The Generalist Versus the Specialist
There’s an old joke that says a specialist is someone who knows more and more about less and less, until he knows everything about nothing. And conversely, of course, a generalist knows less and less about more and more until she knows nothing about everything. As it happens, both the generalist and the specialist have advantages in the world of online freelancing, though you’d be well advised to try to avoid both of the aforementioned extremes. ;)
One key advantage of being a generalist is breadth of opportunity. The more categories of jobs you are able to compete in—as well as subcategories within particular categories—the more projects you’ll probably win, and the more money you’ll make.
Another benefit of being a generalist is variety. If you’re like me, someone who gets bored easily when doing the same sort of work constantly, a more general approach gives you an assortment of different assignments, so you stay interested in your work. You can even switch between tasks if you find yourself in the mood for one particular type of project and not another, depending on what your clients’ needs are.
The main advantage a specialist has is a greater ability to land top-tier, lucrative assignments. As we discussed in looking at high quality versus low price job focus, you can make more money per project if you have an ability to fill specific buyer needs in a way that few others can. If you choose a particular discipline and become a real expert in it, you can in many cases “write your own ticket” in the freelancing world.
Generalizing and specializing can be done at multiple levels. Considering broad categories, you’ll find that most freelancers choose to specialize in only one basic field, such as writing, programming, design and so forth. Some, however, are generalists across categories; that includes myself, as I have done work in a variety of disciplines, ranging from programming and data conversion to proofreading, photo editing and even voice acting.
When you examine the sub-areas of a particular field, you again find generalists and specialists. For example, some writers may be good at doing everything from haiku to novels to product manuals; others may focus only on screenplays or magazine articles. And some are even more specialized than that; there are writers who only do articles on a narrow range of topics, areas where they are truly experts.
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