Skill Sets vs. Social Networks

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As a freelance designer I spend plenty of time reading posts and articles about how to best serve current or potential clients. I find that soaking up the wisdom of great designers matches beautifully with my charming demeanor and humble nature resulting in the happiest clients on the internet. One topic I have observed a divide in, is how to best serve a client who has a project that requires more than one skill set ( whether they know it or not). To me there are 2 solutions to this problem.

Mad(ly diverse) Skills

The first approach is a “Jack of all trades” solution.

“Have a project that requires design AND development? Thats fine, I do both.”

Yes, the first option is to just learn every skill you plan on using and offer it all up front. If someone comes along needing a project that requires the use of something that is not yet strapped to your tool belt you either decide to send them along their way or perhaps use their project as an opportunity to expand your knowledge base. After all, if you are going to advertise yourself as a web designer you should have a mastery of the web right?

This strategy is not an inherently good or bad one. Your success in pulling this sort of thing off depends entirely on you. Maybe you carve out a niche as someone who develops themes for some of the most popular Content Management Systems, maybe you develop interfaces for iPhone and Blackberry apps. A lot of people have made good livings doing things like this. The particularly smart and motivated have a real opportunity to smash through all sorts of design and development niches and truly take on a diverse array of projects, most likely while making a lot of money doing it.

But why doesn’t everyone jump on this bandwagon? Simply enough, not everyone can. There are plenty of immensely talented people in this world who have not been blessed with the ability to learn quickly. Similarly many people are inherently right or left brained, making it hard to jump the gap between design and development. So how does this group avoid clients bailing out on them?

Social Butterfly’s

Well these people have friends, most likely because they aren’t stuck in front of the computer 13 hours a day pressing their forehead directly to the screen for quicker knowledge absorption.

So if a client comes to Jane looking for both design and development skills Jane can say, “Great! I love design and you should talk to Phil! He’s my BFF and the most awesomest web developer ever.”

Now Jane, Phil, and the client are all happy, if your doing the math that’s 50% more people pleased than Mr. Skillz above.

Yes, finding counterparts to help you with projects can be a great way to stick with the things that you really love ( or you hate but your really good at ) but not worry about project requests that sit outside your skill scope. If your relationship with your fellow professionals goes well you can expect them to return the favor whenever they are in need of your skills. For plenty of us this is the way to go, specialization is how we all got to be so civilized anyway right? Otherwise we would all be nomads chasing giant animals around the world as they searched for greener grass or something.

If you fall into this category but struggling with how to find some work partners check out Amber Weinberg’s recent post on working with other freelancers.

So what’s it going to be? Which method works best for you and why?

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