How specialisation and collaboration can transform your creative practice
Mailchimp & Co’s 2023 Benchmark Report offers valuable insights into these two important facets of freelance life.
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For freelancers everywhere, the question of whether to specialise or generalise in your work can be a difficult one. On the one hand, the job market has never been more expansive, with new industries and positions springing up all the time, suggesting that a broad skill set is desirable. But on the other, the huge amounts of competition for those positions means that specialising can feel like the right thing to do to separate yourself from the crowd. In recent years, many freelancers – particularly designers – have gone with the former, choosing to widen their offerings as a way of enticing clients and showing that they’re up to speed with the latest developments. However, a new report by Mailchimp & Co suggests that specialising can not only bring in more work, but can also make that work more profitable.
According to the Mailchimp & Co Benchmark Report 2023, “you’re nearly twice as likely to achieve an increase in revenue of 26 per cent or more if you have a clear area of expertise.” Equally, 32 per cent of specialist freelancers responding to Mailchimp & Co’s survey reported experiencing faster growth compared to 12 per cent of freelancers who offered similar services but did not specialise. Clearly, it pays to know your niche, and the old adage “a jack of all trades is a master of none” may well apply here.
Another good thing about specialising is that – though it may narrow your offerings – it provides a chance to widen your network. Another hot topic in the freelancing world is collaboration – when to do it, how to do it and who to do it with. Working with other freelancers can be both a daunting and exciting prospect, and Mailchimp & Co’s report identified this issue as one of the most recurring debates amongst self-employed workers around the world. In the creative industry, collaboration is a common feature of working life, but not everyone understands the full range of benefits that can be reaped from making it part of their practice.
In fact a mere 21 per cent of respondents reported working with other freelancers to deliver client work on a frequent basis, while 33 per cent said that they do everything themselves, and 46 per cent said they collaborate only occasionally. This means that nearly 80 per cent of freelancers are missing out on opportunities to grow their network, work with their friends and peers, and get a helping hand on briefs which may feel out of their grasp. But what can reaching out bring them?
You’re nearly twice as likely to achieve an increase in revenue of 26 per cent or more if you have a clear area of expertise.The 2023 Mailchimp & Co Benchmark Report
This is especially relevant when a client has a very specific brief in mind – if they know that you can bring more in-depth knowledge and experience to the job than your peers, you’re likely to win the work. In fact, the report shows that responding freelancers who reported having a specialisation “were more likely to achieve higher conversion rates of 61 per cent and above than freelancers who kept their offerings the same or expanded their services.” This might be because specialists are able to offer better quality of work, but it might also simply be because they can market themselves more efficiently, driving home their aptitude in their respective areas rather than trying to cover too many different bases.
Finally, higher incomes were more common among specialists than generalists, with 64 per cent of the former reporting that they earned over $25K last year, compared to just 43 per cent of the latter. So this means, while more freelancers (27 per cent) said that they recently broadened their offerings, those who did the opposite ended up taking more money home at the end of the day. This includes Mailchimp pro partner and co-founder of Westfield Creative, Emily Ryan, who says: “Niching down has been the greatest business decision we’ve made since starting email marketing over eight years ago.”
Freelancers who reported outsourcing tasks like answering phones and marketing were most likely to say they enjoy a healthy work-life balance.The 2023 Mailchimp & Co Benchmark Report
Well, surprisingly, extra profit. 45 per cent of respondents who say they “often work with other freelancers reported billing over $50K in revenue last year, compared to just 21 per cent of those who say they did all the client work themselves”. So, not only are they lightening the load by shifting some of it onto other shoulders, but they’re actually making more money by doing so. It seems counterintuitive, but the truth is that bringing other minds into the mix means that briefs which may be unachievable by yourself – whether due to skill or time restraints – are suddenly a cinch.
Beyond opening up new work opportunities, frequent collaboration can also create a better relationship to work in general. In the report, the Mailchimp team says: “We discovered that responding freelancers who reported outsourcing tasks like answering phones and marketing were most likely to say they enjoy a healthy work-life balance.” It goes without saying that bringing in helping hands gives you more time to focus on things outside of work. Plus, it creates a healthy cycle where this newfound downtime helps you to relax and recharge, boosting your mood and, ultimately, your earnings (“45 per cent of those who say they outsourced some work reported earning more than they did in their salaried roles, compared to the 29 per cent who say they kept all of their work in-house.”)
And this way of working is beginning to grow! 52 per cent of responding freelancers reported outsourcing at least one task, up from 39 per cent last year, and the most common among these tasks were bookkeeping (24 per cent), marketing and promotion (14 per cent), and administration (12 per cent). Equally, of the freelancers who are running bigger businesses and experiencing faster growth, 42 per cent said that they needed assistance and would consider hiring someone. This is good news for those looking for more work and to grow their businesses. Clearly, it pays to collaborate, and the Benchmark Report 2023 shows that, for those willing to share a slice of the pie, many benefits await.
To explore more of Mailchimp & Co’s findings, and to download the report, head over to the website to sign up.
About the Author
Daniel joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in February 2019 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. He graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Journalism in 2015. He is also co-founder and editor of SWIM, an annual art and photography publication.