Specialist or generalist? – part 1

swiss-army-knifeknifeOne of the most common questions I’ve heard from solopreneurs is “should I specialize in a niche or be a generalist?” My advice, almost to a one, is to find an area in which you can focus and become known as the go-to person for that niche.

I learned this lesson myself when I first started my research business, way back in 1991. I was coming from a background in the telecom industry, so I figured I would focus in that area. I reached out to my colleagues in AIIP to introduce myself and tell them of my specialization, which back then was fairly unusual. I knew there weren’t going to be that many times when anyone would get a request for a telecom expert, but I figured they would remember me and could be good referral sources.

Sure enough, I was able to get my business going by being known as the telecom research queen. I was brought into larger projects for my familiarity with obscure resources within the US Federal Communications Commission or the International Telecommunications Union (hey, maybe it’s not sexy, but it’s a living). And, of course, once a client got to know me, they would use me for other business-related projects, regardless of the industry.

They (and I) realized my real specialization wasn’t that particular industry — it was my ability to scope out, research and analyze an industry, and create a report that enabled my clients to make a decision.

What are the unique skills you bring to every job you do? Is it your ability to work with clients to identify their underlying needs when they can’t figure out what they want? Are you the one who can interview anyone about any topic, and always glean amazing insights for your clients? Can you take a vague idea and turn it into a brand identity that transforms a client’s image into something fantastic?


I went from an industry focus to being focused on enabling better strategic business decisions, but you don’t have to leave your field in order to succeed. In my next post, I’ll talk about the value of specializing within an industry rather than being a generalist.

One thought on “Specialist or generalist? – part 1

  1. Pingback: Specialist or generalist? – part 2 | The Reluctant Entrepreneur

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