PeoplePerHour founder Xenios Thrasyvoulou tells us all about hyperspecialists
Xenios Thrasyvoulou – Founder of peopleperhour.com
The freelancing economy has swelled impressively within the past decade. With the internet closing gaps between professionals, it’s enabled us to pick up our most treasured or unusual skill and actually make a full living from it, creating a new breed of freelancer – the hyperspecialist has arrived.
One of the biggest benefits of freelance and working for brands is actually the dramatic increase in productivity. This increase in productivity is driven by two key factors: hyperspecialisation and accountability. The first is the breaking down of traditional generalist roles into smaller ones and hiring people that are experts in that specific area. The second comes from the transformation of the employer-employee relationship to one that is based on a client-service provider model. Many big brands wouldn’t think twice about hiring an agency for its advertising work, for example, so think of freelancers as microagencies that you can hire to do specific tasks done effectively, seamlessly and fast.
A hyperspecialist doesn’t just have the top qualifications and experience you’d want from a contact, but goes further and claims to specialise in a really complicated pocket of it. Email newsletter designers, photo resizers and Twitter background designers, for example. Someone already within a specialist industry who’s then gone on to find an even more confusing or innovative pocket of it and mastered that, too.
Thomas Malone pondered the evolution of specialisation in a 2011 article (bit.ly/1woEqC2). He predicts that hyperspecialism will soon become common practice, specifically that “Just as people in the early days of industrialisation saw single jobs (such as a pin makers) transformed into many jobs (Adam Smith observed 18 separate steps in a pin factory), we will now see knowledge-worker jobs – salesperson, secretary, engineer – atomise into complex networks of people all over the world performing highly specialised tasks.”
Although, don’t be taken in. Everything that you don’t understand and someone else does may seem like a specialty – like when you tried to teach your dad how to text. But remember; just because something seems complicated doesn’t make it a specialty. It may be a generational, regional or even a personal difference in tastes or experiences that puts an ability beyond your reach. However, that doesn’t mean that other person’s skillset constitutes a specialty.
For other examples of a hyperspecialist in wolf’s clothing, look at how many people that you know who are ‘professional photographers’ now? Or are fluent in multiple languages? The availability of the technology, software and training for such skills does not a specialist make. Talent and aptitude still stands for something, after all.
There are, however, a huge number of these hyperspecialists who have become the lifeblood of many organisations. It’s all about knowing where to find them. They want the work, of course, but how to connect the two of you? They may already be within your network of contacts, but haven’t thought to mention that they happen to have the experience you need, as it is just that niche. Word of mouth is another way to find someone highly specialised in an specific area who comes highly recommended by a contact.
That begs the question – why hire someone when you may have the talent in house? The answer is this – wise division of labour. Look at the car manufacturing industry; different parts all made separately and then fitted together saves big bucks. Hyperspecialists equal efficiency, making the time spent finding and farming out the tasks to these people well worth it. And although they may also work for your competitors, this is moot with a true professional. This simply means they are in the know, with fresh ideas and knowledge or best practice for your business.
For example, take the job specifications of the role of ‘head of design’. Generically, these would be web design, product design and design of external communications. To take this new approach to outsourcing, you would hire a hyperpecialised freelancer to take on each individual role, a few hours per week each, leaving them to focus on the task in hand for best results.
It’s also about attitude. Even though a freelancer may have the same skills, work the same hours and in the same ways, something magical happens when you turn an employer-employee relationship into one where you are the customer. It creates a complete shift for the worker, from the ‘my boss told me so’ mindset to one of ‘how can I please my client’ so that he or she remains your client, and even refer you to new clients. Creating this atmosphere of accountability and making myself the customer has been the key to my success, not just in the time I’ve saved but also the quality of work and, thus, my reputation and brand has strengthened.
It’s time to stop letting general practitioners poke at your precious tasks. Start changing your technique and find hyperspecialists to build your business – become the puppeteer that pulls it all together.