The Way We Work
April 28, 2010 by Guest Blogger

By: Ed Gandia

A fellow freelancer (let’s call him "Frank") emailed me a few weeks ago with a dilemma. Frank had recently decided to pursue a freelance career. Yet as he planned his next steps, he was unsure about where to specialize.

“I’ve been thinking and thinking, but I can’t come up with the right category,” he wrote. “You’ve said in the past that one should pick a category where one has experience or some familiarity. But what if I have neither?”

I can understand Frank’s dilemma. With all the talk about the importance of specialization, not having a clear picture of a viable specialty or niche can be a bit nerve-racking.

If you find yourself in a similar situation — whether you’re new to freelancing or not — here’s my advice: Relax!

Sure, if maximizing your income and having the freedom to pick your clients and the projects you work with seems attractive to you, then yes, specialization is something to seriously consider.

But you DON’T have to start out as a specialist. It’s something you can grow into as your business grows and evolves.

I find that too many new or aspiring freelancers struggle so much with this issue that it delays their progress. Delay soon leads to procrastination. And procrastination leads to giving up altogether.
So here’s how I would approach this dilemma…

#1: Do a personal inventory. Make a list of the following as it pertains to you:

  • Background
  • Experience
  • Education
  • Skills
  • Specialized Knowledge
  • Achievements, Accomplishments, Awards
  • Aptitudes
  • Likes & Dislikes
  • Hobbies

Make a thorough list of what attributes you may possess under each category. And don’t rush through this exercise. Take your time. You won’t think of everything the first time through.

#2: Connect the dots. After a few days of adding to the list, take another look and start thinking of ways you can parlay these attributes into a specialty.

And you know what? It doesn’t NEED to be a specialty! Equally effective could be a couple of statements that explain why you’re different — and specifically why you’re different in a way that has little to do with a niche market.

For instance, a demonstrated experience and passion for working with disabled children probably shows that you have a highly empathetic personality. If you’re a photographer, designer or writer, that could make you an ideal resource for companies that need to communicate a very empathetic tone in order to strike a chord with their target audience.

I just came up with that example off the top of my head, but hopefully you get my drift. There are many ways to position yourself as a different and better choice to prospective clients without having to carve out an industry niche.

#3: Don’t rule out starting as a generalist. Finally, there’s nothing wrong with starting out as a generalist. Better to start today as a generalist than to stall and never make the leap to freelancing at all. As your business develops, you can always choose to position yourself differently and pursue specific markets or projects that you enjoy more.

As the late Jim Rohn, one of my favorite motivational speakers, once said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “If you’re not sure where to start, do this. Go outside, throw a rock way up in the air, and wherever it lands, start right there!”

So…where’s your rock?

  • Brett Widmann

    This is just what I needed! Thanks for putting all this helpful info together in one easy-to-read article.

  • Janell Williams

    I know it took me awhile to get started. I have found out I just don't give up and the right jobs will come my way. I may be particular about the jobs I apply for, but that is o.k., that is how I will get the best ones for me.

  • Michelle Castorina Lane

    As a freelance writer, I can definitely relate to this. I signed up on oDesk and did my research. I came across more than a few people who were saying they had been signed up for X amount of time and had yet to get an assignment. That kind of worried me. I thought long and hard about what to write on my profile. I had to do something that would make me stand out the crowd of other freelance writers. I know I am a good writer, but I had to make sure that the buyers knew I was. I applied for 10 jobs to start, just in case. i kept watching the jobs that I applied for and read the profiles of people that were picked over me and realized that they had written really good profiles! So I tweaked mine some more and started applying again. I even started writing custom cover letters and then before I knew it, I was getting jobs! Within 3 days of signing up on oDesk, I was having to turn down buyers! Now, after only a couple of weeks, I still have a perfect 5.0 feedback, I have repeat clients that contact me first, before posting jobs and I have a full work schedule. I even received my first bonus before the assignment even ended! I love oDesk. Do not be discouraged- just be diligent and research the providers that were selected over you. Take pointers from their profiles, take all the tests that pertain to the areas that you wish to work in and come up with an eye catching cover letter that is easy to customize to each application. Things like this will make you stand out and before you know it, you will have more work that you can handle! :)