What's so special about specialists?

I admire specialists, yet I choose not to be one.
In our business there are many avenues to specialise in: search, social media, usability, analytics, apps, design, development, but none of these are much good on their own. Each ‘speciality’ has an intrinsic link with all the others. And it’s often seen to be the ‘right’ path to go down for digital freelancers.
But search is no good without usability, social media useless without analytics, so there is plenty of room for those like Canary Dwarf who choose to generalise and provide a one-stop shop for everything web. In fact, we even spread our wings (no pun intended!) a little further as we often integrate online marketing with offline media, such as PR and print design, both of which we have a background in.
Big projects with big budgets can justify bringing in a team of specialists, or an agency which can manage them, but what about small businesses with small budgets?
Apart from the economics of doing just that, many agencies won’t entertain low-budget projects.
Small businesses need someone who can understand the whole digital process, and provide a cost-effective solution.
As a percentage, a small business marketing budget may be identical to that of a large business. But in hard cash, it’s a lot smaller and there’s zero room for slack, and that’s where small agencies that generalise can bring more to the party, and by their very nature, are more likely to understand the needs and constraints of other small businesses.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-Robert A. Heinlein, science fiction author

Being a generalist does run the risk of being labelled the cliched ‘jack of all trades’, but a mechanic is not a jack of all trades, neither is a lawyer, a baker, a chemist. All these have to have a broad range of skills to meet their customers’ needs.
The benefits for the client are:

  • They get one price for a complete job.
  • The people that do the work, all work together, all the time
  • There’s no politics to work around

For an agency like ours which doesn’t specialise:

  • We get to understand the client better by handling everything
  • We don’t have to budget for and pay specialists for ordinary jobs
  • We can see the client’s ‘big picture’

Small business owners know what they want, they want more business from their website. They see statistics everywhere that say mobile’s booming, social media’s taking over the world, this trend and that trend are the ‘next big thing’.

Specialists taking a break
How many specialists does it take?

But addressing a niche in isolation rarely fixes the problem. We’re back to the reasoning that not addressing the big picture is not addressing the wider problem.
At Canary Dwarf, we’ve staunchly maintained that generalising helps smaller businesses by being able to view their whole process. If we specialised in, say, social media, we couldn’t offer the insight into search, ecommerce, usability and analytics that we do by having an umbrella approach. We know that nearly 100% of the people who ask for search engine optimisation, almost certainly have more important issues to fix first.
Being able to see the big picture means we are in a position to appoint a specialist if one is required.
But customers are seeking out assistance from ‘gurus’ and ‘experts’ without addressing core problems with website functionality or marketing strategies.
Some of our customers have come to us after paying for costly specialist help and having got no results.
Ultimately, there is no right or wrong, there is work for specialists who make the effort to know their product or market inside out, and there is work for generalists who can provide an all-round service for smaller businesses.
What business owners need to know is that their money is being spent wisely, that an investment is being returned, and that the advise they are given is relevant and realistic.