When you first become self-employed, either working alone or with others, one of the big decisions is whether to generalise or specialise. You know what your skills are and where your knowledge lies, but should you focus on one particular area? If you’re a graphic artist, a writer, a web designer or even a builder, is it best to offer your services to anyone who will take them? Or should you target a specific niche, so they know your service is specially tailored just for them?
Can You Generalise Well?
Choosing whether to generalise or specialise shouldn’t be a case of either doing one thing very well or lots of things not quite so well. If you choose to generalise, you still do need to a great job. Generalising will likely require that you do a lot more research, depending on the field you work in. This will be more time-consuming than working in an area where you already have a specialist knowledge. Though you’re unlikely to be doing highly technical work as someone who generalises, you will still need to furnish yourself with basic knowledge in many topics.
Is There Demand for Your Specialism?
If you have a specialism that you think could fill a niche, do some research and find out if there’s a demand for it. For example, you might be a web designer or content writer with special knowledge of chiropractic. It would be a bad idea to start offering chiropractic websites without checking if anyone is looking for one. Make sure your speciality isn’t so special that only a handful of people will ever come looking. You need to find a balance between few enough clients that you can charge for a specialist service, but not so few that you need to charge more than anyone is willing to pay.
Start with One, Move to the Other
When you’re first starting out, you might find that it’s easier to get work if you start off generalising. Unless you already have a body of professional work demonstrating your specialism, people might be hesitant to hire your services. As you work generally, you can hopefully add some more specialist work to your portfolio. You can also do this unpaid in your spare time, for either work or fun. Over time, you can build up a reputation as an expert that you didn’t have in the beginning.
Generalising might even help you begin to specialise in several subjects that you weren’t familiar with before. You could by chance find yourself doing work for a certain industry or covering a certain area more often than others. As you continue to expand your knowledge, you can add to your specialisms and build a reputation as an expert in your new fields.
Deciding between specialising and generalising doesn’t always mean choosing between one or the other. However, if you are presenting yourself as a business, rather than an individual, you may prefer to specialise straight away.