Generalist vs. Specialist, Part Two: FREE Webinar September 17th!

Back in July on this blog, we explored the age-old issue for commercial freelancers: In my commercial copywriting business, should I be a generalist or a specialist? (Read it here).

And when economic times are tough, it takes on even more importance. Which strategy is better in tight times? we ask. Well, grab a seat and join the debate here.

I’ve been a generalist since Day One and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Love the variety, the access to a potentially much wider range of clients and for a bunch of other reasons. Marketing brochures, ad copy, newsletters, direct mail, sales sheets, case studies, speeches, video scripts, sales letters, landing page copy, headlines, tag lines, slogans, naming, book titling. The list goes on and on, and for a soup-to-nuts industry spectrum of companies.

I’ll fully admit that specialists who truly set themselves apart in their niche will likely make more money than me, and that’s just fine. I’d be a very unhappy camper if I had to do the same kind of project or write for the same kind of industry all the time.

Sort of like the guy who’s told by his doctor that if he doesn’t quit smoking, drinking and eating rich foods (all the stuff he enjoys), he’s only got 5 years to live, and but he’s got 10 if he cuts out all those bad things. And he decides, heck, I don’t WANT to live five years longer if I can’t enjoy those things.

Anyway, we’re not done with the Generalist/Specialist debate – literally and figuratively. I invite you to join yours truly, Peter Bowerman, Mr. Generalist – who’s made a most comfortable living writing for clients across the spectrum for going on 16 years – and Mr. Specialist, Michael Stelzner – who’s done pretty darn well focusing exclusively on white papers for many years – in a lively debate.

Thursday, September 17 at 3:00 EST for an hour. Be there.

There’s no charge for the event, but you need to register here to join us. Can’t join us? Register anyway and we’ll send you the recording!

We’ll debate the pros and cons of both sides (AND take your questions). And when we’re done, you’ll have the inside scoop on which path makes the most sense for you and your circumstances…

Don’t miss it!

15 replies
  1. Mele
    Mele says:

    Hi Peter,

    I am so looking forward to this friendly debate!

    I think this decision goes way beyond money and project preferences. You really have to know what will motivate you to put in the work and not throw in the towel if things get a little sticky.

    A few months ago I listened to an audio-book written by a woman who specializes in understanding personalities. I expected to hear the same old thing, then was shocked when she described ME in a way I had never heard before.

    I’d learned that I have a Creative personality (not limited to writers and artists–in fact not all writers and artists are Creatives in this context).

    According to the author, it is unlikely for a Creative to perform ABOVE average if she doesn’t enjoy the work. If she’s having a ball, the work product will be Superior, most likely. Creative entrepreneurs who start certain businesses just for the money often fail early in the process of building their business. Why? Because they throw in the towel when things get just a little rough. They just don’t enjoy the work enough to work through the tough times.

    A plug for your mentoring service: You gave me the best advice when you suggested that I try different writing projects to decide which I’d enjoy the most(could you have known that I was a Creative Being?!). Through that process, I learned to ask myself two questions:

    Which writing project/s will motivate me to study my craft, be fearless in marketing my services, and willing to put up with bad clients all because I love the work so much?

    Once I’d answered that question, I looked at whether I could make a good living if I specialized in any one of them. I think I have that answer. Still…there’s something to be said for Generalists surviving better in a tough economy. This is why I can’t wait to hear more of what you have to say!

  2. Mele
    Mele says:

    Hi Michael,

    It’s actually an audio lecture series. It’s called “How to Deal with Difficult, Diverse and Different People”, by Barbara Braunstein. A client lent it to me to help prepare for a seminar I was presenting for them.

    A seminar participant came up to me and said that he now understood why one of his subordinates went from being a stellar employee to a lousy producer (he moved the guy to a new position in a different department). Hopefully Ms. Braunstein and I helped save the employee from getting the boot.

  3. Brian Westbye
    Brian Westbye says:

    CAGE MATCH!!!!

    This should be a great time! I will unfortunately be returning to the cube after a six day weekend on Thursday, but looking forward to catching it after the fact. Have a blast!

  4. Peter Bowerman
    Peter Bowerman says:

    Thanks to all – looking forward to it as well. Course, I’ve got to smile at the pro wrestling overtones that this thing has taken on. Part of the marketing, I guess… 😉

    And Mele, I LOVE what you wrote here, so much so in fact, that i plan to work it into the webinar on Thursday (with attribution, of course…). I think you zero in on some key issues here and in a very succinct and effective way. AND I’m delighted that my advice to try different projects worked out for you. needless to say, it’s crucially important to understand the kind of person you are. Thanks again for weighing in!


  5. Dan McCarthy
    Dan McCarthy says:

    Writing after the event here… A good debate all around, and great questions. My takeaway (more inferred, than heard), is that choosing to be generalist vs specialist should be a personal choice, not a marketing strategy.

    That conclusion contradicts the point of the debate a bit. But to casually drop a Shakespeare allusion, neither path is better except thinking makes it so. What matters is that you’re passionate and committed to the path you choose because, brother, writing for money ain’t always easy, and writing about something in which you lack interest is a short path to failure.

    Bottom line (and, I’m sure, not uncoincidentally the underlying point of the Copywriting Success Summit): The best approach is to first decide what path will get you out of bed in the morning, and then learn which marketing tools are more appropriate to the path you’ve chosen. (WARNING – Shameless Plug: I just blogged about this)

  6. Michael D. Scully
    Michael D. Scully says:


    I don’t know whether your “takeaway” conclusion contradicts the point of the debate at all. The point of the debate, it seems to me, was simply to address the question, in turn from the point of view from two people who have done quite well, each in a different way.

    My perception is that the bottom line (if there was any) was this:

    “You should *consider* being a generalist IF…”


    “You should *consider* specializing IF…”

    Of course, that sounds a lot like:

    “You *might* be a redneck IF…”

    But never mind that. 😉

    I trained as an E-Myth coach some time ago. The first thing I learned — and anyone who really read the book would have gotten this also — is that the purpose of your business is to serve and support your life. Your business exists to serve you, not the other way around. Of course, your business succeeds by serving other people, so there is a bit of a paradox.

    It comes down to your (implicit) question: What gets you out of bed in the morning? There has to be something in the “doing” itself that excites you. There’s no way around it for us, since a freelance writing business isn’t something you can build so that it can operate without you having to “work IN it” every day. (I mean, you could do that, but then you wouldn’t be a writer, you’d be a business builder. And most of us here want to write.)

    There are trade-offs. There are advantages to each, and each one of us has to choose. So I think your “bottom line” is absolutely correct.

    I see no contradiction.

    Alas, your Shakespearean allusion is dead-on (to use another British expression). Alas, there’s the rub.

  7. Michael D. Scully
    Michael D. Scully says:

    “…in turn from the point of view from two people who done quite well…”

    Ah, I meant…

    “from two people who HAVE done quite well.”

    Sorry about that.

  8. Peter Bowerman
    Peter Bowerman says:

    Michael, I just fixed your original comment and was about to delete your correction comment, but then realized there were a few follow-on comments to THAT! So, I left them all in… 😉

    I’m with you 100% and think I drove that home pretty well in the debate. It should never be about the money, but about enjoying what you’re doing. If you’re not, you really are little better than a salaried employee in cubicle hell..


  9. Katherine Andes
    Katherine Andes says:

    Hi All, I missed the debate. Is it available for download? So far I’m playing both sides of the fence in terms of arenas in which I work. I simply state that I work “especially in the field of …” That seems to work well for attracting those clients, yet leaves the door open for others. Right now I’m working in a field I never dreamed I could write for, and it quite enjoyable.

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