Should I Be a Master of Many or a Master of One Thing?

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Clients / Promotion / Selling

We live in a world that provides many of us with the tools and opportunities to develop skills in so many things.

The opportunities are exciting, but can get downright crazy. This, combined with a seemingly endless ocean of people who are competing with one another for the attention of buyers and clients, raises the question:

Will we fair better if we specialise in one or fewer things, thus raising our value at that thing, or do we embrace the variety and become skilled at many things so that we meet more need?

My answer is that it is both. But with a twist.

It’s less about what you can do and all about how you present and market your skills.

Though we see successful people who are skilled in many things, most if not all of them will have built up their success through focusing on becoming known for one area of expertise at a time.

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Elon Musk, for example, has reached a stage in his career where he appears almost God-like in his range of skills and areas of industry. But we mustn’t forget that he became great and dominated one specialised thing at a time, before building a portfolio of successful projects and experience.

We will find it much easier, until we are so famous that it no longer matters, to be known as a specialist.

Notice my emphasis on ’becoming known’. Becoming known is not necessarily the same thing as what you can actually do.

What do I mean by specialist? I mean being a dedicated expert in something specific above and beyond anything else we do.

This means being a specialist not only in the work we do, but more importantly in the way we present ourselves to prospects and potential buyers.

When I say we need to be a specialist, I’m not saying that we cannot develop skills in a whole range of areas. We can, although by doing this we will have less time and energy to focus on one specific speciality, be that nature photography; logo design, script-writing, front-end web design, or 3D character illustration.

The key thing is that we present/promote/market ourselves as a specialist at any given phase of our career, so that when our ideal prospects see our brand, and the way that we communicate what we can help them with, we will be seen as an expert, and ideally an expert that can serve those ideal clients specifically.

We can change our specialism any time we want, and we can work on anything we like behind the scenes.

A lot of people worry that by not telling the world that they can do a range of things, they will be cutting off potential opportunities with a range of different clients.

As long as you have identified an ideal target prospect that you proactively promote to, who is a great fit for your specialism, you will have plenty of opportunities for work coming in.

If you’re not bringing in enough paid opportunities – the problem is not that you define yourself too narrowly – the problem is that you are not proactively bringing in enough leads and prospects who suit your focused speciality.

As a specialist, you can still tell people that you do other things and you can still accept work in other areas, but your primary presentation on your website, and your primary focus for the marketing that you do at any given point in your career will be towards people that are a great fit for a specific specialism.

That does mean that you can, over time, have many skills and products to your name.

Example:

If you are a designer and you currently offer services in web design, logo design, illustration and print design, consider narrowing down your main speciality to something more defined, like print design.

This is unless you have a team of people working with you under the same brand, who can dedicate themselves to those other skills.

Now let’s say you narrow down to just print design for the time being, and also have an ideal prospect in the Italian restaurant industry.

Now your business is much more refined.

With your presentation as a print design specialist for restaurants, when those ideal clients come to you, they will see that you are a perfect fit for them and will be much more likely to be interested in working with you.

If other prospects see your business and see that you are a print specialist for restaurants, it’s unlikely that this will stop them from working with you.

In fact, people are drawn to specialists, because you are an expert and more likely to have developed those skills in that one area.

In my case, I have spent ten years honing my speciality in illustration as a master of maps and top down landscapes done in a very specific style.

So think about how you could narrow down your service offering to something more refined. This would be one single skill, ideally using one or a very small number of tools or methods.

More examples:

  • Wildlife photography
  • Documentary film direction
  • Urban fashion design
  • Non Fiction Writing on Reducing Anxiety
  • Magazine art direction
  • Painting portraits of people/animals/clowns

You’d present this speciality as a primary focus on your site and in the way you communicate with people, but I’d say you can still show other items in your portfolio on other pages and through other links on your site if you wanted to.

Being a specialist makes it much easier to dominate – to rise up – in a certain corner of the market, and become really well known for that area of expertise.

Say as a photographer, you chose to be a specialist in urban scenes in China. Now you have a much better chance of being noticed, rising above the masses, and being chosen by the right clients, even if they don’t plan on taking pictures in China.

Remember, you choose to be a specialist in China for a period of time. You can do it forever, or you can shift the focus, and your presentation of that speciality – a few months or years from now. You might be an urban China photographer specialist today, but you could be an urban photography specialist in Russia next year.

Note that being a specialist needs to be complemented by effective and active promotion, which I talk about in many other posts.

What you are doing is excelling and mastering one thing at a time, and reaping the rewards for doing so. Eventually you can become known as a multidisciplinary genius.

For now, master that one thing and be known for that one thing.






The Author

Alex is a project starter, sometimes finisher, writer and illustrator. He started Red Lemon Club in 2009 with the aim of helping talented creative people leave their mark.

4 Comments

  1. Hanson says

    I love your advice. I think that’s how you became successful with your blog. You chose a unique creative angle: How to be successful by being creative. As a result of the creativity, you have won a unique following of passionate followers.

    I’ve been thinking of how I can implement this myself into my businesses.

    Thanks a lot!

  2. Pingback: Should Creative Freelancers Be Masters of Many or Masters of One Thing? | The Freelance Report

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