Finding out what you’re good at

Sep 10, 2018

It seems to me that one of the keys to being a really successful design professional is figuring out what you are really good at and doing more of it. No one is good at everything – or, at least, very few are. So you have to specialize.

Some of us resist this idea. We don’t want to be “pigeon-holed” or unduly restricted. We get bored easily. We are creative. We like to learn new things. There’s nothing wrong with that, but:

  1. The market doesn’t reward lack of specialization. It doesn’t matter whether you are talking about doctors, lawyers, management consultants (ahem!), architects, planners, or engineers – the specialists are the ones who always get paid more. They are in shorter supply and (theoretically) aren’t learning at the clients’ expense.
  2. It is hard (if not impossible) to market yourself to the whole world. This is something few people in business consider, but it is extremely crucial. When your group of potential buyers for what you are selling is small and super well-defined, marketing is as simple as building a complete list and then hammering away on that audience through dozens of different methods and channels. When it is large and ill-defined, it gets very expensive to reach anyone!
  3. You can specialize and still keep learning. Your learning is just more relevant. This one always gets me. If your knowledge base is deep versus shallow and a mile wide, you will have to learn to keep up. Or you won’t be seen as a specialist any longer.
  4. You HAVE to be creative to be successful as a specialist. Just because you work with the same types of clients or facility types doesn’t mean you want to do the same thing or do it the same way every time. Do it better. Do it so that it differentiates you and demonstrates your real value to the client. Creativity is lacking in our business but not because of specialization.
  5. Everything is going to get a lot more efficient when you specialize. Doing something over and over – working with the same clients repeatedly – that’s how you learn what people really want, and that’s how you can get to where you can anticipate problems before they occur. That makes life easier and makes your projects much more efficient.

There’s nothing wrong with these things, either. If you hear people talking around the coffee pot that your services are or are becoming a commodity – you’d better think long and hard about why that’s the case. I’ll bet you’ll find that a lack of specialization is at the core of your problem!

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.