A Well Honed Blade
A good way for a freelancer to stand out to clients is to specialize. Specializing is the fastest way for a freelancer to become an expert. If you’re still early in your career and don’t have many years experience, focusing on a niche or expertise will help you level up faster. It won’t require you to gain as wide a swath of knowledge and there will be fewer people to compare you with which will make you appear more like an expert. With freelancing still being a relatively new tactic for a lot of clients, they don’t see us as just plain workers right now. They see us, or want to see us, as experts. The reason being is, for them to reach outside of their own business, their own workforce, to complete a task, it has to be done better than they would have done it in house. The way to do that is to find someone with expertise in that specific task. One day, when freelancers are seen just as regular workers, this may no longer be the case. Today though, specializing is your best bet for landing more clients.
FILLING IN THE GAPS
When choosing what and where to specialize, look to your clients first. Again, they are looking for someone to fill a specific niche, and fill it in a way they couldn’t do themselves. To be totally honest, many clients, while they may want an expert, look outside of their own company because they simply don’t have the time or manpower to accomplish something. Even if this is the case and a client hired you simply to have an extra set of hands, it doesn’t mean those can’t be the hands of an expert. If you’re just a set of hands, you’re easily replaced. If you’re an expert in a specific field, it’s much harder to find someone else like you.
Look at the job postings of clients you are interested in, ask your current clients what tasks they often find hard to accomplish, search for freelancers similar to you, and try and figure out what their niche is. If you find a lot of freelance web designers who specialize in WordPress, maybe avoid that expertise because the more people who do it, the less special it becomes. On the other hand, you want to find an expertise that isn’t too difficult to learn. If it’s something you really can’t get better at without some sort of degree, then perhaps move on to something else. Of course the most important part of choosing a specialization is picking an arena you like and are interested in. You might find a super niche expertise like copy blogging for super glue companies, but if it’s not at all relevant to your interests then why do it? This process of finding and improving at a particular skill isn’t just about landing more clients. It’s also a big part of building your personal brand and planning your career as a whole. Take some time to really consider it.
LIMIT YOUR GAZE
Specializing won't only land you more gigs because it’s what clients want, it will land you more gigs because you’ll end up spending a lot less time applying. The more narrow your expertise, the fewer gigs actually apply to you. This is a good thing. When your skill set is too general you could reasonably apply to hundreds if not thousands of jobs at any given moment. That takes a shit ton of time and effort and will force you to carpet bomb job apps with templated messages. This isn’t the way to find work, especially not the work you actually want to do. The fewer jobs available to you the more time you can spend on writing and tailoring each application, and the more you will actually want each job. Thus, the more likely you are to land the job.
When trying to land new clients, make sure your specialization is very clear in your pitch or application. Try and find content to add to your portfolio that conveys that specialization such as writing a book, making YouTube videos, or creating a blog that highlights your specific knowledge.
CONTINUE TO DIVERSIFY
Please don’t read this article and panic. “I have to choose one kind of niche if I want to get any clients!?” No. In fact, the best way to specialize is to choose a few different expertise. Especially for younger freelancers who want to experiment with their career before they stick with one path, it’s important to have a few different interests and expertise to choose from. So much of freelancing is diversifying. We all diversify our income streams and our client base so that we’re never out of work. In the same vain we diversity our skill set to not only experiment, but to insulate ourselves from changes in the market. If interest in particular skills dip in the market for one reason or another, you have other skills to fall back on. Specialty and diversity go hand and hand in this case. The goal really isn’t to become a single tool, but a Swiss army knife; a collection of specialized instruments.
Due to their desire for experts, clients usually look at a freelancer’s experience and achievements rather than their education. In some ways, this is one of the most liberating and freeing elements of freelancing. You aren’t judged by the pedigree of your schooling or background, but by your work.