Do you get more freelance work as a jack of all trades?

freelancing jack of all trades
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What’s better, being an expert at one thing or not too bad at a few things?

By being a jack of all trades, would you get more work?

Yes and no.

Yes, because you’ll be more capable to take on projects you normally wouldn’t.

And no, because if you focus your strengths and become an expert at it, you’ll get more quality leads.

Either way, would you get more work?

Probably not. At least not quality work.

You might get a lot of diverse projects as a jack of all trades, but as an expert you’ll get more leads for the work you specialize in.

So… should you become a freelancing jack of all trades?

Let me share my experience about how NOT being a jack of all trades saved my freelance business and what you can do with your skills to become a better freelancer.

How focusing my skills saved my freelance business

I’ve been a self taught individual for as long as I can remember.

I had all of the time in the world back when I first got into design in high school, so when I needed something done (like a website or an animation) I took the time to learn and did it myself. I always did the work as best as I could, and by doing that I developed a lot of diverse skills.

I became well-versed in all kinds of multimedia: graphic design, website design, animation, video editing, digital painting – you name it, I probably dabbled in it in some way.

Because I dabbled in so many different areas of media, I used to call myself a “multimedia designer”… Can you believe that? (It’s crazy how much you change over the years.)

When it came to running a freelance business as a “multimedia designer” it was hard to build a focused brand around that. As a result I never got a decent amount of leads for work, and when I did, the projects were low quality.

I continued to get these low quality projects that I just didn’t enjoy, and it soon started to hinder my freelance business.

After a year or so doing every type of project that came my way, I found that I really enjoyed one specific area of work, and that was graphic design.

So I decided to rebrand myself entirely and take my freelancing to the next level.

You can read how I took my design hobby and turned it into a freelance business here.

As soon as I stopped being “Brent Galloway the multimedia designer” and became “Brent Galloway the freelance graphic designer”, the more I saw my business turn into a real career.

I rebranded, redesigned and reached out to all of my connections to inform them of what I was doing. I restructured how I did business, set new goals, took some risks, and now I couldn’t be happier with where I am in my freelance career.

I work on projects that I enjoy, I have the freedom to bring my own ideas to life and my business just keeps growing.

I’m not saying that being a jack of all trades is an absolute bad thing, but here’s how you can find that perfect balance and start getting more of the work you enjoy doing:

Become a well-rounded freelancer

It doesn’t hurt to know the basics of different specialties. For example, I think that all graphic designers should know how to code basic HTML.

Being freelancers, our field of expertise is always evolving. Being well-rounded and cognizant of current trends and techniques is extremely important.

How focused should you get?

I went from doing everything to just graphic design. At least that’s my main focus when it comes to my freelance business.

You can even take it a step further – for example: specialize on a specific kind of graphic design, like custom typography, hand drawn illustration, etc.

Keep doing what you love, find out where you shine, and start doing more of that!

Are you a jack of all trades or a specialist and why?

For me personally, focusing my expertise has literally saved my freelance career, but that might not be the same for everyone.

What’s your story? Share it in the comments on this post, I can’t wait to read it!

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About Brent Galloway

Brent Galloway is a freelance graphic designer, founder of Your Freelance Career, and author of Start Your Freelance Career. Check out his blog and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Dribbble.

Comments

  1. I have to answer yes and no as well. I serendipitously ended up being a designer some 33 years ago, fortunate to have people who saw promise in me take me under their wing. I wanted to be an illustrator but quickly acquired a love for design. Those, of course, were the days when someone would shoot photos, someone else would retouch, some one else would set type, etc, etc. Over the years the computer has required us to where multiple hats. And I love to learn and be challenged.

    What I know has enabled me to do well in my career is the ability to design, retouch, illustrate, understand print, and create 3D models. The ability to integrate all into my projects has been valuable. So jack of trading it has definitely been a blessing.

    However, I also knew I had to specialize and focus on clients with whom I could develop a long standing relationship. My clients see me as a part of their team because I understand their vision and know how to communicate it well. I also have had to stay away from web and multimedia. Can I do it? Yes. Can I do it well? Well enough. And that’s the problem. And I don’t have the time or the desire to learn to do it very well. And if I can’t do it very well, then I shouldn’t do it.

  2. As a freelancer, I definitely think being a jack of all trades pays richer dividends. Being able to assist clients in different aspects sets a better tone for relationship building and eventually in billings. If it were an agency were one had help for every little hurdle one would would come across, maybe the being an expert is coveted. In my experience as a freelancer working with small and medium businesses, I’ve found my multidisciplinary skill set come in very handy.

  3. Samantha says:

    Great post! And I absolutely agree. When you brand yourself as being able to do all things it’s really hard to get the right clientel. It’s better to start off in a specific area and become an expert in that area (thus building a stronger portfolio), then slowly branch yourself off to new services you can offer.

  4. I agree Brent, rather than be a Jack of all Trades it is better to be a master of one. I really like your work on Timberz Toys by the way.

  5. I am a jack of all trades. A multimedia designer as well. I do it because I get bored doing the same thing day in and day out. I’m currently a UI Designer on the Madden 360/PS3 game, I got that because I knew graphic design, Flash animation, and how to write OOP ActionScript. That’s my regular job. I freelance graphic design for both print and digital purposes, I always look forward to going out and shooting video for clients because it doesn’t require me to sit on my ass for 8+ hours a day in front of a computer, and sometimes web design/development is a nice change of pace from game dev. Maybe my viewpoint would change if all I did was freelance, but I doubt it. I tend to burn out doing the same thing day in and day out rather quickly

  6. Loved this Brent! I am also self-taught and have picked up a lot of skills but I don’t feel like I am a master of one. I enjoy most of the areas I have skills in but agree that it is a hindrance to be focused in a lot of areas. How were you able to figure out what you wanted to be your specialty?

    • Jane,

      I guess at heart I am still a jack of all trades (and that’s probably from being such a self-taught individual.) Out of the vast amount of projects I’ve worked on over the years, design has just been where I’ve had the most fun – so I figure, if I put my business’s focus on design, I could land more of the projects I like to work on, and earn more doing what I love to do the most. I’ve only seen growth in my freelancing since I’ve made that decision.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

  7. Hi Brent, thanks for a fantastic article! For me, specialising in a niche has proved to be one of the best business decisions I’ve ever made. Although I can do (and have done) all types of copywriting, I now specialise in writing slogans/taglines, because this is what I LOVE to do! In many people’s minds I’m the ‘slogan person’, and that’s just the way I like it. :-) 

  8. I thinks its a very tricky thing when it comes to money u earn. Yes doing everything by yrself is a bad thing but what to do when someone offers u a project of website design that u know u can do and at the same time u r focusing to build expertise in other field say animation ?

    • Temur,

      I guess it depends on how strict you are on the projects you accept. My brand says “graphic designer”, and I’d say my specialty is in website design, branding, etc. But if I had a project come in for animation that I knew I could take on, I’d would definitely accept it! If you’re capable of taking on a project and you have the time for it, why not? Again, that’s my opinion on a situation like that. I think it’s all about how one chooses to run their own business.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

  9. In my experience as a freelancer, I have found this approach to be quite successful. I agree, that it definitely helps get quality projects if you focus your skills. How to choose which area to focus on could be based on the skill set that you have the most experience in – potential clients want freelancers with reputable portfolios.

  10. Hey Brent! It’s as if your wrote this for me :) Here’s my current email signature:

    hooloovoo media
    design extraordinaire, wearer of many hats
    —————————————————————–
    “All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others.” — Douglas Adams

    Of course you notice the wearer of many hats and the media part :/ I started web design when I was still studying graphics and photography, back then it was an easy buck! Now I’ve dabbled so much and long in web design I was hoping to create some kind of market there.

    With that said, me being able to point DNS’s and manage hosts and servers, knowing how to copy and past code doesn’t really help bring in more clients/money and certainly not getting more any more actual graphic design work.

    Thanks for the article, it does make me ponder and encourages me to take a serious look at my portfolio and resume :)

  11. Hi Brent,

    interessting article. I do understand the main point you are trying to get across… but i have to say that being a jack of all trades does work… especially if your good in all the aspects. I live in Germany, and started freelancing here officially since April. I started just creating Logos, Corporate designs and so on… (which I do love doing) but find myself getting “pushed” into web design.
    So what about if you find that although you really want to say just design Logos and Branding or so… but you cant because you need to earn money and since everyone needs sites you do that. So my question; how would you go about in my situation?

    Kind regards,
    Sascha

    • Sascha,

      If you’re trying to get majority of your workload to be logos and branding, then I’d say focus your brand around that. Showcase that as what you’re an expert in, and you should attract those type of clients. If a website project happens to come your way and you have the capability and time to take it on, that’s your choice to accept it or not.

      If it were me, I’d take on the website project if I were capable and had the time to take it on. But again, it’s however you choose to run your own business.

      Best of luck with everything, and thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

  12. Great article. I always did a lot of stuff and been thinking a lot about it. Just want to do what I like the most to get full satisfaction in my work, allowing to jump from a stable but frustrating regular job to a not so stable but satisfying freelance career.

  13. We found similar issues trying to be the “jack of all trades.” The best discovery wasn’t to be able to do everything okay, it was just to do a few things great.

  14. Brent,
    Good thoughts, and one which provokes a great deal of thought.
    When I first became a freelance, I decided to do everything and anything that would help pay a bill.
    I found myself running in circles, and not too happy at the end of the day. I agree that you need to really define for yourself who you are, what you do and do it well.

  15. Betty G. says:

    I think you need to first understand your market.
    I live and work in a medium sized city, surrounded by smaller rural towns. I found that offering a wide range of services (web design, print design, logo development, etc.) and being okay at everything works for me. In a bigger market, where you can’t walk three feet without running into another graphic designer, it makes sense to specialize in a specific area of design and really work at becoming the best in that niche. But with a small group of people in your market, a niche isn’t going to produce enough work to make ends meet. Define your market first and you’ll find success.

    • I think that was more of an issue before the internet. The world is our market now. I live in Portland, but the majority of my work comes from elsewhere. Maybe it’s easier as an illustrator to do that? Not sure.

  16. Hey Brent,

    Thanks for your post. I’m always encouraged by you and look forward to your posts. Just wanted to say that! Your articles (especially their topics) always hit me perfectly.

    As I have been out on my own for only about two months (and without formal graphic design training), I am struggling to find out exactly what I LOVE to do most. I love learning! I love receiving information of all kinds. I can never get enough. If you’re familiar with the Strengths Finder 2.0 categories, my strengths are Input, Strategic, Intellection, Adaptability, and Learner. These show up in design because I LOVE learning about all the nuances associated with designing the greater excellence inside my clients who come from all kinds of different industries! I love learning all that and then designing something perfectly suited for them.

    Question for you: How did you go about discovering that “these” type of designs are what you loved? How did you know and then begin to choose to do that more?

    • Chris,

      Thanks for the kind words! Like I mentioned in the post, I dabbled in a lot of different media, but it all sorta revolved around design. Just in the past year or so I’ve really focused my business around graphic design, because that’s the kind of work I did best and the kind of work I really enjoyed doing.

      When I decided that I wanted to focus my freelance work around graphic design, I rebranded myself entirely (website, social media bios, etc.) With that change I needed everyone to know about it, so I reached out to all of my connections to inform them of this change. After that it all just sort of fell into place. I looked for the projects I wanted to work on, went after them, and now majority of my freelance work is purely graphic design.

      If you have any other specific questions, you can always shoot me an email from my website.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

  17. I totally agree. You have to know the basics in different fields but if you want to be the best at what you do, just focus on one main area.

  18. I enjoy taking on any project. I learn and grow with each new challenge.
    I began graphic design and illustration in the days of “wax and ruby”. There were days I spent hours and hours just hand drawing custom work with a French Curve and Koh-I-Noor Rapidiograph. Digital Graphics made it possible to type set on your own, illustrate and design. I fell in love with the process of creating.

  19. “I think that all graphic designers should know how to code basic HTML.”

    Huh ?

    Its like saying that all architects should know how to lay bricks. What’s the point in that ? I can understand if it was “I think that all graphic designers (assuming that all graphics designer design websites) should know how to design websites according to standard HTML specs”. But coding ???

  20. It would appear that the issue was how you were selling yourself as opposed to what you were doing, or were capable of doing. I’d imagine that Graphic Design is a broader term than Multimedia Design anyway?

  21. Too often we take on projects outside our scope of expertise and either spend too much time learning how to do it or, even worse, doing the client a dis-service.
    I do, however, disagree with you that graphic designers should know html. Would you also propose that computer programmers know design theory and cultivate drawing skills? The sheer amount programming knowledge that is necessary to be an effective web site developer is best served by a team, each of whom have their own specialties. The lead developer will assign specific tasks to individuals best suited for the various tasks. I have been in the field for 35+ years, and I don’t know anybody that is fluent in all the coding languages we use today (html, xhtml, css, JavaScript, PHP, C, C++, Java, Python, FBML, Erlang, XHP,ASP.NET, Flash, Ruby, Scala, J2EE, Perl, AJAX, WebSphere, Servlets) in addition to effective working knowledge of database programs (MySQL, Microsoft SQL, Oracle,BigTable, etc.). My projects may use any of these technologies, and I prefer the freedom to use the appropriate technology for the task at hand.
    At the same time, I don’t expect programmers to be trained in effective graphic communication, understand and use type correctly, copy editing and creation, image making, branding and corporate identification, printing (digital and conventional), document management, photography, etc. Nor do I expect programmers to spend hours mastering Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and the dozens of graphics creation software programs that are constantly being updated.
    I learned basic HTML twenty odd years ago, but when faced with the source code for a modern professional website, I am completely overwhelmed. Years ago I realized I could not do it all, and concentrated my efforts into being the best graphic designer I could be, and happily off loaded programming to those that study it continuously and use it every day.

  22. Agreed Brent. Focusing on one discipline gives people a clear sense of what you’re best at and likely makes marketing easier. This reminds me that I need to drop “design” from my biz name.

  23. good!

  24. This has been a big concern for me lately as I begin my freelance career. As an illustrator, I like to do all kinds of styles for different themes. It’s hard to choose!

  25. Christopher says:

    I too love graphic design and more specifically animation. I found myself having to learn HTML/CSS which I was weak in, now much stronger. As well as JavaScript and SDK because software doesn’t do exactly what I want it to do, although learning programming has become more difficult then I realized, the other two not so much. Is that a jack of all trades ?

  26. In my opinion, yes, you should definitely specialise as a freelancer. I know it’s annoying, but often, a potential client is searching for a particular skill. They search for “logo designer” or “web designer” or “animator” etc… so by specialising your convincing them that you are the right person for THAT specific job.

    Of course, you could always do what one friend of mine did. Actually create 3 separate online identities and “specialise” in three different areas. That way you can have your cake AND eat it too. ;)

  27. Nice article Brent. It’s funny how all the business and entrepreneur books say ‘find your niche, then niche down untl it hurts’, yet every job advertisement out there wants a Jack of all trades and his mates in the one person.

    Being really good at one thing does make sense though. If I was looking to hire a widget designer and was presented with a choice, widget designer or Jack, I won’t be giving my money to Jack.

    Keep up the good work

    Tim

  28. Good topic. The reason I became a freelancer was because all of the in-house design jobs were looking for “jacks of all trades”. All of the great artists and designers are those who specialized in particular areas, not people who were mediocre at everything. That’s the reason I choose to specialize in particular areas. I suppose the trick is trying to specialize while not limiting yourself. It’s a tricky area for designers today who are expected to know so much.

  29. I think that it is essential to know a bit of everything as a freelancer. However having a specialty certainly helps to stand out from the crowd. Me personally as a freelancer I am constantly working on the things I am not so good at and also learning to keep ahead of other designers. It is tough work being a freelancer but the rewards are great :)!

  30. Great article! Very inspiring and helpful, thanks!

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