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We’ve all heard the saying “jack of all trades, master of none”, and usually when people say it, they wear it as a badge of honor.

As a brand, the biggest asset you have with your audience is trust. Without trust, you have nothing. Building trust takes a lot of work, and it certainly doesn’t come easy.

Specialization gives you the edge to not only build trust in your field, but also to deepen the specific skills that your brand requires. Focusing on becoming incredible in your niche allows you to become the best, which ultimately builds the trust you need.

In this episode, we talk about how specialization builds trust, strengthens your specific skills, and why narrowing your focus will take your brand further.

Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
  • Having your focus on one thing allows you to have success in that particular area.
  • Specializing will propel your brand to the point where you can start doing more than one thing.
  • The biggest asset you have as a brand is trust.
  • People seek out specialists for the things that are important to them.
  • Specialization doesn’t mean that you should forget your other skills or knowledge.
  • Use your other abilities to enhance your specialization.
  • You can reach more people if you do a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean they’ll trust you to do any of those things well.
  • If you want to pivot your specialization later on, don’t underestimate social proof.
  • If you position yourself as a professional in a specific field, you can charge a premium and people will pay it.
  • The amount of time you spend putting energy into becoming great at one thing is energy you’re not spending elsewhere.
Show Notes
  • 03:40 Cory: What is specialization, Kyle?
  • 03:43 Kyle: Specializing is focusing in a specific direction.
  • 04:00 Cory: I think specializing is becoming known as someone who knows the best about that thing, whatever that might be. For instance, I once went into a coffee shop and asked if I could get my normal drink. I don’t drink black coffee very often, and my go-to is a caramel latte. I like sweet coffee. I asked them, “Do you guys do a caramel latte?” The guy laughed at me. He said, “No. We make real coffee here. I’m going to make you a pour-over and you’re going to drink it.” It shocked me and took me aback because he was so confident that what he was going to make for me was the best solution for what I needed.
  • 05:09 It was amazing. I don’t drink pour-over often and it was really good. As odd as it sounds, him not offering me a wide variety of drinks made me trust his expertise more. He said to me, “I make the best pour-over coffee,” which made me believe and trust that he knew what he was talking about.

Specialization is not necessarily the absence of knowing about a lot of things, but to become known as someone who knows about one particular thing.

  • 05:46 Kyle: There’s something to be said for that confidence, like in Cory’s story. He’s not saying that he knows what you want better than you do, but he’s saying that he can deliver something better than what you think you want. There’s confidence in that, because he’s offering a solution to a problem you may not even know exists. He’s offering something different than you’ve had before. Specializing in something allows you to do that, to provide things for people that they aren’t even aware of. You can be confident and say, “This is the best solution for your problem.”
  • 06:38 Maybe it’s a product that you have. This is the best solution because you specialize in this type of product, and it’s better than the other options and you can tell them why. There’s real power in that. That’s better than saying, “Well, we do 400 different things, so I’m not really sure… Let me find out for you…” You’re not confident at that point, if the person doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
  • 07:31 Last night, my wife and I watched Undercover Boss on Netflix and the CEO of this company mentioned at the beginning that things weren’t going too great, so he was going undercover to find out things about his company. Several times, even to different employees he worked with and during off to the side interviews, he would say, “I don’t really specialize in this. I’m not that familiar with this industry,” even though he was the CEO of this company. I saw that, and my first thought was, “No wonder they’re struggling. He doesn’t understand the industry.” How could the leader of that company, that brand, be able to project the right things?

Know Your Speciality

  • 08:48 Cory: There are some cases where people own businesses just to have an asset, something that’s pulling in money. They’re facilitating it, so they hire people that specialize in that industry. As the CEO or the owner, they wouldn’t go in and say, “This is how you handle the IT.” As a great example, we just had the Superbowl in the United States. The owner of the Denver Broncos, I’m guessing, is not as good of a quarterback as Peyton Manning. That person isn’t going to go in and say, “Here’s how you do your job as the quarterback. I know what’s best.” Peyton Manning knows all of that, everything specific to his particular job.
  • 09:51 He knows all of those things, and that’s why he’s going to be known as the person who knows all those things. In baseball, the pitcher doesn’t go play first base or left field. Any time that he doesn’t go to bat, he pitches. It’s the same with the quarterback. The quarterback doesn’t play defense; he only plays offense. He’s specializing.

Being known for one thing and having your focus there means cutting out a lot of other things, but it also allows you to have success in that particular area.

  • 11:07 Kyle: The owner of the Broncos may not specialize in playing football, but I imagine he’s at least aware of the game of football and is invested in seeing how the team is doing. He’s got a coach for the team that knows what the team should be doing, and he specializes in coaching them and how to play football, specifically. The owner of the Broncos didn’t bring in a tennis coach and say, “Here, coach my NFL football team.” He wouldn’t specialize in that. It’s not going to be professional league football coaching. That’s where I came from in watching this Undercover Boss episode.
  • 12:06 He mentioned several times, “I’m in charge of reviving this brand.” That’s what they brought him in for as the CEO, and that’s like hiring a coach who doesn’t have a clue about the sport you’re bringing him into. It baffled me a little bit. There are people who own brands who don’t know everything about that particular subject, but they find someone to maintain that brand who does understand the industry.
  • 12:47 Cory: How many different specializations are there in the medical field? If you go to someone and they say, “I’m a doctor, and I know all of the things. I know dermatology, dentistry, pediatrics, brain surgery, and I know everything about your feet.” You start going down that list and you think, “I don’t know if I believe you.” I’m more apt to trust a person who says, “I’m a dermatologist and this is what I do. The advice I’m giving you is based on my years of research and study in this particular field.” Similarly, I’m not going to go to a bone specialist and ask him to be a pediatrician for my daughter.
  • 13:43 That’s weird. I’m going to go to a pediatrician, and we have a great pediatrician. One of the biggest complaints people have against specialization is the idea that the more that they know, the more they can make money. “I can wash windows! I can paint a house and make a clay pot. Why wouldn’t I want to tell everybody that I can do all of these things? That means that I can reach more people.”

Just because you can reach more people if you do a lot of things doesn’t mean they’ll trust you to do any one of those things well.

Earn Diversification

  • 14:27 Kyle: Google is now a brand that has a lot of facets to it. There’s a car initiative they’re working on. They purchased Boston Dynamics for robots, although I don’t know what they want to do with robots yet. If you look back at Google’s history, the thing that brought Google to the point of being a large corporation was always the search engine. Then they started experimenting a little, and they extended a little bit with Gmail and things like that. Their bread and butter was being a search engine, and that’s how everybody knew them. To this day, for the most part, most people would associate Google with being a search engine.
  • 15:28 They’re moving away from that a little bit, but they still have the search engine, of course. That’s still a big asset for them. All too often, people that own brands, whether they’re small new brands or ones that have been around for a while, look at bigger brands and say, “Well, they do all these things! We could do all these things, and that’s how we’ll be successful. They’re diversifying.” They’ve grown to the point where they can diversify a little bit, because they’ve grown with the understanding from people that they’re a certain thing.
  • 16:11 Now, they’ve gained an audience and recognition, so they can branch out to be different things. It’s understandable in some respects. If you’ve had a brand for ten years now and you’ve been growing it slowly, maybe you’re saying, “I’m tired of only doing this specific thing, specializing in this. I’m interested in this other thing.”

Specialize and let people know exactly what you do, because that will propel your brand to the point where you can start doing more than one thing.

  • 16:53 Cory: The interesting thing about Google is that whenever they do these other things, it might be nested under Google as an overarching brand. We might get to this in a future episode, talking about sub-brands. They create other brands and other devisions where people specialize in that thing. If they have search engine developers, they won’t take them over and say, “Hey, work on the Google self-driving car.” They’re going to get people who specialize in robotics and self-driving car production.

Specialization Builds Trust

  • 17:55 The biggest asset you have as a brand is trust. If you don’t have trust from anybody, you’re going nowhere. That’s just the truth. You can say, “I’ve got all this capital! I’ve got all these great social media platforms!” If nobody trusts you, they’re not going to give you their money. They’re not going to follow you. They’re not going to tell other people to interact with your brand.

Build trust any way that you can.

  • 18:38 If you have all of these things that people are trying to categorize you as, that’s going to introduce confusion. Move away from confusion by saying, “Here is what I do.” That’s really easy for people to get. There’s an article going around by a guy named Daniel Mall, and the title is Oil Change and Pizza. Apparently, he was driving by someplace with a sign that said that you could get an oil change and also order pizza at the same place. I don’t know about you, Kyle, but that doesn’t evoke trust for me. That makes me think that I’m going to get oil pizza. It’s not good.
  • 19:17 In that same article, he talks about how there’s this particular pizza place that makes one kind of pizza. As soon as they run out of stuff to make pizza, they close up. It could be at 3pm or 9pm. You go in and you say, “I would like a pizza.” I went to a place in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and there’s an iconic burger place there where you go in and you say, “I would like a burger.” “Would you like cheese on the burger?” “Yes, I would like cheese on the burger.” That’s it. You don’t go in and say, “I would like a Double-double, animal style, no pickle, no tomato.” Nobody cares about that at this particular place.
  • 19:56 They know how to make their burger, and they’re going to make it well. There was a line down the street for this burger place where you go in and say, “I would like a burger.” There was a line because that’s what they do—they make burgers, and they make them well. When we talk about building trust and expectation from people, so they know exactly what to expect from you, specializing doesn’t mean that you’re limiting yourself. You’re giving yourself more freedom inside of your specialization. You can do whatever you want within that realm. That’s what people will know you for, and that’s when they’ll start trusting you more.
  • 20:40 Kyle: The coffee shop example Cory mentioned earlier is great. If you go to McDonalds and get coffee, they have coffee there and they have it at the coffee shop that Cory talked about. The difference is that McDonalds does not specialize in coffee. They have coffee on their menu so they can provide coffee to people, mostly for breakfast, because some people like coffee with their breakfast. It’s convenient for what they’re serving. At the coffee shop, that is their focus. I could never picture myself going into McDonalds and saying, “I want coffee. Make whatever coffee you think is the best. You guys know your coffee.”
  • 21:37 There’s a coffee shop here called Local Coffee. I love going there. It’s a great coffee shop. They do the pour-over thing, like Cory talked about, and they actually even specialize in making their own beans. They have a sub-brand roaster called Merit, and it’s their own line of coffee beans. For their pour-overs, they offer a variety of those that you can choose from. What’s great is that I can go in there and confidently say, “Which one of these do you guys recommend?” They tell me, and every time it’s great. I’ve never had a bad experience with that. I trust them because they’re specialists in what they do. I understand that they understand what they’re doing.

Are You Leaving Money On the Table?

  • 22:40 Cory: People are worried that they’re leaving money on the table. They’re thinking, “Why would I give up all this other opportunity to make all this money when I could just say, ‘I do everything’?” We’ve all been to websites where people say, “I’m a web designer, developer, illustrator, branding expert, and I can make all of your cards with letterpress.” When you see that someone does everything, you think, “What do you do well?” I don’t know. A non-specialist can get ten different jobs for $100 each, let’s say. A specialist can get a single job for $1,000 because she’s the expert.
  • 23:35 Then you don’t have to worry about it. That’s the same amount. How do you do that? You do it by saying, “I’m the expert in this particular thing. Don’t go anywhere else, don’t shop around. I can do this one thing.” I’m more compelled to buy something from a company that does only one thing. Recently, I’ve been looking for a good pair of leather, waterproof boots. K and I are going to be moving our family to Ireland later this year, and you have to have a good pair of boots. They need to be warm, waterproof, and I want them to be leather.
  • 24:11 If I found a company that made and sold boots but also did window washing and portrait photography, do you know what I would say? I would say, “No!” Building a brand is building trust, and people buy from those that they trust. They follow those that they trust. When you specialize in one thing, I will trust you more. Then, I don’t have to think about everything else that you do. I’ll say, “Oh, you’re the boot people. You must know a lot about that thing.”

Levels of Specialization

  • 24:48 Kyle: There are varying levels of specializing for a brand. You look at, for example, Target. They have clothes, boots, shoes, and different things. You could go there and buy boots, but the people who go there just need a pair of boots—it’s an expense for them, something they need or want, and they aren’t that invested in it. They’ll go to a specialty boot shop to specifically get a pair of tailored, hand-crafted boots that may cost more, but it’s because the person specializes in that, so you can trust that it’s very well made. That’s something that’s important to you.

People seek out specialists for the things that are important to them.

  • 25:54 Whether that’s a brand that specializes in that product or a person who specializes in that service, that’s what they’ll reach out for. Target still isn’t a generalist brand. They have a brand focus, although I don’t know their exact mission. In my mind, they’re a hub for providing mid-range quality products for people who need to get everything all at once. Their focus isn’t agriculture, so if Target suddenly said, “Now we also own farms and we’re going to hire farmers,” it’s confusing. They may outsource from farms or support those.
  • 26:59 There’s a local company here called HEB that’s a grocery store, and they source from local farms in Texas. They support local agriculture and fishing. I understand what Cory’s saying, but there are people who just want to buy a pair of boots. They might go to a place that may be a successful brand, but they’re there to provide commodity, not specialization.
  • 27:41 Cory: Some would say that the more you provide, the more you put out there, the more of an audience you’re going to reach. I’m going to be honest. If you cast out all of your skills and abilities into the winds, yes, you’ll get a lot of different kinds of groups in your audience, but you won’t build the kind of loyalty that you would if you specialized. When you go to Target, you see a ton of people there for various reasons. Target is targeting middle class families who make a certain range of income, who need to get what they need and don’t want it to be very expensive but also don’t want it to be cheap.
  • 28:38 They’re in the middle. It’s average quality stuff. I would argue that that’s Target’s target audience. They’re not specializing in anything. They’re saying, “We’re going to throw all of this into the pot and see if anything sticks.” They’ve managed to make a business out of it. People who listen to our podcast, generally, don’t own Target or other giant conglomerates where they throw everything into one place. Think of hardware stores. Target has their specialization, in a sense, of home life. When you go to a hardware store, you won’t find toys, microwaves, or boots. You’re going to find lumber, hammers, drills, and plumbing equipment.
  • 29:42 If you increase the range just a little bit and go out a little bit bigger, Target and Home Depot are specializing in their particular fields. Going down a little bit further, you have the hammer store. That guy most knows about hammers.

You can specialize more broadly without including all of the things that you know about.

  • 30:21 Kyle: You can get very granular with it and specifically offer one type of product or service, or you could offer multiple products or services that all fit into a specific niche, an underlying specialization. Cory mentioned a bone doctor earlier, but he could narrow it down to someone who specializes in femurs. If he did that, maybe he would stop being a practicing doctor and become an authority on his specific topic, writing books and giving speeches at conferences for doctors about this area of the human body. It depends on your goals. You can be broad or very narrow with specialization.

Use Other Knowledge Toward Your Specialty

  • 31:41 Cory: Bryce asked earlier, “When is specialization something someone should think about? For beginners, is it better to specialize or to be a jack of all trades? Is specialization something you find, or are you drawn to it?” It’s never too early to pick one direction. People misunderstand when it comes to specialization. They say, “If I specialize, I can’t learn about all of this other stuff because it’s not in my field. If I’m a web designer, I shouldn’t learn about web development or how to build a house, because how is that going to help me?” Specialization is just telling people on the outside, “This is what I’m going to do for you.”
  • 32:30 You can still use all of your other abilities within that. Let’s say you’re a web designer, and you’re going to create mock ups for a case study. You also have a background in professional photography. You’ve got all the gear and it looks really good. For this particular website, you need a few stock photos, some stuff in the background, or you’re creating some kind of wire frame or something. You can use your abilities as a photographer to spend a day taking stock photos. Take a picture of people walking or a computer on a desk. You can use that for the web design project.
  • 33:18 It doesn’t mean that when you’re trying to get clients, you say, “I’m a web designer, but I’m also a photographer! I can take all of your photography.” You don’t have to put that out there if you want people to know you as a web designer. It’s all about what you want to be known for. How do you want people to see you? Are you the expert, or are you the guy who throws things at every wall to see what sticks?

Specialization doesn’t mean that you should forget your other skills or knowledge—it just means that for your brand, people need to understand and trust you.

  • 34:07 Specialize as soon as possible and get it going. If you’re fresh out of college and you want to do web design, put that on your website. Say, “I am a designer of x, and this is what I do.” That is going to be much more compelling than saying, “I learned all of these things in college. And that’s what I do.” The age of the resume is dying. I used to make resumes, and they always used to teach you to put everything that you know how to do on this resume. It looked messy. It was gross. I was trying to get a job some place, and I said, “Well, I did all this. I know how to do that. Nothing is really connected, but hopefully you’ll think I’m a good person and hire me.”
  • 35:09 Imagine the power of saying, “I have studied web development in this particular area for 15 years, and I’m trying to get your web development job. Here’s everything I’ve done under this particular specialization. You can trust me, because I’ve done all of this in this field.” That stands out way more than having it be a footnote on a resume that says, “I did web development at one time, so I know how to do it.”

Use your other abilities to enhance your specialization.

  • 35:32 Kyle: Let’s say that you do landscaping. You trained a lot in landscaping, but before you started doing that, you did professional photography for a while. Now, you want to do landscaping, so you think, “I should offer my photography as a service.” When you go to someone, you say, “I do landscaping and photography,” and you treat them as two things, you’re not projecting yourself as a specialist.
  • 36:16 If someone came to me and I wanted landscaping for my business, maybe I own a brick and mortar store and I want someone to come in and do landscaping, if they say, “I can do your landscaping and photos if you need them,” it doesn’t make me trust that they know what they’re doing. If that same person came to me and said, “We do landscaping, and we want to do it for your business,” we would go through the whole process and they do the landscaping for us. At the end of the project, when they’re done, I have high quality images of the final product that I can put on my website or use for promotion.
  • 37:05 I’m very impressed by that, because they used that skill of photography to enhance the specialized service that they offer. They aren’t saying that they’re a photographer, but they’re using it as an advantage to include that in things they deliver to their clients. It makes them stand out.

Transitioning Specializations

  • 37:29 Cory: Aaron asked, “What’s the best way to transition from being known in one specialty into another one? Say that someday I want to be known for recording, mixing, and mastering music instead of just podcasts? What should I do if I’m known for one thing, but I want to be known for something else?” That’s a great question. Aaron is our podcast editor for the seanwes network. I want to respond to this question with something that Brent said in the chat earlier.
  • 37:55 He said, “Specializing my brand has taken me from a designer scrambling everywhere for work to being the go-to guy doing exactly the kind of work I want to be doing. By focusing my brand, I’m defining who I want to be known as and what I want to be known for. All around, my business has grown because of it. Although I still feel like I’m just getting things off the ground, I’m heading in the direction I want to be going.” Brent used to be a designer, but one day, he said, “I want to make t-shirts, specifically for merchandise.” That’s a huge specialization.
  • 38:38 He said, “This is scary, to be the t-shirt merch guy, the t-shirt design guy, because I’m putting this other work to the side that I could be getting as a generalist designer.” Over the last six months or so, I’ve been watching Brent and the kind of work he’s been getting. He mentioned this morning that he just finished up a project for a large brand, because he’s now the go-to guy. He did that by telling people that’s who he was, so he wasn’t adding things to his website that didn’t follow the direction of him being the t-shirt guy.
  • 39:22 There’s a great video that Sean McCabe did, Four Keys to Growing an Audience. He gave a talk last year at Creative South, and this is the video for that talk. Watch it; it’s fantastic. Part of growing an audience is something he calls curation, and that means that you don’t put everything that you can do out there. Only put out the work publicly that you want to get. If you want to get character illustration jobs, put out work that is about character illustration. If you want to do mixing and mastering, don’t put out podcast stuff. Put out examples of music that you’ve mixed, mastered, and produced.
  • 40:14 Put that out there so people know that you’re that guy. Configure your website in such a way that it says, “This is what I do.” When people get to your website, that’s what you’re going to be known as whenever people encounter you.

If you want to pivot your specialization later on, don’t underestimate social proof.

  • 40:31 Kyle: Maybe right now, Aaron is a podcast editor, but he’s growing a following of people that understand that he edits audio. Maybe, right now, he specializes in podcasts, but down the road when he pivots and, say, changes to music production, a lot of those people will stay with him. They’ve grown to be attached to Aaron as a person. They were drawn to him as a specialist, and over time they’ve grown to understand the personality behind what he’s offering. When he makes that move, there will still be an audience behind him.
  • 41:36 The new people that come along will see all of it, and it’s still going to have a lot of momentum. There will be a drop at the beginning before he regains the momentum, because some of the audience was only there for podcasts, but he still has a large following who supports him. New people coming in will see that and say, “Obviously, he’s got a lot of people supporting what he does and a lot to back it up, so we trust what he’s saying.”

Benefits of Specialization

  • 42:08 Cory: It’s all about building trust. The more trust you can build with people, the higher you can charge for what you do. Ultimately, if you’re trying to make a living doing what you’re doing, you’re not going to be able to justify charging a premium when you do a ton of stuff. You can charge a premium when you’re an expert. When you go to a very specific kind of medical professional, she can charge through the nose because you have to go to her to make that happen, to get well in that particular area.

If you are an expert and you position yourself as a professional in a specific field, you can charge a premium and people will pay it.

  • 43:05 People are going to trust you. It’s all about building trust. I asked people earlier in the Community chat how specialization has helped them build their brand or their business, and I want to read a couple more of the responses. Emily said, “Specializing has made me a happier person. Instead of doing anything for anyone that could pay me, I’m mostly doing projects I want to do and enjoy doing. Specialization has opened doors to more premium clients. Eventually, I plan on teaching, whereas before, I wouldn’t have had the credibility to start. Becoming an expert only leads to good things.”
  • 44:03 Aaron came in and said, “Specializing led me to growing an audience in the niche I was doing my most fulfilling work in, which was podcast editing and production. I became known as the go-to guy instead of just another guy who does a bunch of different things. My name became associated with the thing I was specializing in, which led to more work.” There’s so much power there. Brent, Emily, and Aaron talk about being the go-to person. When you think, “I need to get podcast editing done,” the first person that comes to your mind is Aaron, because he is the podcast editing guy.
  • 44:39 When I think, “I need to get merchandize made for my new band,” Brent is the guy. He’s going to solve my problem and get me exactly what I need. There is so much power in being known for one thing, because it’s going to build trust and make you show up in people’s minds when they think of the thing that they need and you specialize in.
  • 45:05 Kyle: It helps them comprehend you, to understand what you’re wanting. Maybe you don’t approach them for a service—maybe you buy products from them, but you understand what they want. You can tell that they’re going toward a certain thing, and it’s easier for people to support somebody they can tell is invested in a specific direction. You can say, “You continually do this thing. I understand what you want in life, and I want to support you in that.” Someone may want to partner with a brand, but if that brand says, “I love what I’m doing here, but I also really like this other thing, too,” it gives the perception that they’re not focused on that. It’s harder to partner with or invest in that person.

The amount of time you spend putting energy into becoming great at one thing is energy you’re not spending elsewhere.

  • 46:42 Cory: Imagine a set of scales and a pile of weights. On one side of the scale is the thing you want to specialize in, and on the other side is something else. If you put a weight in one side, it’s going to become very heavy on that side. If you put a weight on the other side, it will balance or wobble. If you put half of the weight on one side and half on the other, it’s going to balanced, but there is no significance on either side.
  • 47:37 Let’s say you took all of those weights and put them on one side. The weights represent energy, learning, skill, and everything that you’re doing. Put it all on one side, and it’s very apparent which is the stronger side. When you specialize in something, you are giving your time and energy to this one thing instead of learning about all the other things, which strengthens everything you are in that thing. Sean said in the chat, “Trust alone doesn’t enable arbitrary inflation.” You can’t just say, “You trust me, so I’m going to charge you more.” If you specialize, that enables you to provide a greater level of value than someone who was doing a lot of things.
  • 49:06 Kyle: In a previous episode, we talked about building a platform (Related: e016 There’s No Substitute For Your Own Platform). That’s a big piece of it. Imagine yourself standing on a platform and talking to people. I always imagine people standing on soap boxes talking about certain things. If that person talked about the same topic over and over, people would remember him when they see him and they would know what he was going to talk about. If he’s interesting, crowds might come around. They gather in the town square to listen to him talk. If he talks about politics one day and the next day he talks about what restaurant he wants to go to, people will say, “That’s the guy who stands there and rambles.”
  • 50:23 If he’s focused on something and he has a purpose, if he wants to project something, people will gather around him and they’ll be excited about that. That’s what specializing does for you. It brings what you’re passionate about and lets you have an audience and a voice through that thing.