Specialist or generalist? – part 2

knifeswiss-army-knifeIn my earlier post, I talked about finding my specialization not in a particular field but in a special service I provide my clients. That may not be the best approach for you, particularly if the service you provide doesn’t by itself set you apart.

When you start your business, it is tempting to say “I can do anything for anyone.” Why limit yourself when you have lots of skills? You don’t want your clients to pigeonhole you into one tiny niche when there’s so much you could do for them, right? And surely you’ll get more clients by being a generalist, because everyone can use your services.

Actually, every one of those assumptions is wrong. The only way to stand out in a client’s or prospect’s mind is to be known as the expert, the best (and maybe only) person who does what you do. Let’s go through each of the common reasons new solopreneurs give for trying to be generalists, and see what’s wrong with them.

Why not offer to do anything for anyone? The short answer is you can’t offer the same level of expertise and insight to everyone. No one has a deep understanding of every aspect of a profession, whether that’s graphic design, financial planning or marketing communications. You can thrive by focusing on the best aspects of your profession — the fastest growing field, the areas that are least price-sensitive, the professionals who see the immediate benefit of using your services. Instead of casting a wide net and having to throw out a lot of bycatch, you can focus on more selective marketing approaches that attract more of your best prospects.

Why limit yourself when you have lots of skills? Even if you have a wide range of skills, you don’t need to share them all with everyone. Think about what specific skill to talk about in each situation, something your listeners will understand, relate to and remember. For example, I provide business analysis to strategic decision makers; I offer professional-development workshops for researchers and info pros; I provide individual coaching for new and long-time solopreneurs; I write books and articles about the information industry; and I am developing a series of online courses. There is no way that anyone I talk with would remember all those things (or want to!), so I focus on one aspect of my business that would be most relevant to that person. When I am speaking before an audience, I learn enough about the participants to know what part of my skill set to highlight in my presentation and examples. By making one facet of myself memorable, I generate far more word of mouth referrals than I would by giving everyone a laundry list of all the services I offer.

What if your clients pigeonhole you? Being pigeonholed isn’t a bad thing! Everyone is looking for a way to remember things, so make it easy for the people you interact with to remember you by, well, being memorable. You aren’t just another online marketing consultant; you help dentists generate 30% more new clients with strategic social media activities. You are not just any financial planner; you specialize in working with family-owned businesses facing intergenerational conflict. When prospects call you, they know you will understand their situation, you will be familiar with the underlying issues, and you can speak cogently about options and alternatives. You have instant credibility. Your clients want someone who “gets” them; being seen as a specialist makes it more likely that everyone you encounter remembers you as the go-to person for something unique.

Won’t you get more referrals when you offer a wide range of services? Actually, you’ll find just the opposite. Most prospects do not find generalists memorable… they often just appear to be unfocused or as having only a shallow understanding of a wide range of topics. While you may provide a variety of services or have a familiarity with a number of industries, the person you’re talking with is much more likely to remember one specialized thing you do rather than to remember you as that person who seems to do something or other. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather get three calls from people who know they need my services right now than get no calls because no one can remember specifically who I am or when to refer people to me.

Are you at a loss for how to specialize? One of the best ways to identify a niche that is personally, professionally and financially rewarding is to conduct half a dozen informational interviews. These are powerful tools for identifying your best clients and learning how to focus your services to what they value the most.


One comment on “Specialist or generalist? – part 2

  1. Great post. Having been a generalist and now a specialist, I much prefer being a specialist. With a niche, you are the expert, and your clients are more likely to consider you their trusted adviser. That’s a great position to be in.

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