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The 3 common reasons professionals stop their career progression by refusing to specialise

Heather Townsend, author of The Go-To Expert and How to make partner and still have a life, explores in this article the three reasons why professionals stop their career progression by resisting becoming a sector or technical specialist.

For the next few months to celebrate the launch this week of our next book The Go-To Expert‘, (get the first chapter free here), I will be blogging fairly regularly, including extracts from The Go-To Expert, about topics to help you become The Go-To Expert and build a partner sized client portfolio.

In this week’s blog post we are going to look at why so many professionals resist becoming the Go-To Expert.

1. Worried about turning business or work down

As a junior professional in a firm it makes sense to be a generalist. After all, you want to get booked on as many jobs as possible. However as your charge out rate rises, you need to be able to justify your higher price. This is why it becomes easier to be assigned to work or pick up work as a specialist or ‘Go-To Expert’. As a specialist in a specific area, your marketing will be optimised to attract the right sort of clients – the ones that you really want to work with and find rewarding in more than just the fiscal sense. What would you do if somebody else approached you? You would decide if you had the capacity to take them on, or not. You don’t have to turn them away; you just don’t market to them.

Many professionals worry that if they adopt a niche then they will alienate their existing clients who don’t belong within that niche. Remember that your marketing is not aimed at your existing clients, just the new ones that you want to win. If you are delivering a great or even extraordinary level of service, your existing clients probably wouldn’t care less about your niche. However, you may find that to deliver the right level of service to the niche clients, you need to exit some older clients.

2. A real fear of boredom if they specialise

I have just started work with an ex-coaching client. When I first worked with him he was resisting deciding whether to just focus on transfer pricing OR international tax work. He liked the variety of both types of work. Fast-forward now 7 years he has been promoted from manager to director (on partnership track) and is a transfer pricing specialist for a Big 4 firm. It just goes to show how committing to a specialism rather than hedging your bets can accelerate your career.

Similar to my client, the common arguments go like this:

  • I like the variety that being a jack-of-all-trades brings me.
  • I started my firm to get a greater variety of work and enjoy myself more. If I niche I will only get one type of client and that means I won’t be as happy.
  • If I am to get allocated to more clients at work I need a broader skill set to be more appealing to the managers and partners resourcing the client’s work.

This is a very real fear. Your long-term success depends on being clear on what you want, emotionally as much as (if not more than) financially. But then think a bit more. Variety comes from the people you have as clients, more so than the topic you have chosen as your niche.

A niche is about marketing and profile building. It’s about focus and allowing you to have marketing that is very attractive, versus marketing that doesn’t really speak to anybody. It’s about being an obvious choice for people in that niche. That leads to you becoming the Go-To-Expert for your marketplace.

3. Not sure what to do to become the Go-To Expert

Understandably, if you don’t know how to become the Go-To Expert, then is it any wonder that you decide not to go down that route?

In our experience the best way to find out whether a strategy is right for you is to do your research. How about starting your research with buying a copy of ‘The Go-To Expert?’ (read a free chapter here)

Download our free six page guide, from our career kitbag, containing 13 tips to help you accelerate your career at a Big 4 firm

Author Credit

GTE thumbnail_100Heather Townsend helps professionals become the The Go-To Expert. She is the author of the  award winning and best-selling book on business networking, the ‘FT Guide To Business Networking’ and the co-author of ‘How to make partner and still have a life’, and ‘The Go-To Expert’. Over the last decade she has worked with over 300 partners; coached, trained and mentored over 2000 professionals at every level of the UK’s most ambitious professional practices.

Heather blogs regularly at How to make partner and still have a life and works with future and current Big 4 partners and professionals from mid-tier firms all over the world

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