Want to Worry Less and Make More Money? Be a Specialist

Be a specialist and make more money as a freelancerIf a pipe in your home bursts and water is pouring onto your floor, are you going to call a handyman or a plumber? A plumber is the obvious choice, because you need a specialist in fixing leaks—not someone who does a little of this and a little of that.

Stand Out from the Crowd as a Specialist 

When clients hire a freelancer, they want a specialist too, someone with expertise in the type of freelance work they need help with.

“We live in the era of the specialist. Being a generalist—trying to be all things to all people—doesn’t sustain long-term business growth,” says Ilise Benun, founder of Marketing Mentor and author of the Pick a Niche Kit  for freelance creative professionals.

Being a specialist helps you get more freelance work and high-paying clients with less work and in less time because you’ll:

  • Know where to find your best potential clients (prospects)
  • Be able to show them you’re the expert they need
  • Stand out from the crowd of other freelancers.

Make More Money by Being a Specialist 

There’s proof that freelancers who are specialists make more money than those who don’t. In a survey of 756 freelancers about niches (another word for specialties), Ed Gandia found that:

  • 29% of freelancers who have a niche make $100 or more an hour
  • But just 15% of freelancers who don’t have a niche make this much.

90% of the highest-paid freelancers ($150 or more an hour) have a niche.

Freelancers who are specialists were also happier with their clients than other freelancers:

  • 36% of freelancers who have a niche were very happy or ecstatic with their clients
  • 22% of freelancers who don’t have a niche were this happy.

Of the freelancers who took the survey:

  • 72% had a niche and 28% did not
  • 71% were copywriters (41%) or writers (30%)
  • 66% have been freelancing 3 or more years, and 29% have been freelancing 10 years or more.

The Freelance Niche Report has the complete survey results.

3 Ways to Specialize

Freelancers often specialize by:

  • Industry(ies),
  • Industry(ies) and project
  • Project

Specializing by industry was the most common type of specialty among freelancers who took Gandia’s survey. Of the 72% of freelancers who have a niche:

  • 28% focus on 1 industry
  • 24% focus on 2 or 3 industries

The most common industries were healthcare/medical/pharma (my specialty), technology, and education.

Specializing by industry lets you choose industries where:

  • Clients can pay freelancers well
  • There’s lots of opportunity

This is a great choice for most freelancers.

Combined industry and project specialization lets you focus on specific types of clients and specific services. It’s narrower than industry specialization alone, so there’s less competition. But it’s also harder to find opportunities. This type of specialization works best for experienced freelancers who know their industries really well. In the niche survey, 21% of freelancers who have a niche combine industry(ies) and project specialization.

Project specialization alone tends to make you more like a handyman than a plumber. There’s not much that’s special, for example, about a freelancer who writes newsletters or designs websites. And since you could work for almost anyone if you specialize by project, how do you market your services? That’s probably why only 5% of freelancers surveyed who have a niche chose a project niche.

Specialties of High-Income Freelancers

The types of specialties for all freelancers surveyed and high-income freelancers were somewhat different. Among the high-income freelancers:

  • 20% focus on 1 industry
  • 25% focus on 2 or 3 industries
  • 23% have a combined industry and project specialty focus.

Get Bigger, Better Freelance Work as a Specialist 

Picking a specialty or specialties isn’t easy. But if you do the work, you’ll get big rewards.

“Instead of being a blur in the eyes of your prospects, you’ll get better clients, better projects, and better pay,” says Benun, who has helped thousands of creative professionals find their niche in her almost 30 years as a self-employed professional herself.

Look for growing markets and professional associations

So how do you know if the specialty or market you choose is viable?

A great specialty:

  • Has clients who can afford to pay you what you’re worth
  • Offers lots of freelance opportunities now and in the 
  • Makes it easy for you to find and reach prospects.

Industry specialization is the easiest way to find prospects and build expertise. That’s probably why it was the most common way to specialize in Gandia’s freelance niche survey.

Look for industries (your target markets) that are growing. If you don’t know where to start, check out these industries:

  • Healthcare/medical/pharma
  • Technology
  • Education

There’s a reason they were the top industries in Gandia’s freelance niche survey: They offer freelancers lots of opportunities.

Also consider industry sectors. For example, my industries are healthcare and medical. But within that, my industry sectors are hospitals, large medical practices, disease-focused health organizations, and communications agencies working in healthcare. “The larger your target market, the more you need to specialize,” says Benun.

Focus first on industries where you have a foundation of experience and skills to build on, and their ancillary or related industries. Once you’ve got some experience and a steady income, you can expand into new industries (and new types of work). Benun suggests starting with 3 target markets and testing each.

The easiest target markets to access have professional associations. That’s the best way to find prospects and to network with them and other freelancers. You can also learn a lot about your industry(ies) through professional associations. This helps you build that deep expertise that attracts clients and tailor your marketing to their needs.

Expect your specialty to evolve

It takes time to find the right specialty(ies). Most freelancers, including me, start out more broadly and narrow down their specialty(ies) over time. As you get more experience, you’ll learn more about where to find the best clients and the projects you like best. You may even totally change your specialty(ies).

Here’s how my specialty evolved:

Specialty #1: Freelance medical writer

This was way too broad, because medical writing is a huge market with dozens of types of clients and dozens of types of writing opportunities.

As I got more experience, I learned that there are 2 basic types of medical writers (freelance or employed): marketing communications and scientific. With my background in journalism, I was definitely a marketing communications medical writer.

Specialty #2: Freelance marketing communications medical writer

So I narrowed my specialty, but even within medical marketing communications, there are lots of types of clients and lots of freelance writing opportunities.

Specialty #3: Freelance medical writer for healthcare marketers and health organizations

My third and current specialty is medical marketing communications for hospitals, large medical practices, disease-focused health organizations, and communications agencies working in healthcare. This is much narrower and more focused than my earlier specialties.

Start Attracting Bigger, Better Freelance Clients

Once you’ve picked your specialty(ies), “marketing becomes infinitely easier (and more effective) because you know your audience and where to find them, what their needs are, and how to reach them,” says Benun.

Take these steps to start attracting your dream clients:

1. Continuously learn more about your specialty(ies).

2. Revise your marketing messages and tools (website, LinkedIn profile, business cards, etc.) to reflect the needs of your clients and how you meet those needs so that your message resonates with them the minute they encounter you.

3. Create a prospect list through the member directories of your professional associations.

4. Reach out to prospects through targeted emails (a.k.a. Warm Email Prospecting) that show how you can help clients meet their needs.

Learn More about Being a Specialist

Finding Your Money-Making Specialty(ies), a free email coursefrom The Mighty Marketer

This is What Happens When Freelancers Specialize

Professional Associations: The Best Way to Get High-Paying Freelance Work

Pick a Niche Kit from Marketing Mentor, which guides you through a 4-step process to pick a niche and includes 6 podcasts, 3 worksheets, and 5 case studies of how freelancers found their niches.

The Freelance Niche Report