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    just me duncan drennan's Avatar
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    What I've learned so far as a freelance .....

    Dan Lockton has quite an interesting post on his blog titled "What I’ve learned so far as a freelance designer/engineer/maker".

    Obviously for me this is particularly relevant so I find it quite interesting.

    What it’s shown me is that a jack-of-all-trades is not necessarily master of none, but unlikely to be any more than master of some, few in fact. And the main reasons for that — so far as I can tell — are time and money.
    __________

    An implication of all that is that to be competing on price alone can be a stressful game, especially when having to do so simply to get enough work means that you have a lot of learning to do for every project.
    I posted quite a long comment there, which kind just came blurting out. Most importantly it triggers this thing of, "What have I learned?"

    If you are, or have been a freelance (anything), then what are the most important lessons that you have learned from that?

    To sum up my most important lesson: The Network is your friend. You are connected (don't forget it).
    Last edited by duncan drennan; 02-Mar-07 at 12:09 PM.
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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    This is basically about the strategic difference between targeting niche markets vs taking whatever comes your way.

    Possibly the only thing in common I have with freelance engineers/consultants is that I am in the service industry. We basically sell time. Skilled application of that time, but time is our limiting factor, not the skill. Because we have the capacity to acquire whatever skill is needed for any task.

    For me, after doing the generalist thing with my first business, and eventually failing, I stepped back and looked at the big picture. Who was making the money? And I saw it was the specialists. People who focused on a niche and dominated that market segment. Even successful organisations that seemed to have a lot of range, when you got down to their roots it started in a niche at which they excelled. The best or next best (Number 1 or number 2) or do something else where you can become number 1 or 2.

    The specialist will be able to thump the generalist every time if the service needed is in their niche and even most times if it is close to their niche. The resultant reputation will also take you far even if you deviate quite far - but the skilled specialist doesn't deviate far from their niche. If the service required is too far away from their niche, they'll refer it away to another specialist more suited or simply walk away.

    There are a few tricks to getting this right:
    • Identify a niche where you are/can become the best or next best which is big enough to be viable (think medium term),
    • Let your target market know you are a specialist in this niche, and
    • Identify companies and individuals in related fields that you can refer non-niche work to.

    The logic behind the first two points are patently obvious. The third maybe less so. But if you start referring non-niche work away from you, you'll often get niche work back in return. You not only need to network build amongst potential clients, do it amongst your associates. This way you and your network of associates are all doing work that you are well-leveraged to carry out profitably.

    From there, you can invest your gains in knowledge that will gradually broaden your range, building on the solid platform you have laid.

    /Waits to be flamed.
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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    just me duncan drennan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave A View Post
    There are a few tricks to getting this right:
    • Identify a niche where you are/can become the best or next best which is big enough to be viable (think medium term),
    • Let your target market know you are a specialist in this niche, and
    • Identify companies and individuals in related fields that you can refer non-niche work to.
    I think the single biggest challenge of this is identifying the niche. Sometimes finding that particular gap takes some time, good knowledge of what is going on around you, and a certain amount of trial and error.

    I remember in Good to Great, it mentions that most companies took around 4 years to define their "hedgehog concept" - so is the "generalist" phase part of finding our niche? Maybe rather, can a generalist phase be used effectively as a stepping stone towards the hedgehog concept?
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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dsd View Post
    I think the single biggest challenge of this is identifying the niche.

    ... so is the "generalist" phase part of finding our niche? Maybe rather, can a generalist phase be used effectively as a stepping stone towards the hedgehog concept?
    In my case it probably was. My trouble was I didn't keep it down to 4 years because I didn't know the importance of identifying a niche to focus on.

    So perhaps the generalist phase applied correctly should really be considered a search for the right niche.
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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    just me duncan drennan's Avatar
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    To take this conversation in a slightly different direction...

    How did you go about identifying your particular niche?

    I (personally) have an idea about where things could be leading to for me. Figuring out the size of the market and the value of that direction will prove to be the complicated part
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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    Again, applicable to my circumstance. I was limited by the need to start generating an income fast.

    I had two basic criteria:
    • Existing niches within my skill set and experience, and
    • Niches with identifiable clients that produce regular ongoing income.

    Probably the only thing that has changed now is that I have the time to look at niches where I can acquire the skills. But generally, if I'm going to add a niche, I tend to look at niches where it leverages something within my existing operations, be that clients or some internal operations aspect.

    This produces a short list. From there I research the market and do a SWOT analysis to see if I can develop a viable proposition. Some of the basic things I look for are:
    • Can I identify a unique selling proposition (something that distinguishes me from others in that market)?
    • Can I do it profitably?
    • Is there growth potential?
    • What are the capital requirements?
    • Who is currently number 1 and 2?
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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