If you’ve gotten to the point in your business where you’re ready to grow from a team of one, it can be an exciting, yet confusing, time. For some entrepreneurs, they may have no idea where to start, only knowing they can no longer handle all the work, all on their own. For others, they may realize they have a specific weakness or pain point and realize hiring an employee might be the solution they need.
And apart from figuring out exactly what you need, you need to figure out who you need. What kind of skills and qualities should they have? Do you need an experienced expert or would a keen beginner suffice? Will they have a specific skill set or help you out in a variety of aspects of your business?
This brings us to the generalist vs. specialist debate. Specialists usually possess great knowledge in a specific field or discipline, while generalists usually know “a little bit about a lot”. In recent years, specialists have become highly valued, earning bigger paycheques and often being fought over by large companies.
People cite the saying “jack of all trades, master of none”. But did you know the true saying actually goes, “Jack of all trades, master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one”? While often looked over, generalists bring with them the knowledge that spans disciplines, and are often good at connecting the dots and conceptualizing “the bigger picture”.
The decision to hire a generalist or specialist often depends on a few key factors. Below I outline what you should consider when making this key decision.
Size of your business
The size of your business plays a large role in your decision on who to hire. If you’re a corporation or medium to large sized business, you can usually afford to hire a large number of positions. You may be able to hire everyone from a content writer to an SEO specialist to an editor just to publish a single blog post.
But what if you’re a small business or a solopreneur? Most won’t have the budget to hire for a variety of positions nor will they have the time to be coordinating with a handful of people.
This is where the superpowers of a generalist come in. A generalist can help out smaller scale business with a variety of tasks. They may be able to jump from helping with their social media to designing a landing page to helping prepare for a launch or event. Generalists are usually quick on their feet and adept at learning new skills, which make them good fits for entrepreneurial environments.
Take a good look at your organization and budget and decide what would be a better fit.
Your pain points
Who you hire obviously depends on what you need. Do you absolutely hate admin or does tech stuff drive you bonkers? If you know you need help in lots of areas, a generalist is the best bet. If your business is growing and doing well, except you’re lacking growth in one key area, then you might want to search out a specialist.
By default, a lot of virtual assistants are generalists. They’ll offer general admin services, and maybe some online business support. However, many VA’s are now starting to specialize and “niche down”. You can find ConvertKit specialists, Bookkeeping experts, and Social Media Gurus. If there’s an exact software or skill you need help with, there’s probably a VA dedicated to servicing entrepreneurs in that department.
Some, such as myself, find themselves somewhere in between. I won’t do anything and everything, but offer a variety of service all within the same field. I focus on web design and online marketing, offering everything from WordPress services to social media to SEO.
You may find that a hybrid generalist-specialist virtual assistant is the best for you if you have a variety of tasks that require similar skills. I focus on services that require tech skills and creativity because those are my strong points.
If someone’s offering everything from helping out with tax returns to web design, they might be spreading themselves too thin. While VA’s are multi-talented and often multi-passionate, most can’t (and don’t want to) do absolutely everything.
Rather than overload your VA, spend some time getting clear on what tasks you’d like to outsource and your pain points as an entrepreneur.
Your own personality profile
Do you consider yourself a generalist or do you identify more as a specialist? Whichever you most identify with might help you decide what type of VA would be a good fit for you. Generalists and specialists often compliment one another, so consider this when building your first team.
Maybe you find it hard to stay on the ball and struggle with organization. In that case, it would pay to find a highly organized virtual assistant, someone who will schedule weekly meetings to make sure you’re on top of things. Or rather, maybe you’re good at planning but coming up with creative graphics and concepts for marketing seems impossible. In this situation, you’d prioritize finding someone with a wildly imaginative side.
Take a bit of time to not only think about your potential hire’s skills and knowledge, but also their personality and how you will work together.
There is no cookie-cutter approach to choosing your first hire. Everyone is going to need something different depending on their unique needs, what stage they are at in their business and their personality profile. Make sure to spend some time on this decision, as your first hire is one of the most important. It’s an honor for someone to get the opportunity to support you so early on in your business, you want to make sure you’ve chosen the right person for the job. Generalist or specialist, make sure the person you choose is invested in your business and is easy to get along with on a person to person level. Happy hiring!