happy little biz

Should you be a "Jack of all trades" in business?

Jack of all trades, master of none.

You've probably heard that phrase before. In some areas of life, it can be awesome to be pretty good at a bunch of different skills.

But should your business be that way? Should you be "pretty good" at things? Should you take the generalist approach, and not get too specific with your skills, audience and marketing?

It's a common refrain for business owners: they want to attract a certain kind of client, but are afraid to get too focused in their marketing, for fear they'll close the door on other potential clients. "We need the business!" they'll say, or "Well my services are for everyone!".

Those are very reasonable statements, and I've said them myself many times, especially back in my massage therapist days.

However, the reality is that unless you have very little competition in your field, you're going to have to show how you're different from everyone else offering similar services. And more importantly: you're going to have to get the attention of potential clients before you can even start to show how your business is different and could be the perfect fit for their needs.

So I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that in the vast majority of situations, you really shouldn't be a "Jack of all Trades" with your business. Be real with yourself: what kinds of people do you do the best work for? Which ones have problems you really understand and have great solutions for? And just as important: which ones best fit your skills, personality and values?

Once you've got some ideas on who your target clients are and how your skills are really suited to them, you need to start thinking about how to let them know you're out there. But of course, when most of us start a business, we're really not sure how to focus on one target audience, how to market to that audience, and how to show we're the best person for the job. But it's so important that you do.

Eventually your referrals, starting inertia, or plain good luck will cap out and you’ll have to do something to sustain or grow your business.

~ Philip Morgan

Pretend for a moment that you're a yoga studio looking for just the right web designer to build your website. You've asked some friends and have done a few google searches, and you're now looking at websites for two different design companies.

One says, "We build beautiful websites for established companies and start ups".

The other says, "We build beautiful websites for health clinics, fitness and yoga studios, and other wellness-based businesses."

If you were that yoga studio owner, which web designer would you be more likely to contact?

The first example is of course a very generalist approach: cast your net wide and hope enough people contact you to book work. But the issue here is that you may find yourself accepting a lot of work that doesn't really fit your personality, abilities, experience and passions.

The second approach is much more narrow, but is also much more likely to bring in the exact types of clients you want to speak to.

As independent business people — you know, freelancers, self-employed, 'I am my own boss' folks — isn't that what we're really hoping to do? Work with people who are the right fit for us and make our work more enjoyable? There's absolutely nothing wrong with saying 'no' to client work. Sure, some clients might get a bit upset about it, but most are happy you let them know up front that someone else would be a better fit.

But how do you know if the target audience you're interested in is viable for your business? How specific is specific enough? And how do you convince folks in that target audience that you are exactly the right person to help them?

For that, I'll refer you to some industry leaders:

Tad Hargrave of Marketing for Hippies has an entire website dedicated to finding your niche. He's also published a book about it, which I've heard excellent feedback on from those in the hollistic/wellness fields.

Philip Morgan is a consultant who helps development businesses generate leads through content marketing and digital outreach. He has a bunch of great free stuff on his website, but he's also written a book about position and is available for hire should you want more personalized advice. I sat in on an online Q&A with him about niching/positioning, and he's one heck of a smart guy.

Rebecca Tracey of The Uncaged Life works primarily with women to help them get clear on what their business IS, position it in the market, and set awesome goals. She's got some free content on her website and has a newsletter, community forum and Facebook page you can also access for free.

Kai Davis is a bit of a 'meta' example here: he works with content creator freelancers to attract other freelancers to their content and grow their audience. Lots of great posts on his website there.

Good luck!

Header photo by Luigi Morante