Why Specialists Eat Generalists for Dinner!

If you are a freelancer or own a digital marketing agency, you may wonder, who makes more money in this industry? Specialists or generalists?

In the early days of internet marketing, being a generalist might have won that game. As you know, Google was born in 1997 and was a new kind of gold rush. These “new internet miners” from 1997 to 2004, were first to the gold. 

Many pioneer “internet marketers” were self-taught and would become the teachers of the next generation of “digital marketers”. 

This was also a simpler time online. Spammy tactics were a big thing i.e: keyword stuffing, invisible text, hidden links, and email scraping. The Google algorithm was easy to manipulate before the Big Update (2015).  

This was also before the birth of Facebook (2004), Youtube (2005), Twitter (2006),  or Instagram (2010). If you were tech-savvy and had a computer with an internet connection, chances are you made money online.

Ah, those were the days. As the Google algorithm became smarter and Amazon took over the world, “big data” became the new bible of the century. As the internet evolved from dial-up to fast speed internet, so did the gurus. 

Digital marketers now had to analyze several data sets, build out sales funnels, use marketing automation, manage their CRM’s, engage their Affiliate networks, learn video marketing and so much more. Let’s not forget that everything also had to be updated for mobile and tablets.

As a generalist, your skillset would need to explode to keep up! Technically speaking, you were great at many of the following:

  1. Web design 
  2. Search Engine Optimization
  3. Search Engine Marketing Specialist
  4. Google Ad Specialist
  5. Facebook Ad Specialist
  6. Ad Copywriting
  7. Content Building/Article Writing
  8. Social Media Manager (build and schedule content)
  9. Instagram specialist
  10. Linkedin specialist
  11. Pinterest Specialist
  12. Facebook Marketer
  13. Youtube Marketing
  14. Video Production
  15. Video Editing
  16. Livestream Production
  17. Blog Author
  18. Data Analysis
  19. Funnel Builder
  20. CRM specialist
  21. WordPress Specialist
  22. Programming
  23. Plugin /App Developer
  24. Photographer
  25. Graphic Design
  26. Logo Design
  27. Branding
  28. Audio Editing 
  29. Sales

As the saying goes, jacks of all trades are masters of none. Generalists definitely have survival skills worthy of some serious plaques on the wall.

Yet today, the specialist wins. In today’s marketing world, whether you freelance or own an agency if you’re marketing to everyone, you’re marketing to no one.

A whole new industry exploded, creating a massive need for “specialists”. Due to the rapid pace of change in this space, agencies also created specialists on their teams. 

Why? They had to!  It became way too hard to train generalists and keep them!

Agencies would also learn to specialize in specific verticals to differentiate themselves from other agencies. 

Some specialized in dental clinics, in real estate, car rentals or restaurants. Some would differentiate themselves by “skills” such as “Linkedin Sales and Conversions” or “Video Productions and Optimization” or “We Build Sales Funnels”.

When you promote your “core genius” i.e: what you are REALLY good at, you focus on the skills that make you a specialist.

Today, a specialist earns more. Why?

Specialists earn more for the reason that they have a deeper understanding of a subject matter than a “generalist”. Not all clients are looking for the “cheapest” service provider. Some are looking for the “best in class” and are willing to spend more to get more. 

When you position yourself as a specialist, you can get better gigs, at a better price and seize on specific opportunities a generalist can’t. 

Also, in the world of digital marketing, where there is rapid change every single day,  you can imagine a generalist will struggle to stay up to date in all categories. 

When freelancers are in “learning mode” they are NOT in “selling mode”.  That’s where a freelancer will bleed money. A freelancer has the intelligence to execute, but not enough prospects in their funnel at all times. 

Yet, generalists may miss deadlines. The struggle to move many moving pieces is a large project management issue. Unless the freelancer is extremely detailed and obsessive about their ability to wear all hats, managing the details can slip through the cracks. The struggle is real.

However, a specialist can have more time to adopt and adapt to new developments in their field. It’s also easier to be laser-focused on a target audience. 

A specialist may find it easier to set up systems, processes, rinse and repeat. It also makes it easier to train and onboard new employees. 

Another consideration, specialists may be in a better position to create better systems to manage “quality control”.  As you can imagine, keeping up with the pace of updates, Google algorithm changes, new SaaS products, etc is a huge undertaking! 

But if you’re a specialist, you only have to stay up to date in your niche. It alleviates a lot of stress and makes managing expectations somewhat easier.

So, perhaps Greg Head was right. We now live in a world where specialists will eat generalists for dinner. We have another saying in our agency: “The tighter the niche, the more you’ll get rich!”

What do you think? Leave your comments below.

This article was inspired by an interview on RED BEARD Radio where Cory Snyder, Director of Globe Channel Sales at  Active Campaign quoted his ex-boss, Greg Head, ex CMO at Infusionsoft as saying “Specialists eat generalists for dinner”  

Picture of Adrian Tobey

Adrian Tobey

Adrian is the founder and lead developer of Groundhogg. He believes that marketing automation should be simple and accessible so any business can use it to grow.

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