Within the past year or two, I have heard a number of people, including Dan Miller and my boss, talk about the limited value of being a "generalist" in life. As an HR Generalist in my day job (and a product of a liberal arts education), I've always felt that I bring more value to my company and to life in general by being well-rounded and well-versed in a variety of subjects and environments. Yet I'm being told that my income potential at work is limited because I don't specialize in one or another area of HR (e.g., recruiting, training), and Dan says that my side business will flourish if I focus on one or another aspect of coaching rather than present myself as knowledgable in multiple areas.
I'm struggling with this new perspective, and I'm wondering if any of you have any thoughts to share on the topic.
Read Seth Godin's "The Dip".
He explains that in order to make a difference you have to become the best in the world. Of course, most people scoff at this idea or hide in fear from the magnitude of that statement.
However, Seth clearly explains that you have to be the best at what you do. That's how you make a difference.
I like to think I'm good at a lot of things. But if I want to make a real difference, I have to choose what I most enjoy and quit everything else. Then I can focus on pushing through "the dip" and become the best in the world at it.
You can do the same thing.
Saying, "I love everything" would be an absurd statement.
I like every flavor of ice cream. But I LOVE chocolate chip cookie dough.
It's no different for you.
I think the corporate world lends itself to specialization but if you forge ahead to serve small clients they'd need a generalist much more. If you craft a business that serves multiple small clients, you could retain specialists who could help them under your guidance and help you PRN.
I see myself as a generalist in food safety, but it's a different perspective than being limited:
I'm in field sales but because I'm the first line face in direct customer contact, so all of my company's resources flow through me as gatekeeper...technical support, R&D, PhD educated microbiologists, MGB marketers, etc.
Lee makes a good point.
One thing to consider, however, is creating scarcity into your business. HR Generalist are plentiful. One of my best friends is an HR Generalist. There is nothing scarce about it.
Because it isn't scarce, you can't realistically charge a premium for your services.
What if, however, you became an employee retention specialist for businesses with less than 20 employees. You position yourself as an expert at retaining employees where turnover has been high.
Now you can use all the tools you've learned and developed as an HR Generalist under a different light. This light is scarce and therefore valuable to those that need the service.
I love this question. Perhaps I like it because I struggle with it so much. Intellectually, it is fairly easy to answer. In your personal life, be a well rounded person, develop your gifts and interest. In your work, develop a Unique Selling Proposition and devote yourself to that.
Getting from the well rounded person who chases everything shiny to a chrome plated, highly polished USP isn't so straightforward. Dan says to make a list of 20-30 things narrow it down to a few, and choose one.
Maybe I have ADD, maybe I'm struggling with my work environment and some health things, maybe I have about three different things I just can't choose between or find ways to synergize to any useful extent, but it hasn't been that straightforward for me. In spite of that, I still love the way Dan presents this issue and works through it on the podcasts.
I struggle with this as well. I'm trying to launch my new business and I'm having a tough time becoming the best at one thing when I have to wear so many different hats as a new entrepreneur. My strength is photography - but I also now have to learn sales, marketing, customer service, accounting, etc. Without much positive cash flow since I'm just starting out, it's impossible to hire someone else who has better strengths in these areas, but I find that it spreads me thin and dilutes my effort in other areas...
You may be over thinking your business. Here's the unfortunate truth. There are photographers everywhere.
Don't focus on how you have to do "sales and marketing". Instead focus on why you're unique.
Not just different, but better.
You have to believe wholeheartedly in the value you bring. It has to exude from every pore in your body. There can be no doubt in your mind why someone needs YOU as their photographer.
If you don't believe in the value you bring that much, you'll lose in the marketplace. You'll be run out of business by someone cheaper or someone with more marketing dollars to spend.
Believe that much however, and the sales and marketing will take care of itself.
"Sales and Marketing" becomes sharing your story with others. The enthusiasm you have in sharing your story becomes infectious.
People won't be able to help themselves. People will be going crazy to buy from you. You'll be beating customers off the walls of your studio.
Don't sell. Just share your story...
Lesley, if I may offer my own example, this may help you (and Erich).
My background is in finance and accounting. Nothing special there, and I bounced around corporate life because my company wanted us to be generalists. Very few of us became a recognized expert.
When I started my own business, I made the mistake of trying to be a generalist in business planning and operations for any type of business. That didn't work. I now market myself actively as someone who helps service-based business owners create new ways of making money that don't involve trading time for money. For example, I am developing a product strategy for a web designer so he can create downloadable products and sell them on the Internet.
I'll certainly take other business referred to me if I can help them, because that will build my customer base for the future. However, I'm focusing my active marketing on a narrow customer segment (service-based professionals) and a narrow need (wanting to get out of the "time for money trap" where they can build a business that generates money even when they aren't delivering their core service - in your case, taking photos).
This post explains more about what I mean if you're interested. Hope that helps!
You can be both. My husband is a real estate trainer - he trains new agents and experienced agents needing continueing education to keep their certification, all kinds of classes. He even teaches brokers who are the sales managers of their own office. So he knows a lot of general information - from Principles of Real Estate, Prep Course, Ethics, Legal etc. But his specialty is Social Media and he gets many opportunities to teach around the state, because he is a specialist. He writes and teaches his own social media classes. He did this by making himself the "expert" on social media by keeping up on the latest social media sites, reads and does tutorials on how to use them. By the way, the technology specialist for the Real Estate School is 70 yrs. old!
- Best to You! - Lisa
I really appreciate everyone's input. Feedback like yours is the very reason that I was eager to join the 48 Days community!
While I subscribe to Seth Godin's blog, I haven't read his books yet. I'll have to check out "The Dip." The point about being a generalist in a larger company versus a smaller environment is a good one. My company has the luxury of hiring specialists, and can justify those salaries. I would perhaps bring increased value to a smaller company that can't afford a full HR department.
I think, too, that I am confusing "generalist" with "well-rounded" at times. I would argue that being well-rounded can never be seen as a negative; rather, it's the application of that well-roundedness that will position me as either a specialist or a generalist. After years of assuming that well-roundedness applied in countless ways concurrently is of maximum value, I need to consider that a more focused, strategic application of my skills and interests is what will ultimately translate into the sort of success that I am looking to achieve at this point in my life.
I'm going to take a fresh look at the content of my home page with your thoughts in mind.
Being well-rounded is a good thing. The best thing about being well-rounded in today's world is you can ask intelligent questions about related topics.
In my own case, I can use my background in finance and accounting to at least ask the right questions about taxes. I am not a tax expert by any means. Even though I hold my CPA certificate, I still have someone else do my taxes because that person is a specialist. However, I do know enough about taxes to ask the right questions to where my client can speak intelligently with a tax expert.
If you can apply your very well-rounded skill set to focus on a particular area while demonstrating you can guide the right questions, you'll apply that knowledge in a good way.