Specialize or Diversify? Why Picking Your ‘Thing’ Is Worth It

specialize or diversify

Contrary to widespread cultural belief, the creative life can be an embarrassment of riches. Sure, we’re broke much of the time, but we’re wealthy in non-monetary ways, like our often-diverse skillsets. See, most creative entrepreneurs, whether they’re crafters, photographers, developers, or potential new business owners, are good at more than one thing. And, frequently, there’s a desire to offer all of those things to the public. After all, the more kinds of products you sell or services you offer, the more potential clients you’ll get, right?

Unfortunately, that’s not really how it works. Because it’s really difficult to market a product or service, whatever it may be, when your target customer is “everyone.”

The choice to specialize or diversify is a personal one because your creative pursuits are personal. Specializing, then, can feel like choosing just one of many things you love. But it’s important to remember that deciding if you’re planning on making a living off the thing you love, which goods or services you make and market is also a business decision.

Specializing Makes for Stronger Marketing

If you’re a capable photographer, you’ve probably been approached for all kinds of jobs, from newborn portraits to weddings to product photography to your nana’s 90th birthday party. And often, especially if you’re being asked by your friends or family members, you’ve probably said yes to things that aren’t really in your wheelhouse, because there is a need and you were there to fill it. This can be perfectly fine on a case-by-case basis.

Want to create a plan to make community-building an integral part of your marketing strategy. Whatever your specialty, find out how to ensure you always know where your next customer is coming from. Learn more today. 

However,  outside of people you know personally, that’s not a particularly sustainable approach, because a.) the people you know who need your services are a finite resource and you will eventually need other customers, and b.) those customers are going to want very specific things.

According to CreativeLive instructor (and famed handmade business expert/author) Kari Chapin, knowing your ideal customer changes the way you brand your entire businesses — which means, before you get into the meat of branding, you have to identify who that person is.

specialize or diversify

Keeping with the photography example, think of it this way: There isn’t really a customer who needs someone who can shoot a wedding and a breaking news event and also a concert. You aren’t going to be one person’s personal ‘shoot-everything’ photographer.

Instead, there are lots and lots of customers needing one specific kind of photographer. And they are most likely to opt for a photographer who is great at the one thing they need, because they really, really want their photos to be perfect. They don’t care about what else you do; they want someone who’s excellent at what it is that they need, and they want someone whose brand story — their messaging, imagery, social presence, and services — meet their needs.

Specializing Makes for Clearer Competition

To be great at running your own business, you need to stay up-to-date on your market, and keep an eye on your competition. You need to know who else is in the field — but if you’re playing on multiple fields at once, it’s exhausting to try to keep track of what’s happening on each one.

“The opportunity for your business comes from knowing what else is out there in the market. Then, you do that — just better. You need to do your research,” explains author and career coach Beate Chelette. And being better than everyone at every thing? That’s just impossible.

make your hobby your jobSpecializing Can Earn You More

Analyzing the market is also a huge part of trying to figure out a pricing model for your business — and odds are, you can charge more and feel good about doing so if you’ve chosen just a few elements to really get good at and hone in on.

“In every professional field, those at the top making the most money and profit are those that specialize and find a lucrative niche. All doctors go to medical school, but typically the speciality surgeon makes much more money than the general practitioner. I’m not saying that’s right or fair, but it’s the truth,” writes PetaPixel’s Alex Ignacio.

This is true for creatives of all types; if web design is something you’re just okay at, feel free to use it in your own business, rather than hiring someone else to do it for you…but know that if you’re offering a lot of services, trying to command top-dollar for all of them might be difficult.

Specializing Separates Work from Non-Work

Specializing doesn’t mean you need to abandon your hobbies or passions, though. In fact, specializing in the business aspect can help create a nice delineation between work and life. Skills that you enjoy growing, but may not necessarily be applicable for your business (for example, you run a craft business but are also a great cook or have an interest in botany) make you a more diverse person, and can help feed your soul.

Want to create a plan to make community-building an integral part of your marketing strategy. Whatever your specialty, find out how to ensure you always know where your next customer is coming from. Learn more today. 

“The ‘meaning’ in your job is: it pays the bills. Get as good at it as you can, because it’ll make the job more interesting to you, and it will provide you exits to another one,” advises illustrator and writer Austin Kleon. “Then find the rest of your meaning elsewhere.”

Specializing Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Wear a Lot of Hats

Being a little bit good at a lot of things can also really come in handy when you’re starting a new business. In a 2011 piece for Brazen Careerist, Emilie Wapnick highlighted one of the better aspects of having a lot of small interests.

“The reason playing the field is so valuable for entrepreneurs is that when you’re in startup mode, you end up doing a little bit of everything. I suppose I could have hired a lawyer to register my trademark or a web designer to tweak my WordPress theme or an audio editor to edit my podcast, but as a startup, who has the cash for that?”

So How Do You Pick Your Thing?

Honestly, it’s whichever one you can most easily imagine doing every day for the rest of your life. Instead of worrying about what will sell or what your market can support, focus on whichever skill, product, or service you most like the idea of doing to support yourself. Whatever it is — and it doesn’t even need to be the thing you’re best at — if you love it, it can become your business. You just need to give it the care and attention it needs to grow.

Want to create a plan to make community-building an integral part of your marketing strategy. Whatever your specialty, find out how to ensure you always know where your next customer is coming from. Learn more today. 


Hanna Brooks Olsen FOLLOW >

Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.