Generalist VS Specialist: Which Is Better?
Is one actually better than the other? Here's how being a generalist helped me.
You want to make money and get the right client or job. So specialize in something, they said. And, to be honest, they’re not really wrong. But I can’t begin to tell you how much anxiety I’ve gotten around this...am I doing this right? I’m a bit of a generalist…
Today’s story time lesson is all about:
When is being a specialist advantageous?
Why being a generalist (like me) is also a superpower
Making content that performs well and feeds your soul
When is Being a Specialist Advantageous?
Being a specialist has advantages. For example, I’m currently hiring content writers. I’m not looking for social media managers who are also kind of decent at blogging or a marketer who occasionally blogs for themselves. I’m looking for people who have zeroed in on perfecting their craft. Even better if they specialize in writing for SaaS (particularly content creation tool). They ideally have written for sites with a high domain rating, like Hubspot, and maybe even have their own personal brand all around what they do.
I want to see passion for what you do. You can’t measure it with data. But I feel the higher quality in content from people who actually are passionate about what they’re doing (and have been at it for a while).
Specialization is a great way to make yourself known as:
The social media person for designers
The person who teaches about video marketing
That person who’s really good at public speaking
The content writer who specializes in writing for marketing & design software
If you’re amazing at your specialty and apply for jobs (or pitch your work) to brands who understand the value of what you do then you can often justify higher pricing.
Why Being a Generalist Can Be a Superpower
But sometimes being a specialist doesn’t sit well with who you feel you are.
You can also have a specialty that’s your base layer (for me it’s social media) and have built good general knowledge of marketing as a whole. It’s not a weakness as you might believe.
For example, when you work in a startup like I do at VEED you need to be able to wear multiple hats (at first at least when it was just 7 people). This means you need a good understanding of different things so you can connect the dots. It also helps with hiring and working better with people because you understand their work better.
In the marketing space you can call this being a T-shaped marketer. And your “T” can look different depending on your areas of strength.
I think it’s usually the generalists that are in roles like mine. Although I don’t truly consider myself yet to be even close to filling the shoes of what it means to be Head of Content I do feel my general background has been a major advantage in my situation.
I started with social media when I was interning. And because I’m curious (and kinda crazy too) I had a billion different jobs 😂. In one year I had 10 jobs. In a way I’m ashamed but proud of this. I tried so many different gigs from marketing manager to email marketer to customer service. And between that and reading up in my down time, I became a generalist fascinated by marketing as a whole and with a soft spot for the power of organic people-centric social media content
Also, because I gave zero fucks about how I might be perceived for job hopping like I did, I gained insane self-awareness. I know what I want. I know who I am. I know the job I have today is exactly that. I know what I need to feel good about myself.
Screw what you think you “should” do or be. What do you feel you need to do to do or feel whatever you need to experience? I didn’t know what I wanted. Money? Balance? Status? What industry? What role?
Well, sitting around and googling stuff won’t give anyone real self-knowledge.So I tried it all and chased happiness as my goal before I could set a more specific follow-up goal.
Man I could go on about this endlessly...do leave me a comment on this post at the end if you want me to spill more tea on my backstory.
Ok next point!
Making Content That Performs and Feeds Your Soul
So what about when it comes to your personal brand’s content? Should you niche down? Be a generalist?
I won’t tell you what’s right or wrong. I believe it’s a preference and it’s not my place to give you pressure I believe is unnecessary.
So I’ll tell you mine.
Recently, I started feeling so burnt out from my personal content. I wondered, is social media just not for me? Or have I outgrown my approach?
Sometimes as I learn, I don’t realize the way other people’s perspectives subconsciously affect me. I realized I felt I had to be ultra-focused on social media topics and nothing more. I didn’t even realize it happening. It was gradual.
But then I woke up.
I realized, yeah I do want to serve my audience. But I can’t do that if I don’t serve myself.
When you hear “serve your audience” maybe you feel like you have to be like “f*ck what you want, it’s all about THEM”. And in a way that’s not wrong. You do have to post a lot of content people want and need to see. Research is crucial.
But it’s also HOW you teach and tell your stories. Anyone can spit facts. I can google some shit about data science and parrot it back to you. But what makes someone stand out are not just the facts they spit. It’s how they say it. It’s how they make you feel.
That’s a big one for me. I feel deeply. I am more than just a teacher on content creation. I have a sense of humor (or at least I like to think I’m funny lol) and I care about mental health deeply. Why do I have to pick? I have personal experiences that shape the way I operate as a professional.
So I decided - I can share about it all. This is who I am, how I am, why I am how I am...follow or unfollow me. No hard feelings 💖
Now to be clear - I don’t sell anything. I have more flexibility when it comes to saying whatever I want on my page. But I do think, even when you’re monetizing, people buy from people. Because again, anyone can spit facts.
There is an advantage to being niche or ultra-focused exclusively on the subject matter you’re about. People will skip the “fluff” and get to the info they want faster. You might make more money this way.
But being an informational hub will only take you so far.
Getting into people’s hearts is what makes people love and connect with you even if they don’t need what you’re selling because they want to support you. They tell people about you whether you ask them to or not.
But most importantly, you get to do the stuff that you want to do and realize you can:
Have your own heart fulfilled with the content you create
Make your target audience happy too in the process
P.S. Let me know in the comments if there’s anything you want to know more about my backstory (or anything at all). I love hearing back from readers!