How to position yourself as a specialist and leave the generalists in the dust

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Let me ask you a question: if you needed surgery would you seek out the best specialist you could afford, or would you go with the nearest general practitioner?

Me too! And your ideal clients are no different.

During my 15-year career as a rep for top-level art directors, copywriters, and fashion illustrators, I learned that high-quality clients will hire the most qualified person to solve their problem, and are willing to pay top-dollar for their services.

It was my job to position each person on my roster as a specialist within their field (it goes without saying they had the talent, expertise, and experience to back it up), and charge $1,500/day for their creative skills.

Sidenote: When you're done here, learn from 150+ freelancers who've been in your shoes with our all-new 30-day bootcamp: Zero to Freelancing. You'll love it.

Now, as a business coach for creative entrepreneurs and freelancers, I teach creatives how to do that for themselves.

Not sure how to position yourself more effectively to those juicy clients with the budgets to match?

Let’s start with the first, and most important, step:

Identify what makes you unique

Whether you know it or not, we are all born with a unique gift or talent.

No exceptions!

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Whether you’re a photographer, graphic designer, or video producer, your unique talent or specialty is how you create positive transformation in the lives of others. And when you identify your talent and share it with your ideal clients, you can’t help but be more successful, more fulfilled, and more abundant (in whatever way that looks to you).

But here’s the thing, most freelancers and creative entrepreneurs resist positioning themselves as a specialist because they worry they will lose perfectly good clients in doing so.

As a result, they are perceived, if they’re being perceived at all (I know, ouch!), as a generalist and continue to get the last minute, small budget gigs that keep their business and income small.

If this sounds familiar, don’t feel bad. It’s not your fault, and you are definitely not alone.

Most of us didn’t embark on creative entrepreneurship or freelancing with an MBA under our belt and, truth be told, we’re all winging it.

And that’s OK…for a while.

But if you want to start landing those bigger budget projects, you need to identify what you are uniquely equipped to offer. This will help you:

  • Reconnect with what you love to do
  • Articulate what you do confidently, clearly and effectively
  • Build your business around your specialty, including: the clients you serve, what services you offer, how you price them, and how you engage with your audience.

So, if you’re ready to take that first step and start playing a bigger game, here are six questions that will help you identify what makes you unique.

1. What elements of your work do you enjoy the most?

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. In an ideal world, what work would you do, and what would you leave to the generalists?

2. What do you love to do the most?

Note this isn’t the same as number 1. Examples might include gardening, theatre or amateur photography.

3. What do people come to you for?

If people are always seeking you out for something specific, it’s an indicator, or where they see your greatest value or talent.

4. What problems do you solve?

We tend to describe our business in terms of what we do and what our process is. Try articulating what you do in terms of what problems you solve instead.

5. What do you offer that others do not?

You might initially blank on this, but I promise that there’s something different about the way you approach a creative problem. Stick with it and write down anything that comes to mind.

6. What would you do all day for free?

Chances are, this is your unique gift and passion.

How are you feeling so far? A bit clearer? Good! Now it’s time to take it one step further and look at who else is in the marketplace.

I know, I know, looking at the “competition” is hard, but by looking at who else is in your field, what clients they’re targeting, how they are positioning themselves, and the services they offer, you’ll gain a whole new level of clarity about how you’re different, and where you fit in the market.

If you do these exercises, you will have taken the first essential steps to building a stand out brand, message, and services you’ll love to provide.

I’d love to keep the conversation going, let’s chat more in the comments!

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About Justine Clay

Justine Clay is a speaker and business coach for creative entrepreneurs and freelancers. Through a series of clear, actionable steps, Justine will teach you how to identify what makes you stand out from the crowd, create a marketing message that resonates with your ideal clients, and build a successful and fulfilling creative business or career. Sign up for Justine’s free guide: How to Find High-Quality Clients and Get Paid What You’re Worth and start making monumental changes in your creative business or career today.

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Comments

  1. Justine, I couldn’t agree more with this!

    Several years ago I decided I wanted to become expert in presentation design. It was easy to do as the subject is genuinely of interest to me. Once I started focusing on it, the work started coming in, and now I work with top brands around the globe.

    Specialising is the way to go!

    • Hi Louise,
      Thanks for sharing your experience and the wonderfully positive outcome. I think you nailed it when you said it’s something that’s of genuine interest to you. When we are enthusiastic, it really contagious and clients want to work with us. Keep up the great
      work!

  2. Hi, Justine,

    Thank you for this insightful article, I really enjoyed reading it. I work as a freelance translator and in the past few days I’ve been pondering a lot whether to try improving my business a bit more or just to quit all and apply for a job somewhere – clients not paying regularly, burnouts, price negotiations not going so well, everyday stress, remote work and loneliness… But when I read the questions in the article, it really got me thinking and opened up a new perspective.

    I always wanted to be a copywriter but I just cannot make enough time to take a proper course, practice a bit, let alone to land some gigs. My inbox is filled with e-mails every day and I spend an hour or two (or three) just replying or doing the administrative work. My specialty is translating technical texts and god! I hate proofreading, but I can’t refuse those request because (just like you wrote) I’m afraid I’ll “lose perfectly good clients in doing so”. It seems I’m stuck in my “comfort zone”.

    Could you please give me some advice? Should I just hire a proofreader (at this moment I just think about it as a “oh no, another task to handle”) or someone to handle my administration work? I really have no clue.

    Thank you!

    p.s. Please excuse any mistakes as English is not my native language.

    • Hi Danijel,
      Thanks for sharing your frustrations, along with your desires for your business. It’s important for us to remember, that entrepreneurship and freelancing is tough, and those days when we want to quit will come up. But I think your instinct to focus on what you enjoy doing and outsource the rest is a great one. Build your network of resources who can help and support you and build their fees into the fees you quote clients. With the time you save, start working on your copywriting dreams and skills. It won’t happen overnight, but if you do some work towards that dream each day, it WILL become a reality.
      Good luck to you!

  3. Hello Justine,

    Great points. I especially loved the six questions that you posed to us.

    It took me a long time to finally pick a niche and stop generalising, because of the fear of not getting enough work.

    However, I have now seen that being a specialist does have its rewards.

    • Hi Sheeroh,
      Thank you so much for sharing your experience with specializing in your business; it really is a leap of faith, isn’t it? But once that leap is made, work really does become much more fun, fulfilling, and profitable.
      Keep up the good work!
      Justine