To Be Or Not To Be a Generalist

My husband once said something he found absolutely hilarious (I found it obnoxious).

It was in response to my complaint that I was always handing out his business cards, but he was never handing out any of mine. “It’s a two-way street,” I insisted.

“Yes, but my side gets more traffic,” he said, smirking.

It’s times like this I worry that I’m too picky about the work I’m willing to do. It’s a worry that many freelancers wrestle with. Should I settle for little or no payment, or a small-name client, just to build my portfolio? Should I take on every little job I can, even if it’s only peripherally related to my specialty, just to keep my head above water? Should I widen my net? Offer additional services? Find additional areas of expertise?

The Benefits of Generalizing:

  • If you’re just starting out, landing big clients — or getting your work into big-name publications — can be difficult without a proven track record. When you’re considering whether to pitch a smaller pub, or whether it’s worth it to take on a smaller client, think about how this will benefit your business. Will it provide you with a finished product that can be used as a positive representation of your work in the future? Will it act as a gateway to other clients? Will it lead to a fairly regular income stream? Balance the benefits with the aspects that make it a less than ideal project. Then decide.
  • Taking on additional and more varied work does not necessarily mean you’re settling, if you can use those additional services as a means of distinguishing yourself from the other freelancers out there. A copywriter who can also proofread/copy edit is money in the bank, as is a web designer who can write copy or take photographs.
  • Hey, we all need to eat. If you’re having a bad month, there’s no shame in capitalizing on your other marketable skills in order to keep Lucky Charms in the pantry.There is some work I do just to pay the bills. It’s an inescapable fact of life, though when I strike it rich, I’ll stop compromising 😉

The Benefits of Specializing:

  • Now that you’re on a roll, it can’t hurt to tighten your focus. Once you figure out what you want to specialize in, it will be that much easier to target your marketing efforts to your ideal client.
  • And when you approach that ideal client, you’ll be able to present yourself as an expert in the field…one who has cornered their particular share of the marketplace.
  • Freelance writers often recast stories they’ve researched and pitch them to multiple places, so as to capitalize on the work they’ve already done surrounding that topic. Similarly, those who specialize or develop an area of expertise will require less resources during the course of their work, and find it easier to acquire a body of knowledge surrounding the work they’re doing.

How have you tightened your focus as a means to corner the market? On the flip side, do you have examples of less-than-ideal jobs you’ve taken on because of the ways in which they would move your business forward?


  1. […] previously covered the benefits of both generalizing and specializing. Today, I’d like to talk about how to widen your net if your niche is no longer […]

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