Is it better to be a generalist or a specialist?
What’s better for your business—being a generalist or a specialist in your chosen field? Well, there isn’t an easy answer and the debate is ongoing, especially in the startup world. It really comes down to what works best for you personally, and that answer will be different for everyone.
A generalist is a professional who is, in essence, a jack of all trades, someone who is moderately skillful in a variety of related and unrelated areas. On the other end of the spectrum, a specialist is someone who has one distinct skillset – whether that’s in graphic design, copywriting, or social media marketing.
Many modern professionals have found great success in being generalists. Again, it’s not for everyone. But if you’re having a personal debate between marketing yourself as a specialist or a generalist, here are a list of pros and cons to consider:
3 advantages of being a generalist:
1. One-Man Show – As a generalist, you cover all of your bases. This means your clients don’t have to shop around for complementary services. You’re the only professional they need, meaning increased profits and loyal customers. Being a generalist also means that you don’t have to hire as many employees, as you can handle most of the jobs yourself.
2. See the Big Picture – Because you are involved in many aspects of a project, it’s easier to see the big picture. Seeing the big picture means you waste less time experimenting and changing your direction because you know where you’re heading before you even begin.
3. Tap into New Markets – With many skills under your belt, you can reach out to a number of industries and new target markets. Doing so will ultimately increase your profits and your professional influence.
3 disadvantages of being a generalist:
1. Work Harder and Longer – Because you are a generalist and not a specialist, this can mean it will take you longer to complete work, as you may be less skilled or need time to research industry-related processes and standards. As a generalist, be prepared for longer, more intensive work hours.
2. Considered a Risk – In B2B interactions, many businesses prefer working with specialists rather than generalists. Generalists have to prove themselves over and over again. Specialists have the experience and skills to market themselves easily. Generalists, however, need to find creative, innovative ways of gathering additional clientele and earn the trust of businesses.
3. Can’t Charge as Much – Generalists can’t usually charge as much as specialists who have the experience, an extensive portfolio, and recommendations that merit higher fees. Generalists may reach a larger and more varied target market, but their fees need to represent their experience, too. And it can be tricky to find that middle ground.
Making a choice
Because there are pros and cons for being a generalist versus a specialist, you must first analyze your own situation, target market, and your professional goals. If you have the know-how to be a specialist and you feel it fits better into your goals, go for it. However, if you have a variety of interests and skills and don’t want to be pigeonholed into one industry, being a generalist might be the perfect fit for you and your company.