When it comes to freelance best practices, there’s an age-old debate around what’s better: positioning yourself as a specialist, focusing on a single craft; or framing your value as a jack of all trades, able to move with agility across two or more talents.
The reality is that these days, this conversation is not about marketing so much as it is about the current state of independent work. An increasingly large share of self-employed people are offering more than one service across clients, allowing them to further expand their revenue opportunities and diversify their income. (AND CO’s co-founder calls these types “Slash Workers” and explains the concept here.)
A Slash Worker, simply put, is someone who freelances across a variety of fields (SEO Writer/Graphic Designer/Musician, as an example), maximizing their time and effort to also maximize their income—as well as their love for the work they do.
It’s important to note that this is not someone who spreads themselves too thin. This is someone who has a genuine skill set and ability to change hats from time to time—and knows that doing so can be a great way to develop a wide variety of income streams.
The value of freelance niches
Being a Slash Worker does not mean positioning yourself in a nebulous or vague fashion. You should craft a succinct career headline for yourself and your work. Writer and content strategist Erin Ollila emphasizes the importance of defining oneself as a freelancer.
“Some people are hesitant to define themselves. It’s a bit too monogamous for their liking,” she says. “Just because you have a niche doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to play the field.”
This is solid advice—you have to first know who you are, to define yourself, before you can sell your skills to a prospective client. For example, perhaps you have experience as a UX designer and web developer, and most of this experience is with emerging tech companies. Defining yourself as someone who can bring to life digital products for startups would position you as a desirable candidate among companies of that ilk.
Working in multiple fields—with multiple niches
Let’s talk a bit about income. Yes, you love your work, but you need to make money. This is where branching out can pay off. Let’s say you have a pretty solid wedding photography business going, but you’d like to increase your income. You’ve already got that first niche—wedding photography—but that’s a job that has peak seasons and centers mostly around weekends. What’s stopping you from using another skillset on Wednesday to boost your income?
Perhaps you’re the type of person who can write great blog posts every morning, sell a few fine-art photography pieces a month, and pick up a number of wedding photographer gigs. That’s when you’ve become a Slash Worker—you’re a Fine Artist/Blogger/Wedding Photographer. The combinations are endless, and completely depend on your talents, your interests, and your ability to attract clients.
Sometimes changes in your field necessitate you making changes in the way you market yourself. Musician Jamie Anderson noted that as her audience aged, they came to fewer shows. To adapt, she started teaching.
“Age doesn’t matter there,” she said. “As it turns out, I’m a good teacher and it’s a more steady income than performing.” Put another way: “When you reach the limits of a certain job, it can help you do something else,” Anderson said.
This advice could be especially crucial when examined in the light of ever-changing technology. That coding language you spent so long to learn? It could be obsolete in a year. Changes to Google’s algorithms are hurting your SEO results? Better continue learning and changing to keep up.
If you have a few solid niches, though, when one of your streams of income starts to shrink, you have a few other streams to draw from while you beef up your skills to keep up with a changing world.
Jack of all trades, master of none
Be wary of choosing too many different things to pursue. You don’t want to be the flaky person who says they can do this or that, but can never follow through. You have to develop true marketable skills, and a true level of expertise, for any of this to work. There are simply too many freelancers out there clamoring for work.
When you reach out to clients, be sure to adapt your emails, cover letters, and resume to fit that role—a general letter about how you’re an expert in infographics as well as a world-class juggler isn’t likely to get you far. Better to send an infographic-specific letter to a client who needs infographics, and save the juggling for those birthday party gigs you pick up every other weekend.
Have you had success working in a variety of fields? Tell us about it in the comments.