01: Here’s Why I Recommend That You Consider Specializing#
We’re going to get right into this.
You should consider specializing. Here are the best arguments for specialization.
Specializing makes it easier for you to cultivate economically valuable expertise. You voluntarily narrow the range of technologies that you work with or the business problems you solve in order to steepen the learning curve and reach the point of having “seen it all” more quickly. This allows you to gain a comprehensive understanding of the norms, edge cases, risks, and system dynamics of whatever you’ve chosen to specialize in more quickly than others who only dabble in your area. This creates a relative advantage for your business in the form of deeper expertise. If a healthy market wants deep expertise matching yours, you have a competitive advantage.
Specializing makes it easier for you to find an adequate amount of attractive opportunity for your business (aka lead generation). Specializing makes obvious, or helps you more easily discover, the parts of the social graph where you need to become more densely-connected in order to intercept more of the opportunity that travels through personal relationships and business contacts (about 60% of the total, by my research). A consistent specialized focus over several years builds up better mental availability[“A brand’s mental availability refers to the probability that a buyer will notice, recognize and/or think of a brand in buying situations. It depends on the quality and quantity of memory structures related to the brand.” - https://byronsharp.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/mental-availability-is-not-awareness-brand-salience-is-not-awareness/] in these valuable parts of the social graph, making it easier for more people to remember you so that they can refer you when asked. Your voluntarily narrowed focus extends to any pro-bono education work (aka content marketing, speaking, YouTube videos, workshops, other publishing) you might do, which helps that effort more quickly create a cohesive body of work that demonstrates expertise and earns trust from prospects for whom a referral is not sufficient vetting. If you engage in outbound marketing (cold email, social selling, or paid media), your narrowed focus can make your targeting more effective and your messaging more relevant and interesting, and therefore increase the efficiency of this kind of marketing. Specialization helps you progress through the superficial layer of expertise more quickly, and even a middling level of expertise translates into better marketing messaging and improved sales conversation quality. This provides a relative advantage in how you are perceived by potential leads and how you manage the early parts of the sales process.
Specialization makes it easier to build efficiency into your business. Many – though not all – specializations will have you dealing with a more homogenous group of buyers than you have as a generalist. This can make it easier to cultivate expertise in dealing with the needs and process particular to those buyers, which can reduce frustration and wasted effort on your part. Likewise, your service delivery can become more efficient as you need less diversity or complexity in your process. This, again, is because of increased homogeneity in the challenges you help clients with. This increased efficiency may also extend to hiring as you can more quickly learn what kind of people thrive in the face of a narrower range of client challenges.
Specialization makes it easier to build leverage into your business. If there are 80/20 relationships in your client work, you can see and leverage them to increase your effectiveness and profitability more quickly. The same idea applies to your marketing (maybe there are 10 conferences/events for your space, but 2 of them deliver the lion’s share of good marketing results.) Likewise, delivering a more narrow range of services helps you learn which activities or deliverables typically create less value, and you can prune those, pleasing your clients with a simpler project with a faster timeline to completion/success and, if you use fixed pricing, increasing your profit margin. You can plausibly argue that your expertise is deep and valuable enough to restrict your involvement only to architecture, guidance, or advice. Such high-level involvement, combined with fixed pricing, can be very profitable revenue. Especially if you have specialized in an emerging domain, even a middling level of expertise can be packaged into zero-marginal-cost products (books and digital courses are two common examples), which is another source of profitable revenue.
When clients search outside their social graph for a developer or software consultant, specialists have an advantage in ranking in those search results. By my research, this is about 40% of the opportunity (by qty, probably not by volume because professional buyers will represent an outsized % of the money). @TODO: elaborate.
@NOTEs on this section: Where do I talk about averaging down and how this can lead to a breakthrough or a ton of pain and you can’t know until it’s late in the game? Maybe in the risks section where I talk about the most grave risk being category creation fantasies.