base.

  14. says

    I think diversification is a must when you freelance with no partners. Giving a complete pack of a product makes the client happier since he doesn’t want to look in different places for one think. Furthermore, I think that web development and web designing is a great combo, very enjoyable, and that’s why I think diversification is good. Also, I like the enjoyment of not work always in the same.

  15. says

    Specialization or Diversification. Why not have both?
    The ability to diversify and attract numerous potential clients, while at the same time offer a very specialized and nuanced service to each client, would be the ultimate goal for success.
    As Laura mentioned, both have their benefits and costs. Although I agree that it is best to be good at one thing than be mediocre at many things, it seems the appropriate application of this question might depend on the proper context. In some jobs you need to be extremely specialized, while in other situations you are able to float between the kind of services you can provide. It seems that finding the balance between specialization and diversification is key, rather than figuring out which is best.

    http:///www.freelancecamp.org

  16. says

    @Yolander – I also like your idea of diversification within a specialty. I think that, as others have mentioned, you don’t necessarily want to cut off opportunity by over specializing. However, at the same time, you need to focus your efforts on a similar or fairly closely related area in order to have the time to improve your skills and continue learning.

    I am trying to do this now by focusing on two of my passions. One passion I am focusing on is web design and development. However, I would also like to continue working on more general graphic design skills. Additionally, I am trying to figure out how I can tie in another passion of mine (playing the guitar) as a side project utilizing my professional skills.

    I think one truly important aspect to this is that you find what it is you truly love to do and are passionate about. I think it is really a balance that each individual needs to find within themselves.

  17. says

    Interesting topic Laura.

    I believe in specialization. When you are specialized in something, there could be fewer setbacks rather than having few skills knowing them good. I think web has offered lots of work for one area, so that deals with economy in one country. And also you can outsource work you don’t do to other freelancer. That creates better product faster, when everyone does something that they specialize in.
    One plus for having diversity is that there is always Google to find solution for your problem if you are not skilled enough to deal with problem immediately. But as I learned, that could be very stressful, finding solution to area that you are not master of.

  18. says

    i think the adage “know something about everything, and everything about something” sums it all up. may i also suggest u can diversify by networking… i.e. have a few close freelance “partners” whom u can collaborate with, on each of your own areas of expertise. it’s a great opportunity to learn as well.

  19. says

    The basic business model is that all businesses grow over time and die over time. The best way to be ready and keep ahead of the curve is diversification. The market over time is getting smarter about what the job rolls we play are but when we’re highered by a company they expect a full product delivered in 99% of the cases. This translates to be more deversified or having a good network of people you can call to do tasks for you in the project. I think the choice really comes down to what type of business you want. Do you want a small business where you stay creative and make enough to live the life at the level you like. Or do you want to run the various projects, bring in the money and do less of the day-to-day creative work.

    I think a good question I’d love to see would be “What style is your freelance business”. I see some people who do freelance work and they supliment with selling stock and other creative items. Others tend to do the freelance and create websites to match a need of something they hope will be a hit. And others tend to be all about the business and the hunt for the next project. It would be interesting to see what model people find themselves doing.

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