Specialist vs generalist is a stanky red herring

Specialist vs generalist is a stanky red herring

Post updated, April 2023.

There’s a whole lotta talk around the subject of specialist vs generalist. People get bent outta shape about… wait for it… niching.

Those hostile to the ways of the niche often describe themselves as generalists. These folks don’t wish to be tied down to one industry—they’re free bloody spirits, yeah! If you feel like niching would clip your business wings, then read on, this guff’s for you.

The reality is, we’re all niching.

Yes, even Maureen who thinks she sells healing crystal pendants to anyone who will buy them—everyone is into healing crystal pendants—who doesn’t like/want/need some restorative agate? Let’s suppose, just for fun, you’re a virtual assistant offering general admin services to the education sector. Sounds like a loosey-goosey gig but can you spot the specialist bit? That’s correct, in this example, the industry is the niche.

What about this one: you’re a paid ads agency that works with many different sectors. You get it, the service is the niche. (If only all quizzes were this easy.)

Like a pernicious demon, you must cast out the idea that working within a specific industry is the solitary way to niche.

Lemme tell ya, you are niching despite your protestations.

Even those dyed-in-the-wool generalists who ‘work with everyone’. Look, Karen, you cannot offer generic services/products to a generic market—it is impossible to sell your wares without a target audience. And if you are attempting that, it will remain the uphill struggle it has no doubt been. Your broad appeal is not appealing. It’s vague, nondescript and without focus.

You are not selling to the world.

There is a commonality that links the clients you work with. And that is unwittingly your niche.

Listen, a few men (and maybe a few women) think I’m hot. But it doesn’t matter how much effort I make, beautifying my face and being my charming self, there will always be vast swathes of humans that are not at all impressed by me and my appearance.

It’s no different with your business. It doesn’t matter how universal you think it is, it isn’t. Because, gurl, not everyone wants you or even LIKES you. Here, have a tissue…

Walk away from the specialist vs generalist debate.

Don’t waste your time on it. Accept—nay, embrace not being all things to all people.

Ponder what might be your unrecognised niche. It might be your business’s non-negotiables that repel some and attract others. Your service terms, your process, and your brand voice could be the thing. Yes, Liz, there is something about you. And just when you think you’ve done diddly-squat to cultivate a tone, you’re still giving off a vibe. For example, fluffy unicorn sorts attract fluffy unicorn sorts. 

“But that’s just how I am with clients, Sarah.”

Sure, and that’s cool but it still isn’t pulling every conceivable person to your offering, Liz. 

Who the hell is Liz? She’s tricky, I know that much.

When Liz started out in business, she got work through word of mouth—and from all and sundry.

Several of those early clients were great but there were a few she’d have gladly set fire to. Now the market is fierce and Liz struggles to be for everyone. She’s not sure if she’s on foot or horseback and she does seem to spend an awful lot of time dealing with dickheads.

My question for Liz would be this: what connects the clients she enjoys working with? I reckon those folks have something in common. That’s a niche that is. 

Applying a little focus doesn’t stop you from being flexible with the kind of work you do nor does it restrict you to one industry. We can get mired in fixed ways of thinking and that can slam on the brakes to our full potential.

Generic is bad for SEO.

A wishy-washy ideal client will make marketing your business an utter ball-ache.

Building a business with the idea that anyone and everyone is a potential prospect is a fucking nightmare. You can’t tailor content to a non-audience. The only keywords you’ll be able to use will be competitive ones—broad terms which are notoriously hard to rank for. People who are serious about spending cash get specific when they search. Buying intent usually signifies that customers are after a certain summat. They type detailed phrases into Google, not generic ones.

I offer writing services to business misfits (brands that want non-conformist content). All my marketing reflects the brand personality I wish to attract.

That’s my niche, simple as.

I didn’t come out in hives when I decided that. I simply chose the kind of work I enjoyed marginally more.

So before you shout loud and proud “I’m a generalist!” have a good think, then ask yourself, are you?

No seriously, are you really?

Are you a blogger or writer that has a content problem? Book a one-to-one with me and we’ll sort it.

Freelance SEO writer

Sarah Wilson-Blackwell

I’m a freelance business content writer at The Sarky Type®. My thang is SEO-informed blurb that sets your words on fire (ablaze with LOLs and engagement not to be confused with real fire that destroys everything in sight. Metaphors are better when they don’t require explanation. Note to self).

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