Okay, so I’m sure you know what generalists and specialists are. But, I’m going to start this article by assuming you don’t and give you definitions of the two. According to Google, a generalist is someone who “is competent in several different fields or activities”, whereas a specialist is someone who “is highly skilled in a specific and restricted field”. We see generalism and specialism everywhere in our lives, not only in business but even in nature, with specialist species and even plants.
Specialist species have evolved for a similar reason specialist humans have: specialist species evolve to fully utilise particular resources, so they have less competition, as generalist species are competing over far more resources, none of which they may be particularly good at acquiring.
So, why would you want to be a specialist then? Would it not be better to be competent in several different fields rather than just one, surely you’d be better prepared to deal with more scenarios and problems in your business and in life in general if you were a specialist? Well, there are several reasons why you may want to consider becoming a specialist, which are:
• Specialists earn more.
• Specialists earn recognition and fame in their field faster.
• Specialists have more of our trust.
• Specialists have nicer sounding titles, which sound better and impress us more.
Don’t misinterpret this; entrepreneurs need to be generalists, especially in the beginning, when they may need to perform many of their businesses roles themselves. But once you get beyond the startup stage and start growing your business, you need expertise, or it’s going to be very difficult.
Just think about your own experiences with businesses, when you have multiple issues or problems you need solving, do you look for a business that does everything or do you find a different business for every problem? Say you need something to eat, have a leaky shower, and need to buy a light bulb, would you go out and find a restaurant with it’s own plumbing department that also sells light bulbs? Thought not, so you can’t expect people to use your business or services in that way. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase ‘Jack of all trades and master of none’. It’s better to be an inch wide and a mile deep than a mile wide and an inch deep.
It’s also much easier to market yourself if you’re a specialist, as you’re basically giving yourself a unique selling point, which you can tell prospects and leads about. To become a specialist, you need to be disciplined. You have to keep studying, reading, and learning about a subject way beyond the point where most people would consider themselves to be knowledgeable enough. To do this you probably need to accept that there’s going to be a diminishing marginal return on your knowledge learned related to your time invested.
In other words, as you learn more and more, each extra hour, day, week, or other unit of time you put into practicing and studying your specialist subject is probably going to result in less and less new knowledge being absorbed. I’d recommend you do this about a subject that interests you, as you’re going to be learning about it A LOT, or a subject that you’re already fairly knowledgeable about.
So, if that’s the case, surely you should learn something else? After all, you could probably learn a lot more in the same amount of time if you picked another subject. Well, this is true, but what you need to consider is that it’s true for everyone else as well as you. So why would anyone need your knowledge at all if you’re a generalist, because there won’t be much that you know that someone else couldn’t learn on their own in a short period of time, which means there will be less demand for you, and less value placed on your knowledge.
If you keep learning about a subject way beyond the point where most people will have given up, not only do you keep going over stuff you do know, therefore cementing it, internalising it, and truly understanding it much better than someone else might understand the same knowledge, but the more additional things/facts you learn about your specialist subject, the more value will be placed on what you know.
This means that people who are struggling or have problems related to your specialist subject will be more likely to come to you, and the more specialist knowledge you know, the more you can charge for your services, as you’ll be providing more value, which fewer people could provide. The more you specialise, the less competition you have, as there are less people who can offer the same level of expertise and value as you can.
It is worth noting however, that as great as being a specialist is, you should still have knowledge of some other subjects too. Firstly, you may find yourself limited in your understanding and expertise if you only know about your specialist subject only. It’s important to know how your specialist subject relates to other subject and aspects of business, and doing so can give you more expertise and enable you to offer even more specialist advice, providing you ensure the bulk of your knowledge remains in your specialist subject.
This enables you to turn your knowledge into wisdom. Think of specialist skills as a way of opening the door, once the door is open, any relevant knowledge and value you can provide will be beneficial, whether related to your specialist subject or others.
Also, there’s no point building up your specialist knowledge if you don’t tell others about it, as otherwise they won’t know. You could be the most specialised person in your field, but if nobody knows then there’s no point. A good way to showcase your knowledge is to teach. I’d recommend you set up a blog and post content about your subject, showcasing your specialist skills.
That way, when you tell people, you have something to point them to which shows how much you know, and people might find your blog on their own and you could get work that way. And don’t forget, no matter how specialised you are, you can always learn more about your subject/field. Make sure you stay on top of new developments, methods and ideas, or you may soon find your knowledge is out-dated.
So, in conclusion;
- Choose a subject.
- Learn, learn, learn.
- Find a way to tell people/showcase your knowledge.
- Keep learning.
It’s that simple, the main obstacle is the time it takes. If you’re prepared to put the time in, you’ll find yourself with more clients charging more money, because it’s less crowded at the top.