Personal Branding Tips: Generalist vs. Specialist

What is the difference between a generalist and a specialist, and why does that difference matter in your personal branding efforts? As you will see, the difference between branding yourself as a specialist instead of a generalist can literally be the difference between the success and failure of your business.

A generalist, quite simply, is somebody that is good at many things. In the context of our discussion, a generalist would be a professional with many specialties. For instance, a lawyer whose practice areas include criminal law, family law, business law, and tax law is a classic generalist. Another example would be a financial planner who dabbles in retirement planning, business consulting, tax services, and investments.

A specialist, on the other hand, is focused on a core specialty. An personal income tax advisor, a Volkswagen mechanic, a divorce attorney—these are specialists.

Which is better for business purposes? Many people think that it is best to be a generalist—because then you can attract a wider range of clients. The lawyer we used in our first example could bring in all sorts of business—those facing criminal charges, businesses, individuals pursuing divorce. On the other hand, our specialist lawyer would only attract those considering divorce. Clearly, it’s better to appeal to many people than to appeal to only a few, right?


It’s better to do one thing, and to do it well, than to dabble in a wide variety of services. To understand why this is the case, put yourself in a customer’s shoes. Let’s say you need to speak to a retirement planner. You have two choices—planner A is a generalist. He does a bit of everything, from corporate consulting to tax preparation. Planner B is a specialist who works exclusively with retirees and those planning for retirement. Everything else being equal, which planner will you choose? Clearly planner B, right? Because he is an expert in precisely the service that you need, whereas planner A juggles so many different services that he cannot possibly be as knowledgeable when it comes to retirement planning.

What does this mean for your branding efforts? It means you need to zero in on your core services and eliminate everything else. (Note: this doesn’t mean you can’t ever do work outside of your area of expertise—it just means those additional services should not be part of your brand.) Branding yourself as a “business consultant” is too broad. Instead, brand yourself as a marketing consultant for small law firms, or a management consultant for large construction firms. The key is to specialize—and then to become known as the expert in your specific specialty. When you do this, your target customers will be naturally attracted to you. You will not have to go door-to-door looking for any type of work you can get—you’ll have customers knocking on your door looking for the expertise that only you can provide.

As you are working on your personal branding plan, never forget the importance of establishing yourself as a specialist, not a generalist. With time, you will find that it is easier to attract business than you ever would have imagined. Resist the urge to be a jack-of-all-trades… brand yourself as a specialist.