Why It's Better To Be a Specialist As a Freelancer

Feb 27, 2024

I’ve lived both sides of the coin.

And I’m here to tell you: you should probably specialize.

Story: the nearly bankrupt agency

Before going freelance I worked for a web agency, called MediaCT. We were a bunch of young guys, in an up-and-coming market. Opportunities everywhere. Just like our focus. We’d offer web development, copywriting, web analytics, built our own CMS and had our own e-mail marketing tool.

Because of the market at the time and lack of competition, the team grew quickly from 12 to 25. However, the margins always had been a problem. When the lead flow halted, the company crashed. We went back to 12 employees and nearly avoided bankruptcy.

So what exactly happened?

We were a jack of all trades. Not exceptional at anything. We were getting outperformed by specialized agencies and it was costing us leads and clients.
Margins were too low. When you offer multiple services, you never reach peak efficiency. Also there was a lot of unbilleble support needed for all the software solutions.
Hard to collaborate with. Other agencies had high quality partners to work with. For instance marketing agencies were partnering with development agencies. We couldn’t, as we were a competitor to all.
After the crisis, things needed changing. The owners analyzed the problem and came up with a simple, yet brave solution. They dropped most of their services.

They questioned three things:

  • What are we best at?
  • What do we enjoy most?
  • What is the market willing to pay us for?\

The answer was: building e-commerce stores in the CMS Magento.

This answer solved all three problems listen above.

We got really good in building high performing e-commerce stores, got high quality partners and got margins under control. In 2020 the company was thriving, had 45 employees, and merged with the agency Youwe.

If you are interested in this topic, go read this related blog on [Case Study] Why Offering Too Many Services Destroyed This Boutique Consultancy

Why I specialized as a freelancer from the get-go

After working for the agency for five years, I was ready to start freelancing. Because I had lived through the agencies identity crisis, I knew I was going to offer one thing.

Just like the agency, I took a look at what I’m good at, what gives me joy and what the market needs.

I became a Google Ads specialist in 2012 and grossed over $100.000 in my first full year as a freelancer. Tripled my last salary.

This was not because I was brilliant at marketing myself. On the contrary, I wasn’t active on social media and wasn’t actively networking. I just got good at one skill which was in demand. Mainly by word-of-mouth I was asked to work on projects by other freelancers and agencies.

I even got so much work, I started burning out after this first year. If you want to read how I tackled this problem and continued to grow my revenue, go read my book SUPER FREELANCER. For sale on my site for $35. Buy here.

Why specialists are happier

I’ll say this: there is a place for generalists. Generalists often are needed and thriving in smaller companies. Generalists are good for starting things up. And generalists can make good managers, because they can oversee a broad array of work.

However. this doesn’t mean you should be this person. Just because there is a place for generalists and even if you are making money being one, you have to know what you’re missing out on.

Let’s start with the 5 pros to being a specialist. As a specialist:

  • Your marketing gets easier
  • Collaborations are everywhere
  • No need to keep up to date on multiple topics
  • You solve bigger problems, thus get paid more
  • The more niche you go, the less competition you have

Now let’s tackle some buts.

  • But I’d get bored just doing one thing
  • But my clients use all my services
  • But I’m afraid I’d feel trapped
  • But I’m scared I won’t like it
  • But is there enough market?

But I’d get bored just doing one thing

Not true for two reasons.

Reason 1. Freelancers with a wide pallet of services often think that being a specialist will cause boredom. Which is nonsense. In actuality, most generalists often prefer to work on one of their services. Specialization is choosing to go all in on that one thing you like most.

Reason 2. You’re not limited to doing one thing over and over. I’ve been offering google ads consultancy for over ten years. But I have also:

  • Given google ads training
  • Made course material for a minor in online marketing
  • Trained college teachers in google ads
  • Made an online course on google ads

And aside from Google Ads related work, I have:

  • Written a book on freelancing
  • Made a course on finding clients
  • Cofounded and invested in 2 companies (on of which a google ads agency)
  • Started a podcast on freelancing

Although I had been branding myself as a google ads specialist, on the side I was fulfilling my need for messing around with other skills and areas of expertise.

While it’s important to have a clear offering towards your potential clients, by all means, don’t let this stop you from working on things that excite you besides your main service.

But my clients currently use all my services

Maybe. But does that mean that they *should?* This is an argument I’ve heard over and over. You can’t let your current situation overrule the want for creating a better situation. It’s ok to stop certain services, even if that means you’ll need to let go of certain clients.

But I’m afraid I’d feel trapped

Know that you can always iterate within your specialization. For instance, a blog post copywriter can start writing email funnels. Also you can decide to change target audiences if need be. Example: a copywriter for startups can start working for business coaches.

Lastly, don’t let your *day job* stop you from exploring other ventures within your niche. The mentioned copywriter can give coaching, do speaking gigs, or create digital products products.

But I’m scared I won’t like it

Write down what your workday would look like in your new role. Probably you’re looking forward to this day, after you finished writing. If you’re not convinced yet, realize it’s okay to let a problem become a problem before thinking of the solution. Realize that you can always iterate.

But is there enough market?

I get it. It’s hard to look into the future. But you probably know your market as no other. If you really think it might be a problem to sell or market yourself, go talk to your network. As clients if they would hire you in your new role. Ask partners if they would be able to upsell you to their clients. Hold a poll on social media.

Closing thoughts

I’m a big fan of specialization. Focussing on one thing has served me incredibly well. Also most freelancers around me that chose the specialization route, I have seen thrive. While I’ve seen generalists often lag behind and get stuck in their career.

If you’re still in doubt and need more information about this topic, I’d like to again refer you to Luk Smeyers. His life story is amazing and his focus is laser sharp. He runs a blog at ‘The Visible Authority’, with one of the topics being ‘Narrow Focus In Consulting’. If you need any more convincing, I suggest reading his blog posts.


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