Specialising Vs. Generalising
To generalise, or to specialise, that is the question. We are sure it’s a common conundrum for our freelancers when deciding how to maximise their workload, and become the best at what they do; will specialising in a particular skill get the most work, or will having a few skills in my arsenal increase my work? It’s a tough one to answer, and one that seems to be a little divided, and needs some deep thought, depending on what your long term goals are.
The last decade has seen some big changes when it comes to client requests, and on the other hand, very little change. Many clients used to want a sole Editor, and then a sole Motion Graphics Designer to help produce their content, now the Hybrid Editor seems to be more popular than ever – someone who can use Premiere and AFX, so they can edit to a high standard but also add those affects to make their content pop. However, there are still areas, such as long form Avid editing, Cinema 4D animation or DaVinci colour grading, for example, that clients really want someone who is an expert in their field so they can help produce some top quality work.
In all honesty, this is not a new debate. Arguments over specialisation vs generalisation have been raging for time in memoriam within the freelance community. The bone of contention is whether you can earn more as a specialist or a generalist, but also on what a freelancer truly enjoys. A specialist might argue that by identifying a niche and mastering it, you can charge more for your services. Whereas, the generalist might argue that having a multitude of disciplines in your arsenal can prop up your income when your bread and butter slows.
There are many more factors to consider when trying to choose between generalising or specialising – location, clients, time, network and knowledge. If you work in a remote location, it may benefit you to work as a generalist, given that there could be a scarcity of specialists and a limited amount of work. If you’re based in a bigger city, with a large concentration of clients, it enables you to be pickier with work and find your niche.
Some freelancers may feel that in an ideal world, they would be able to develop their skills in their specific interests, whilst also picking up more general work from time to time. Or develop a range of specialist skills over time, giving them a few options. In fact, many of our freelancers have been diversifying their skills much more over the last few years. We have seen more and more freelancers adding more skills to their list, for example, camera ops learning how to edit, editors learning AFX or how to grade, and graders learning how to edit.
Working so closely with our freelancers and learning about their experiences, we know that work can ebb and flow, and freelancers have found new ways to maximise their workload through gaining extra skills. We’ve put together a list of the pros for whether you choose to generalise or specialise – to help you become the best in your field no matter what path you choose.
As we’ve discussed, many more freelancers these days have chosen to follow the route of a generalist. A generalist will have a broad range of skills and will be able to offer many different services to a larger pool of clients.
- You’ll work on a diverse range of projects: One of the downsides of specialising is you can often end up working for the same clients on very similar projects, and could be at risk of pigeon-holing yourself. However, it’s worth noting that we also know some freelancers really enjoy this way of working, and get plenty of work by being the best in their chosen skillset . Generalising, on the other hand, means not painting yourself into a corner. Working on different projects for different companies means you can also help widen your skill set, help you network with many different people, and experience different working cultures and environments.
- Offers More Work: By not following one specific path in too much depth, it can allow you to quickly adapt to changes in technology, the economy, business and design trends. This means you won’t lose out should a new piece of software be released, or something happens in our economy where a particular skillset isn’t top priority. Role saturation can also ebb and flow, one year a business may have a plethora of Photographers to choose from, and the next may be limited. Having a general skillset means you can mix up what roles you take on and avoid a highly competitive market.
- Build A Better Range of Transferable Skills: Generalists tend to have a broader range of transferable skills. In today’s world, the workplace is rapidly changing and fast-paced; transferable skills are an invaluable asset. Often businesses will focus on scalability and the steps required to take their company to the next level and to do so they will need their staff to be ready and able to adapt to that change.
- Better At Predicting Uncertainty: Generalists may benefit from being better prepared to predict uncertainty. In a talk with Professor Philip Tetlock, his studies concluded that a generalist working in any field would be better at predicting unknown outcomes and facing adversity.
A Specialist is an individual recognised for his expertise in one particular field. Some specialists are so niche, that they will only cater to a small audience, however, they can charge an impressive rate for these services due to their depth of knowledge and lack of competition.
- Less Competition: Working as a specialist within a niche field often means that you have fewer competitors offering exactly what you do.
- Better Rate of Pay: Perhaps the best part of becoming a specialist, is that you can demand a higher rate even when starting your career. Assuming there is sufficient demand for your skillset, businesses will often pay a premium to utilise your expertise.
- Grow Your Reputation: The longer that you work in your chosen niche, the more credibility you will build, giving you one of the best things you can have as a freelancer in the media industry – a strong reputation. So, for potential clients, specialising indicates a strong level of integrity, leading to longer-lasting and better-paying work.
- Becomes Second Nature: The more you learn and grow within your niche, the fewer problems will crop up along the way (this is not to say the work becomes easier). Furthermore, the better you become in your field, the more enjoyment you will find in work as you won’t be held up by simple errors or bumps in the road.
Of course, none of these points are gospel. A lot will depend on your circumstances and chosen line of work. The important part when deciding to generalise or specialise is to consider who you are as a person, what you want from your career and what will you enjoy or drives your passion the most.
Ultimately, whatever career path you decide on there are positives to both and working hard to make sure your skills are top-notch, whether that’s one skill or many, means you can achieve success in either option.