Avoiding the Bobby Brady Approach to Specializing as a Freelance Writer

There was a reason you didn’t see many members of the the casts of the Brady Bunch or Partridge Family move on to bigger, meatier roles.  It’s because most hiring agents couldn’t see any of these kids past their Bobby  Brady or Danny Partridge roles. No matter how hard these actors tried to shake these old gigs, they were destined to be seen only as former child sitcom stars. Oh sure, they find work now…playing their former roles in sequels and reunion movies or doing reality TV, but it’s not like they’re doing much else.

That’s what happens when you’re popular for doing one thing and one thing only, eventually that’s all you’re known for. I feel that way about specializing sometimes. On the one hand, having expertise in an area is a good thing as clients know who to consider as the go-to person for that niche. On the other hand, if you’re not careful, you won’t be considered for other types of projects because you’re only known for that one specialty.

Should You Specialize?

When I first began freelancing, I primarily wrote family finance and frugal living type articles. It worked out so well for me that clients contacted me via my byline with offers and I even landed a newspaper column. I wrote for several different sites (including web content sites)  and was interviewed for Yahoo! Finance, CNN Money and a couple of other media sites.  Specializing in this niche was working out well for me…to a certain extent. I was approached for family finance gigs, but not anything else. That’s not a terrible thing, but I’m a little ADD. Writing about the same thing all day every day doesn’t excite me. Specializing painted me into a corner and I was burning out. Like the aforementioned Bobby Brady, I was typecast and  if I wanted to write about other things, I’d have to make some changes to my image.

Should You ONLY Specialize

Here’s where it gets a little tricky…

There is absolutely nothing wrong with establishing expertise and writing primarily about one specific topic if that’s what you love to do.  I wrote what I knew, but it wasn’t a topic I especially loved. I also felt, I was limiting my income so I branched out. I began writing about weddings, parenting, household matters and other topics. I realized I enjoyed writing on a variety of subjects rather than one particular thing. Once the blogging bug hit, I was in love and found a niche I could truly write about each day while enjoying what I do.  Having a diverse portfolio enabled me to earn more money and it’s one of the reasons I became so successful. I’m not saying I wouldn’t be at least AS successful writing only about family finances, but I can’t say for sure. Sometimes there weren’t freelance writing  gigs available in my niche. Sometimes potential clients had a perfect job and I wasn’t considered because they only saw me as the family finance chick. When I specialized, I was the Bobby Brady of the writing world.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t specialize, but I would like you to know that sometimes specializing means you’re setting yourself up for limited opportunities.

Specialize But Leave Your Door Open for Other Types of Projects

Establishing one’s expertise is important, I think every writer should have a specialized area. If you’re an expert, or at least knowledgeable about more than one niche, that’s even better. Just be sure you’re not falling victim to your own typecasting. I don’t have a big website or twitter handle proclaiming me as one type of writer because I  find it to be too limiting. I don’t want to be passed over for new opportunities because potential clients feel I’ll only write about fiance or weddings.

Again, this post isn’t to tell you not to specialize. Just consider this:

  • When you specialize you might become bored writing the same topic
  • When you specialize you might be passed over for other projects
  • When you specialize there’s a good chance you’re missing out on many other lucrative projects not in your niche.

I’m always reading (and sometimes writing) about the benefits of being an expert. Sometimes, though, it’s good to look at the other side of the picture. Always consider what branding yourself in one area of expertise will do for the big picture.

Feel free to specialize but remember Bobby Brady. He wanted to be an actor, he ended up as a typecast.

Comments

  1. There certainly is a fine balance between choosing to be a specialist or generalist writer. Agreed that if you become too specialized then it may be hard to find clients. But if you go too broad, it is challenging to focus on your target market since it could potentially be anyone and everyone who requires writing services. I think deciding on a few areas of specialization is a good strategy to take.
    .-= Nita Wired Web Writer´s last blog ..Your Subscription has been confirmed =-.

  2. Multiple specialties have a lot to recommend them… the trick is to find the right way to present yourself to each client. And specialization doesn’t require a degree in a subject or what have you: it requires about four clips.

    IMO, if you can present four solid clips in an area (legal, financial, educational, etc.), you’re golden.

    Lisa

  3. Entertainers whom are not entreprenuers can expect short careers depending on public taste defined by fickle insecure agents.

    If an artist is fortunate enough to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars to play a television character-some of that money needs to be reinvested in executive producing original materials. Think Ron Howard.

    MNJW

  4. Deb,

    Your post gets at the crux of an issue that I’ve found many people overlook, in that they don’t consciously make a decision as to whether it’s better in their line of work to specialize or to generalize.

    My advice to most small businesses and entrepreneurs, from the evidence I’ve seen (people hired, work gotten), is to specialize. Specialization can be taken too far, of course, but generalization is far more ineffective – in many cases, and again, from what I’ve seen and experienced.

    There’s no one way to do anything of course, but I’d err on the side of specialization. I wrote a piece called Brand Like Bounty – How To Brand Yourself Like A Paper Towel that explains it more. Then I followed up with another blog post using yours as a point of discussion.

    Best advice to businesses, and a key take-away from your post? At least consider whether you will get more business being a generalist or a specialist.

    Finally, can you strategically plan to use both in your marketing material, or plan to grow into one or the other – as you, Deb, grew from specializing in finance writing to writing about many topics.

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