Portfolios – Part 2: Specialize

Last week I attended a talk on portfolio development and presentation. It included a lot of useful information and the discussion kept me thinking afterwards. I am sharing some of those thoughts over several posts.

Part 2: Find your niche and specialize.

Most of us resist shifting from generalist to specialist because we’re afraid we won’t get work. There won’t be enough clients or customers so there won’t be enough money and we’ll become truly starving artists. We’ll have to return to corporate work and sell the house and be miserable for the rest of our lives. Well, that’s how my mind’s hamster wheel of fear spins, anyway…

We know we can’t be all things to all people, yet many of us try anyway. So, let me ask you this (in my best Dr. Phil drawl): How’s that generalist thang workin’ for ya? Is the vast pool of clients you imagine for yourself keeping you busy? Or are you still struggling to find work?

As discussed Thursday night, more people are seeking specialists than generalists. [Here’s what Seth Godin had to say on the subject recently.] It turns out the path to the riches we seek is through specialization.

I know from my own experience it initially felt very counterintuitive and a bit scary to narrow my focus and thus the number of potential clients. But niche-ing turns out to make connecting with those ideal clients, those ones that are a great fit, so so so much easier. The work is higher quality, more fun, and you get to charge more for it because now you are a specialist. Having a niche or specialty really is the path of least resistance because you are rarely in the position of persuading a potential client you can do a job. Of course you can do the job! You’re the expert!

It’s also an easier path because you can avoid trying to be a jack-of-all-trades. It’s harder to make a living as a generalist. I understand the wide-ranging interests and capabilities creative right-brainers tend to have, but you don’t have to bring all of that into the professional realm. Do what you need to do to maintain a level of variety that keeps you from getting bored. Continue to stimulate your creativity by experimenting with other media and pursuits. Diversify your income streams. But don’t go so far that you run yourself ragged trying to stay current on everything and your focus becomes so clouded that people don’t know what you are about.

You can be a little fish in a big pool or a big fish in a little pool. Your choice.

* * * * * * * * * *

If you have narrowed the focus of your business, what was the outcome?


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Third Hand Works

from overwhelmed to ready for anything | organization and time management for people in their "right" minds | administrative guidance for independent creative professionals [more info]



© 2008 Cairene MacDonald, Third Hand Works. All Rights Reserved.

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