The Future of Work: Freelancers Need Specialized Skills

specialization paired with brand identity will help you compete

May 17, 2018 | Denise Gifford

freelancersIf you had just a few minutes to convince a potential customer that you’re the perfect person for their freelance opportunity, what would you say? Which skills make you unique? Do you know your own value, and can you express it convincingly? Knowing your competitive value will be increasingly important in the future as more workers with tech skills vie for freelance jobs. If you’re unable to communicate your value, you will have trouble getting the price you want for your services.

Your value begins with technical skills, but that’s just a start. In the future of work, freelancers who boast not only a specialized skillset, but also a strong brand identity that communicates these skills, will have an advantage.

The number of people who freelance has been growing rapidly. A study by Upwork and Freelancers Union found that 57.3 million Americans are freelancing, or 36 percent of the U.S. workforce. And by 2027, researchers estimate that over half of the workforce will be freelancers. There will be more opportunities, but there will also be more competition for those opportunities.

That’s why it’s so important to develop your skills and define your brand. Having a brand identity will help you focus your marketing efforts in a competitive world, helping you get noticed for your expertise and skills. Even the most introverted freelancers can excel at brand marketing. After all, personal branding is about letting people know what you’re passionate about and sharing your story. It’s telling people what you know how to do (your technical skills or experience) and the values you bring (reliable, trustworthy, responsive, etc.).

A compelling brand identity will help you differentiate yourself, but having a specialization can further differentiate your brand and increase your revenue. You can command higher prices if you’re an expert in a specialized field.

We’re all familiar with how this works in medicine: specialists earn more than generalists. A cardiologist or neurologist earns more than a general practitioner. The cardiologist has in-demand skills needed by a specific group of patients, and you’ll see a similar logic to pricing advantage in the freelance world. An SEO specialist will likely earn more than someone who is a marketing generalist with tech skills. And differentiating further, an SEO specialist with specific industry-related experience (say, financial services) can earn even more. A recent list of the most lucrative freelance jobs features specialty areas such as spatial analysis, digital signal processing, neural networks, and algorithm development, among others.

Along with raising your profit margins, specializing can also help you to market your services more effectively. The more experience you have in a specialization, the more marketing advantage you gain. Over time, your experience with these customers will foster a deep understanding of their needs, which you can use to pinpoint your recommended solutions in your future marketing proposals. By narrowing the focus to potential buyers who need your specialty, you can implement marketing plans that zero in on the needs of that targeted group. And your “brand story” will become more effective as your experience in a specific niche adds to your expertise. That strong brand message, in turn, strengthens your ability to get noticed by new customers, which expands your customer base.

And so there are multiple potential benefits to acquiring specialized skills. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a specialist, consider which elements of your services would appeal to a niche clientele. Think about how you can highlight these niche services in your marketing output (website, networking, online profiles, social media, etc.). Use examples or case studies to show your expertise and your understanding of your target market. Stay on top of trends and be prepared to adapt your strategy as the future of work evolves and new opportunities emerge. Take advantage of specialization. It just may make all the difference in the competitive future of work.

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  • About The Author
  • As co-founder of InfoWorks® International, Denise Gifford has worked with clients worldwide to provide consulting and training in key business competencies such as project management, leadership, sales and marketing, finance, process improvement, and communication. Prior to leading InfoWorks, Denise worked in sales and marketing management, and as a consultant to the financial services industry. She holds her MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.