- Why you must choose a specialty
- Specializing does not mean saying “no” to gigs that come your way that don’t match your specialty.
- Specializing makes it easier to close better clients.
- Create your positioning
- 1. Choose a focus
- 🔻 Top down
- 🔺 Bottom up
- 2. Articulate it
- 3. Add to your arsenal of abilities
It’s counterintuitive, but necessary, to pick a specific spot on the landscape of
writing (insert your craft) that uniquely fits you.
Why you must choose a specialty
I have lots of conversations with career-builders who admit they’re afraid to specialize. They think it will limit their opportunities—but the truth is, they’re misunderstanding what it means to specialize.
I’ll use the example of marketing.
You can be a general “marketer,” or you can be a marketing automation specialist who helps businesses streamline their lead capture & nurturing.
Which one sounds more likely to get hired? It’s definitely the latter, the specialist, because businesses who need what she does are going to find her right away. She’s one of a much smaller number of marketers who specialize in this. The other one, the general “marketer,” is a commodity—there are ten thousand others just like him.
“The world does not need another generalist design firm. What the world needs, what the better clients are willing to pay for, and what our people want to develop and deliver, is deep expertise.” –,Blair EnnsThe Win Without Pitching Manifesto
But what about if our marketing automation specialist also happens to get a lead for some content strategy? If she knows how to deliver on this, can she close this client too?
Specializing does not mean saying “no” to gigs that come your way that don’t match your specialty.
It doesn’t force you to accept only opportunities which conform exactly to your speciality. It’s your business—you’re allowed to accept to other types of work if you desire.
A specialty is merely a stronger signal in one, less-crowded area. Specializing is planting a brightly colored flag in an empty meadow. Not specializing is planting a flag amongst countless other flags. The client sees an abundance of options, and you are left competing with countless others.
Specializing makes it easier to close better clients.
Why? You become the obvious choice when you’re not one in a giant pool of options. Specialty reverses the power dynamic from being “the marketing girl who does our blog posts” or “the guy who updates our website” (viewed as a commodity) to being a trusted advisor to whom clients turn for guidance.
It puts you in control of the process, the terms, and the clients you accept. The client is no longer comparing you to other “marketers” they can find on Upwork. They’re seeing you in your own light.
Herein lies the big lesson: marginally smaller client pool, but far easier sales cycle.
When choice is limited, I want a generalist. When selection is difficult, a jack of all trades is just fine. But whenever possible, please bring me a brilliant specialist. – Seth Godin, We specialize in everything
Create your positioning
Our goal when position[ing] ourselves against our competition is to reduce or outright eliminate them. When we drastically drastically reduce the real alternatives to hiring our firm, we shift the power balance away from the client and toward us.
– Blair Enns,
Fill out your template as you go through this Mission.
1. Choose a focus
It takes boldness and courage to choose a focus, to willingly say “no” to other possibilities simply because they do not match our speciality. But the truth is, when you have the strength to choose a focus, you actually make it easier for the right clients to say “yes” to you.
Instead of saying “You can choose anyone, and we’re anyone,” the marketer can begin with an audience worth serving, begin with their needs and wants and dreams, and then build something for that audience. This involves going to extremes. Finding an edge. Standing for something, not everything.
– Seth Godin,
Within the realm of marketing, what specific focus will you take? For us at PubLoft, it was content marketing—more specifically, search-optimized blog content. (Later, we expanded into white papers, ebooks, guest posting, etc.) Mat chose this route because he felt that blogging was easy enough, and SEO wasn’t rocket science.
You can choose any focus, but you must choose it. Don’t worry—you can always change your mind, pivot to trying a different focus. But if you don’t take action now, you’ll struggle to win clients while charging more. You’ll feel like your wheels are spinning endlessly.
My TOP specialty will be:
If you need help narrowing in on what your specialty could be, try one of the following approaches:
🔻 Top down
Start from the highest level you can: marketing.
Marketing is an entire category of services, spanning everything from content writing to graphic design to analytics.
HubSpot has an awesome list of 41 types of marketing to run through. Pick one.
🔺 Bottom up
Start with the specific skill/s that you possess. Are you a wizard with words? Powerful with the pen tool? Effective with finances?
Whichever one, it translates to a specific marketing activity with which you can excel. Read HubSpot’s awesome list of 41 types of marketing and find one that feels like a fit.
2. Articulate it
Your job now, in everything that represents your brand, is to clearly articulate this focus and which nuances you choose to serve. You’ll do this by describing the unique qualities that your focus embodies.
For example, you might be a web designer who builds extremely secure Webflow websites (security), a conversion copywriter who specializes in colloquial terminology (relevance), or maybe a search engine marketer who launches and optimizes campaigns very quickly (speed).
Seth Godin suggests a simple yet effective exercise in
Draw a simple XY grid. For each axis, choose something people care about—like convenience, price, healthfulness, performance, popularity, skill level, or efficacy. The magic of the XY positioning of extremes is that it clarifies that each option might be appropriate, depending on what you seek.
Here are some axes for you to choose from, but feel free to think up your own:
You can, of course, build layers of axes. Some agencies market themselves as all of the above and more. If you can back it up, fantastic. But the XY positioning exposes that even the most authoritative proclamations of speed and performance and trendiness and whatever else are not always all they seem. First-hand reviews from those agencies’ past clients can often reveal the firm’s weak points.
The beauty of the XY positioning is that it forces you to map. Sure, you’re not the only design studio that is trendy and experimental. But you can be more experimental than the other ones, which feels edgier. Or less, which is safer. It all depends on what kinds of clients you want to work with.
3. Add to your arsenal of abilities
The final step is something you will also need to keep doing constantly: learning, testing, and measuring your ability to deliver on your promise of positioning. Whatever you say you are, work to back it up as much as possible. If you find you can’t back up a positioning promise, back off instead, and pick something else.