Choosing Your Freelancing Specialty

You may already know your specialty. Your skill is obvious, and you know what you’re going to offer.  But some of you may be just starting out. If you are just starting out, you might be asking: “What can I do as a freelancer?”  

But the question that you really need to ask is: “What can I offer?”

Now I can’t give you a list of everything you can offer; that would take forever. Just to give you a rough idea of how many skillsets there are, let’s look at Fiverr for example. Fiverr is a massive marketplace. There are 132 different categories and within those categories are subsets and subcategories.

Another great example is Upwork. Upwork is pretty much the biggest freelancing marketplace platform out there and it has 78 categories, all with subcategories and subsets as well.

So how many different types of jobs can you do as a freelancer? How many fish are in the sea? How many trees are in a forest?  How many insects are in the Amazon?

Too many to count.

Pretty much anything that can be done on a computer can be a freelancing service. From the obvious, like web graphics or copywriting, to the less obvious, like accounting or translation or research - the list goes on and on.

Businesses are popping up everywhere and these businesses need work done. And this work varies widely. So, if you want to get an idea of what types of jobs are out there for freelancers, then head on over to sites like Fiverr and Upwork and take a look at the different jobs available.

Once you’ve established that there are, indeed, numerous jobs and opportunities available, then the next question is: “Well, how much money can I make?”

This is an impossible question to answer because it really depends on what type of job you’re doing. A better question to ask is: “What do different types of jobs pay?”

Now that’s a question I can help you with.

The Freelancer Value Ladder

I’ve created something I call The Freelancer Value Ladder. This ladder is divided into three rungs. As you figure out what you’re going to do, you can figure out what you can expect to make based on this ladder.

The First Rung – Strategy

The first rung of the Freelancer Value Ladder involves anything that helps to lay out strategy to help a business grow. Strategy is the most valuable thing you can provide for a business, so people who have jobs here are the highest paid.

The Second Rung - Execution 

These jobs involve executing the strategy from the first rung. People that have jobs here also get paid very well – not as well as the first rung – but still very well. This is where the majority of freelancing jobs are.

The Third Rung – Support

This is where the maintenance happens. Once something is designed and then built, it requires support and maintenance. This is the lowest rung on the ladder and as such, these are the jobs that tend to pay the least.  

Freelancer Value Ladder Examples

To give you a better idea of this ladder, let’s look at a concrete example.

Let’s say Bill wants to build a skyscraper. The first thing Bill needs is an architect. An architect will provide Bill with the ‘plans’ for the skyscraper; he or she will essentially draw up the plans for how to build it.

The architect does not build the skyscraper, but rather shows Bill everything he needs to make his building a reality.

This is the first rung. The architect’s drawing is an idea, or a concept, or a map of how to do something.

Now Bill knows what he needs, and who he needs to hire to make that happen. So, Bill goes out and hires a whole bunch of different people to execute his building. He hires contractors, and engineers, and land surveyors, and interior designers, and anyone else who can contribute to the actual construction of the building.

This is the second rung. Bill has been given a plan (by the architect) and now he is executing his plan.

Once the skyscraper is built it will need maintenance. If something goes wrong with the pipes inside the building, Bill will need a plumber. If an elevator breaks, he will need a mechanic. Bill will also need to hire staff to help run his building, like a doorman and a cleaning service. These people ‘support’ Bill’s building by maintaining it.

This is the third rung of the ladder.

In business, the architect’s plans are like the plans for a business. Someone who specializes in first rung jobs creates blueprints for a company or business. These blueprints are strategies that will help the company grow.

All of the people who built Bill’s building are the like the people who will help ‘build’ the business on the second rung. These are the people who will design the apps or websites needed, write the copy, create the logos, etc.

And on the third rung are the people who help maintain what has already been built. In business, this could be customer service representatives, or virtual assistants.

The important thing to remember here is that pretty much any job available can fall within one of these three rungs. And each rung has a different pay grade, depending on the value of the jobs being done within that rung.

Without the blueprints (the architect’s designs) Bob can’t build his skyscraper. These blueprints have the highest value.

Bill needs to hire people to build his skyscraper. A lot of these people must be specialized to do their job properly. These people are also valued, and their value is proportional to the job they are doing.

Once the building is done, Bob needs people to do the easier stuff, like wash the windows and monitor the front door. These jobs are not as specialized, so they are not valued as highly.

Now let’s look at some examples from a freelancing standpoint, starting with the First Rung.

THE FIRST RUNG – JOB EXAMPLES

  • Designing a search engine marketing plan. Rather than DOING the search engine marketing, you would design the plan for the marketing. The expert will develop the whole strategy for SEO, and this is the high-level stuff. Anyone that can bring strategy that can grow a company is going to get paid the most.
  • Designing an app. In the world of programming, if you can design an app or design a piece of software that solves a problem for a company, you’re going to get paid the most.
  • Designing a sales funnel. If you can design the sales funnel, you will get paid more than the person that does the graphics for the sales funnel. If you can look at a business and say, “here’s the funnel that’s going to get you the highest conversion,” you’re going to make a lot of money.

Basically, the first rung is anyone who can go in and DESIGN a solution to a problem. When a business has a problem, and you can design the solution or a mechanism that’s going to help them grow, you’ll get paid the most.

The SECOND RUNG – JOB EXAMPLES

  • Optimizing a website for Google. If I already have the strategy, say for a search engine marketing plan, then I would hire someone to optimize my website.
  • Do the programming for an app. The app has been designed, now it needs to be programmed.
  • Writing ad copy for a sales funnel. The plan is in place, now it needs the concrete ad copy to execute the plan.

Basically, this rung involves implementing a solution. So, we have people who are creating the solutions, then we have people who are implementing, or executing them. This is the actual ‘doing of stuff’ and this is where the bulk of the work exists in the freelancing world today. Businesses that already have strategies need to hire people to execute the strategies.

The THIRD RUNG – JOB EXAMPLES

  • Monitoring search engine results and reporting them.
  • Technical Support for an app. We have the guy who designs the app, the guy who programs it, and then the guy who provides technical support for the app.
  • Customer Support after a sale.

These are the people who maintain and support a solution. These tend to be the easiest jobs, which is why they are on the lowest rung.  

Freelance Specialization

Now that we understand how jobs are categorized (by the value they have), let’s talk about specializations, because specialists make more money that generalists.

So, if you want to make a lot of money as a freelancer, and believe me, there is plenty of money to be made, you need to start thinking in terms of specializations.

A very common mistake, especially when people are just starting out, is that they go and list all the different things they can do, thinking that the list will be impressive. But that’s actually not the case.

When I see someone with a dozen different skills on their resume, I tend to steer clear of them. And here’s why:

Let’s say I put out an ad for search engine marketing and I get a response that says: “I’m an expert in SEO but I also do AdWords and marketing and some social media.”  I will not hire that person because I know that to truly hone your craft and to be the best you can be at search engine marketing, you can’t do all those other things.

One of those things alone is a full time job and I want somebody who’s specialized. I’m willing to pay for someone who is specialized. I don’t want a jack of all trades and a master of none. I don’t want any jacks at all. I want masters. And to truly be a master, you need to be a master of one. 

So, to be truly successful, you have to set yourself apart as a specialist.

“But how do you I do that?” Well, by defining YOUR specialty. Start with your initial skillset and then see if you can narrow it down. Here are some great examples of how to do that.

You can start with something like Digital Marketing. Okay, great, that’s a starting point. But ‘digital marketing’ is way too broad. That’s being a generalist and remember, generalists don’t make as much money. So, you can narrow it down to, say, a Search Engine Marketer. Now we’re getting closer, but it’s still a little too general. We need to go deeper. What specific aspect of search engine marketing do you like?

Ummm – link building?

Bingo! Now we have a specialty. We’ve taken our original, broad skill (digital marketing) and whittled it down to something a little more specific (search engine marketer) and then stripped it right down to something very specific (link building.)

There are thousands of business every day looking for people to build links and now, when they’re choosing between John, who says: “I do search engine marketing and I do link building and I do digital marketing” and you, who says: “I am a link builder. I do this every single day. I live and breathe link building. It’s my specialty” – who do you think they’re going to choose?

Yup. You!

Now you can go even deeper than that. (Be careful you don’t go too deep because you don’t want to be too specific and overly limit your market.) But you could, for example, strip it down even further and say that that you do Blogger Outreach (which is extra specialized).

You could say: “I specialize in building high quality backlinks through blogger outreach. This is a very time consuming and high laborious process that I will take off your plate and build links for you.” You don’t always need to get that specific, but I just wanted to show you that the option is there.

Let’s look at some other examples.

Writing? Too broad. Fiction writing, academic writing, blog writing, article writing, technical writing, journalism, script writing – narrow it down.

Copywriting? Better, but still too broad. What type of copywriting, specifically? A Direct Response Copywriter? Boom. There it is. That’s specialized. 

When I hire copywriters, and I hire copywriters frequently, I get resumes all the time from people claiming to be copywriters, but they’re also writing blogs, and they’re writing articles, and maybe they have a fiction novel too tucked away in their back pocket. 

But look, to be the best copywriter you can be, you need to focus on copywriting because that’s a craft unto itself. And direct response copywriting is a segment of copywriting that’s very different from other segments of copy writing. You could still narrow it down further choose a specific niche. You could say: “Direct Response Copywriting for Health Products” (extra specialized).

You can craft your brand to focus entirely on direct response copywriting in the health product industry and you will attract the big players who are going to want to work with you. When I hire copywriters in the health space and I see that they’ve written copy for finance, pets, furniture, etc., but they’ve done nothing for health, I’m not overly interested.

BUT, when I find somebody who’s only done health, which is a huge market, then I’m like WOW! Perfect. That’s a match. Hired.

What about a Programmer? Too Broad. What is your niche in this world of programming? WordPress Developer? That’s somewhat specialized, but you can still go deeper.  WordPress is a beast of an ecosystem.  How about an eCommerce WordPress Developer? Yes, that’s the sweet spot.

Now anyone who wants to build an ecommerce website and is choosing between the bland and banal “Word Press Developer” and the super-specialized, laser-focused eCommerce WordPress Developer (you) – spoiler alert – they’re going to choose you.

Final example... A virtual assistant? Nope. Too broad. But how can a VA specialize? Easy. Just focus on a specific market.  VA for Legal Professionals? That’s more specialized. But how about a VA for Real Estate Lawyers? That’s the level you’re trying to get to.

There are so many ways you can specialize. You can specialize on your skill, but then take that skill and apply it to a specific niche. And when you do that, you will resonate with that market and really stand out. 

I have a student in Sydney, Australia who started out effectively as a freelancer. He was providing digital marketing services and when I coached him initially, I said: “you don’t want to go out there and compete against all the other people providing SEO and Digital marketing services – we need to specialize.”

So, we narrowed it down and focused and now he focuses on providing digital marketing services for dentists in Australia. That’s his niche. And he’s doing great. His business is growing and evolving and he’s scaling it. 

When you can find that speciality niche, not only will it help you stand out, but you can actually demand more money because you are a master of your one specific trade, not a jack who get paid very little.

Remember, masters make more money. So, don’t be a jack…

----Time to Take Action----

I want to challenge you now to see how you can specialize within your current skill set, within your current area. If you haven’t decided what you’re going to do yet, no problem. You can pick something, and you can start to specialize in that area.  Here’s what I want you to do:

  • Brainstorm potential specialties. What are your potential specialties?  Make a list, write them down, see how many you can come up with.
  • Research demand. Go and see how many jobs are being posted on Upwork and Freelancer. How many people are advertising those services? What types of subcategories are there?
  • And moving forward, listen and adapt to your market. Nothing is set in stone. As you’re developing, listen to the market and adapt as you see opportunities. Many opportunities haven’t even been invented yet, so as you’re moving down the road and things are changing, look for new opportunities. Always be on the lookout for new things that you can specialize in…


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