Don’t be a jack of all trades… be a freelance superhero.

Lauren Bonk

You’ve heard the old quote, right? “Jack of all trades, master of none?”

It’s a sentiment that challenges our modern ideas of success, on a general scale anyway. We’ve been trained over the years to aspire to greatness in as many areas as possible. Remember that guy in high school? The one who was captain of the football team, Valedictorian, and student council president? That’s been society’s idea of a successful human for a long time now, and, let’s face it… it’s not all that realistic.

The inherent problem with being a “jack of all trades” is that the quality of your work will inevitably be sacrificed in the name of quantity.

While it may have looked like that high school quarterback had it all together, it’s pretty likely that he was cutting a few corners, getting a lot of help, or feeling incredibly stressed out. This, too, is reality for freelancers. Freelancers want work. Of course, good work is ideal, but sometimes you’ve simply got to put food on the table—especially when you’re first starting out.

It can be tempting to say “yes” to a project you’re not fully qualified for (even if you know you can learn it quickly), but if you take on too much work, eventually you’ll find yourself cutting a few corners, getting a lot of help, or feeling incredibly stressed out.

So how do you navigate these waters?

How do you get the job and get it done quickly without biting off more than you can chew?

I think I’ve found the secret in a surprising place: the pages of a comic book. That’s right, action fans: It’s time to grab the nearest blanket or apron and turn it into a cape, because we’re about to tackle this jack-of-all-trades issue by thinking like a freelance superhero.

Stick to your strengths; specialize.

Batman’s got his physical prowess and intellect, Iron Man’s got the tech, and Superman… well, Superman can do just about anything. We’ll leave him out of this one and go with the Green Arrow. That guy’s got the archery down pat. These heroes work diligently for hours on end to hone the abilities and talents they need to ensure their success… and their notoriety.
The same goes for freelancing.

Whether you’re a writer or landscaper, you’ll reap great benefit from focusing your efforts on the aspects of your industry that you love most.

Maybe you’re a graphic designer who loves working with small non-profits, but despises designing for corporate entities. That’s perfectly fine. By learning the ropes of three or four industries (rather than 14), you’ll be better-prepared to serve the clients you want to have.

Specialization saves you time on research, equips you to create more engaging proposals from your already in-depth knowledge, and makes it easier for prospective clients to find you.

Outsource your weaknesses.

Does Bruce Wayne have the time to manage his mansion and keep up the appearances needed to keep his identity secret? Nope; that’s where Alfred comes in. Does he have the man-power to evacuate a doomed bank full of employees and customers? Definitely not… so it’s a good thing he’s in cahoots with Commissioner Gordon. There’s no shame in admitting a lack of time, passion, or talent for certain areas within your industry. This is, in fact, a fantastic opportunity to create meaningful, professional relationships that enhance the quality and efficiency of your business. Perhaps you’re a developer who creates gorgeously functional websites, but lacks the writing capacity to create the site’s content. Finding another freelancer with a writing style that matches that of your design style will be a great benefit to both you and your clients.

By passing certain responsibilities on to a trusted peer, you can avoid burnout, sub-par workmanship, and damaging testimonials.

Trust your technology.

Where would Tony Stark be without his Iron Man suit? Or, more importantly, the arc reactor in his chest that keeps him alive? He even relies on an artificial intelligence system to manage most of his life. This is a man who knows how to make technology work for him so that he can work on what he wants. In order to shake off that “jack of all trades” attitude and move toward being a “master of some,” you’ve got to carve out the time you need to research your specialties and improve your skills. Luckily, there are platforms out there built with the specific purpose of helping freelancers make the most use of their time. You can find project management systems like Trello and Basecamp,which allow you to streamline content creation and organize your WordPress workflow. Certain companies even offer services that allow you to get digital contracts signed with your WordPress site, so that you don’t have to wait for the mail.

In an entrepreneurial ecosystem where quality and creativity are lauded and expected, a half-hearted commitment to projects will result in disappointing workmanship and poor reviews from peers and clients. If you can isolate your passions and find ways to delegate the things you don’t love, your efforts and enthusiasm will be more apparent in a competitive professional setting. While you may not be leaping buildings in a single bound or swinging around on spider webs, you are the superhero when it comes to your business. It’s up to you assess your passions and build a career around the things you love, even if it means admitting that you can’t be spectacular at everything. Whichever business you’re in, whichever creative medium you favor, whichever mask you choose to wear doesn’t matter—what matters is that you find one that fits you, and that you wear it well.

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