Should you be a freelance Jack of all trades? Niche or Generalist?
There are two kinds of freelancers in the world. Those who work with a specific clientele, and those who serve a wider audience. The niche folks are pro niche and the generalists are pro generalist. But is there a wrong option? Which are you, niche or generalist?
The Niche Approach
Growing your niche skill set
Working within your niche allows you to focus and grow a smaller skillset. With a set number of hours each day, it’s hard to become an expert in many areas. (I would argue it’s impossible.) For example, digital is rapidly changing. This means that, to serve your clients better, you need to stay up to date on those changes. Working in a niche means you can spend your time on one or two areas, and on how to apply that new information to your work.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t try to learn areas outside your focus. Don’t ignore a topic you want to research because it's not your niche. It could be a valuable resource! Instead, try managing your time differently. Use a small amount of time on unrelated research, while focusing the bulk of your development on your niche.
Working with your passion
A niche means you can work within your passion. Is your passion a general idea, or it is a specific concept? My bet is the latter. The beauty of a niche is that it can be what you want it to be. If you have a specific skill set, there will nearly always be a client looking for that service.
Think about what excites you. What makes your eyes light up as you ramble on to anyone who will listen? Passion breeds excellence. You’ll be more willing to work when you love what you do.
Becoming an expert
Absorbing all information possible about a topic means you'll become a subject matter expert. It won't happen overnight, but soon you'll be surprised at how much you know! Word of mouth is powerful, and your reputation for knowledge and experience can help you gain attention and clients.
Beyond clients, though, you’ll be able to grow your network with other freelancers as a person to ask about __. Freelancers have a sense of camaraderie, as we all have unique gifts/skills.
Standing out from the crowd
We recently interviewed Becca Eisenhauer and Morgan Hauck from Lemonly. As a digital agency specializing in visual data, Lemonly has a very narrow focus. This means they had some great thoughts on working within your niche. Primarily, standing out in a smaller crowd. Instead of differentiating yourself from many, you’ll be one of a few. This allows you to shine, all while doing what you love.
This also means you’ll have the opportunity to work with larger companies that wouldn’t know you exist if not for your niche. Lemonly is a small agency in South Dakota, yet has worked with LEGO and Marriott Hotels, among others. Morgan says, “doing one thing and doing it well and then refining that process and getting even better, has really opened a lot of doors for us”. That’s the definition of why a niche can benefit you. (Like in the previous section.)
The Generalist Approach
One of the biggest concerns with this approach is that you are one of many. When this happens, it can be hard to distinguish yourself from your competition.
Helping more clients
In a way, working as a general freelancer means you could help more people with a variety of needs. But let’s look at it from the other side. If you’re working within your niche, you can still help a variety of people. And you can serve them better because you know about their specific issue.
There’s a misconception (one I definitely believed in the beginning) that niche is a nice way of saying “a freelancer with no work”. But it’s not! (Okay, I suppose there is such a thing as a niche that’s too narrow, but hopefully you see my point.)
If you work within your niche, you can serve your client while pursuing your passion.
Finding your passion
Yet, there’s one circumstance where I’m fully in the “generalist” camp: when you haven’t yet found your niche. Using a variety of skills with clients can help you realize your strengths and weaknesses, passion, or lack thereof.
If you’re a new freelancer, or even if you’ve been at it a while, you may not know what your niche is. And that’s okay.
Think about what you love, and what skills correlate with that. Then try working in that area for a time and see what you think. Is it everything you’ve hoped for, or do you think there’s something better?
A real-life niche example
Did you know that people get paid to film surgeries for training purposes? You’ve probably seen clips of surgeries on medical dramas or in newscasts. Those need to be filmed, and I worked with a producer who created a business from that concept. He travels to hospitals around the world to film ground-breaking surgeries, often for training purposes.
Videographers are common. Highly skilled and talented videographers are less common, but there are still many. This producer I worked with had a varied background, but he found his niche. He saw an opportunity and went for it, which has opened many doors for him.
Think about what working within your niche means for your business, and how it could help you grow and work with more clients. There are some benefits to serving a wide audience, but the benefits of helping a specific clientele far outweigh them.
Now I want to hear from you!
What’s your niche?
Do you believe in working within your niche?