Everywhere I look for advice about new and innovative ways to run my freelancing business always produces the same generic results:
- Start small.
- Don’t quit your day job until you can afford to.
- Pick a niche and stick with it, because no one wants to work with a generalist.
These ideas are neither new nor innovative. You’ll find them recycled in business content going back to the beginning of time.
It’s true, they offer sound advice to anyone trying to start and build a successful business, but picking a niche is one of the least productive things any creative person can do.
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1. You stifle your creativity
Research suggests that creative people who seek out new experiences are resilient, observant, and take risks. This unique worldview helps you solve problems for your clients because of your different perspective.
And that’s what they pay you for!
Imagine if all you did was design business cards every day. Your entire career would be confined to what fits on a small piece of paper.
Or if you only created websites for the makeup industry. You’d probably notice yourself getting bored with very similar designs, fonts, and color schemes that sell to those customers.
If you don’t challenge yourself to do something new on a regular basis, you lose your ability to think outside the box because you’re never stretching yourself as an artist.
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Is your creativity already suffering? Regain it with these posts!
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2. You set dangerous limits on your business
You may be passionate about working with a specific type of clients, on specific projects, or in a specific industry, but every once in a while it’s good to work outside your “norm.”
For example, you may work with small business owners, but occasionally you should seek a large company to work with.
Because you’ll learn and grow as a creative as well as add something to your portfolio should you need to have experience in other areas.
This will help you protect your business against “what ifs” like:
- What if the economy changes and your industry recesses?
- What if the tax code/minimum wage/insurance requirements changes and a your preferred clients’ business size becomes less viable?
- What if technology changes and your project type becomes automated or unnecessary?
3. Switching niches is really difficult
You remember how hard it was landing your first design job ever, right?
How many times did you hear, “You’re just not experienced enough.” or “We went with someone who has more experience with our project type.”
If your entire body of work is confined to one particular industry/business size/project type, you’re setting yourself up for a serious uphill battle should you ever need (or want) to change niches.
What you should do instead
Throw the book away. Seriously.
Every time you read the words “pick a niche,” get rid of whatever it is you’re reading.
It isn’t going to teach you how to stretch your limits and challenge yourself as a creative businessperson.
Instead, read biographies about ultra-successful entrepreneurs and model your business decisions based on theirs. The great thing about learning from successful people is that they share their failures, allowing you to avoid mistakes you may not see coming.
So find your favorite and read everything about them you can get your hands on.
Find your tribe.
There are lots of people out there who refuse to paint themselves into the pretty little business box we call specialization. (The Millo Mastermind Facebook group is a great place to meet new creatives and talk shop.)
- Explore forums and groups on social media.
- Be sure to participate to get a sense of how the group works.
- Collaborate with industries who work closely with yours to share referrals and work on projects together.
Still struggling? Check out this post on finding the right people to surround yourself with:
Follow sound business practices.
Refusing to pick a niche does not mean you lack direction.
- You still identify your target client, build personas, and market to them the same way a specialist does.
- You have to sell your services like a boss. (If you can’t do that, hire someone who can.)
- And when you’re busy, you have to keep pitching to clients for new projects.
It just means that you’re not confining yourself to one specific project or client type.
Ignore the naysayers.
Many smart business coaches and successful folk are going to tell you you must select a niche (or else suffer a slow, doomed business).
You don’t have to listen.
In fact, if you’ve found your favorite successful entrepreneur and read all about them, you’ll probably find that they didn’t listen to the 1000 people who told them they “weren’t doing things correctly.”
But they had a plan, and they knew they could make it work.
And so can you.
Are you a specialist or a generalist? Why or why not? Tell us about it in the comments; we’d love to hear from you!
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