Why you should start specializing in skills.
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While reading through marketing forums you often see questions on how to get a well paid job within a marketing career. Especially, when you just got your first job in digital marketing after graduating or you have been in marketing for only a few years or when you do marketing in a small business you will start asking yourself at one point: Is this it? You are young and ambitious, those $30k – $40k you are currently earning aren’t enough. What can you do to upskill yourself to eventually get paid more?
So now imagine being in your dream marketing role, earning a decent amount of money, which satisfies all your ambitions and the best thing: you got there in a relatively short period of time.
Sounds good, right? So here is a little secret: Rather than asking yourself simply how you can earn more you should ask yourself what you want to specialize in.
The reason why you should ask this is quite simple: You’ll earn a lot more specializing in something (and closely related areas) than you will by being a jack of all trades and a master of nothing. This might actually be also one of the reasons, why you might have the feeling that all the very successful people have been switching job so often. They are specializing their career even further by taking jobs, which fit their particular niche of expertise even better.
You should always be learning and you should always make sure your learning is targeted. When you know everything yet nothing you are easily replaceable because your value is that of a coordinator or project manager. However, if you specialize in a certain skill cluster (at the end of the day it does not really matter what you specialize in, there is demand for more or less every niche) you become more valuable because your labor is more specialized.
Furthermore transitioning out of being a generalist is difficult. Becoming a generalist is easy however becoming a specialist in an area takes time. Learning is a function of time. The older you get the more you will have learned. The people who specialize in certain fields will always get the better paying specialized jobs over somebody who spent his/her time being a generalist.
Put your yourself into the shoes of a potential employer: Would you rather hire someone who’s been specialized in a certain skill for years or someone who just used the skill only occasionally?
How to specialize
The “T-shaped employee” has been the go-to skill development framework for digital marketers in recent years.
Basically, a T-shaped employee is one that has broad knowledge of a lot of related topics, but deep expertise in only one specific field. For example a marketer might have a broad knowledge of email marketing, social media, ppc, copywriting etc.. However his one deep expertise is in marketing analytics, making him the irreplaceable go-to person in the company for Excel, data analysis and SQL.
While the t-shape framework is definitely a good approach as it suggests some specialization it has some flaws in my opinion.
First of all there is a difference between knowing and doing. A marketer might hit the checkboxes and know about all the different marketing areas and channels, but he actually has to be confident in using them as well. If he doesn’t act on all those potential roads, there is no benefit to his broad knowledge.
Second, the frameworks promotes quite a linear approach to skill development. It says you have to specialize in one pillar and once you have chosen a road you have to follow that road to the end (getting deeper expertise) without looking left and right. Which also leads to my third objection.
I don’t like how separated (event though overlapping) the different knowledge areas are from each other. Rather, in reality many of them will be closely related and beneficial from each other. E.g. somebody being good in writing content will definitely get some advantages from his deep expertise in SEO.
Because of these reasons I would rather suggest a cluster approach to skill development and specialization instead of the linear pillar approach of the t-shaped framework.
The cluster framework to skill specialization
As I said before you should not only learn just to check the boxes, but rather learn targeted things you will actually apply in your job or future position and which are related to your current area of expertise. So imagine you actually used Google Analytics before as part of a job requirement and liked working with it. You even liked it so much, that you want it to be a major part of your future career journey.
As such Google Analytics will be the center of your skill cluster and you could start looking what skills complement it. When Google Analytics is your data source, you also have to have the right skills to draw insights from it, you have to visualize data and you have to present the data in a way to convince other people. Google Sheets is a decent tool to generate insights and do some visualizations. Even better for visualizations is a dashboard tool such as Data Studio. An in order to present your data and insights properly and to convince your uppers for decision making you decide to become a master of slide design in Google Slides.
So now your stack is Google Analytics + Google Sheets + Google Data Studio + Google Slides. Your skill cluster quickly became larger and deeper. Suddenly you do not only have a specialized and deep expertise in analytics but you are also a specialist in Google Cloud apps and how they work together. All making you more valuable.
So what’s next? Even if you got the data sourcing, analysis and presentation covered you might want to dive deeper into one of those areas. Maybe you even decided to become a proper data analyst. So after a few months of dedicated learning and problem solving, you want to dive deeper into the business intelligence area. Maybe you pick up R. Or Python. And you start doing real data projects.
As you see you start building your personal brand and presenting yourself as someone, who is specialized in something. In above case you are not just a mess of marketer who knows 10% about everything and 90% about nothing, but the go-to guy for data crunching.
Obviously above is only an example, but the cluster building process in other areas of expertise is the same. E.g., if you like SEO you could center your stack around that and complement it with content writing and lead capturing in order to become an expert in organic user acquisition. Or, if you like design you could start with Photoshop skills and extend your skill cluster by learning some html or css to be more flexible.
My personal cluster centers around data-driven skills. Based on my framework for marketing data analysis skill development I’ll write a future guide and checklist on what to do exactly to develop a data-driven marketing skill set. So be sure to check back.
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