When I started creating websites for small businesses in 2000, the Internet was just starting to gain real traction and websites were seen more as a value-add than as a necessity. It was hard to find clients in those days; I would work with any business that was willing to pay me a few hundred bucks to create a couple web pages about their business. My first web development client was a property management company. As I made more contacts, I started to do sites for bars and restaurants in the Iowa City area.
The more sites I developed the more I realized that I really enjoyed making websites for restaurants and bars. I began to understand these businesses’ unique pain points (online staff scheduling, drink and food specials, etc.), and became more adept at addressing them in my site development. My specialized knowledge resulted in fewer reworks and happier customers. Thus, I began to charge more for hospitality industry websites.
What I didn’t realize until much later in my career was that I had naturally begun to specialize in a vertical market.
What’s a vertical market?
A vertical market is a “market in which vendors offer goods and services specific to an industry, trade, profession, or other group of customers with special needs.” As a web pro, the hospitality industry was my vertical market. Other pros specialize in verticals like real estate, education, finance, healthcare or technology.
So why specialize (besides the awesome side effect of much happier customers)? My top three reasons for specializing in vertical markets boil down to businesses’ affinity for doing business with suppliers who know their specific industry.
Establish credibility faster
Whereas a generalist web professional learns a few things about myriad industries, a specialist learns as much as possible about his or her target vertical. With every website, you’ll learn more about a particular industry as a whole -- and those lessons will add up quickly. You can integrate your specialized knowledge into the marketing copy on your own website, blog about it, and soon you’ll be radiating credibility.
Get more referrals
There are trade organizations for almost any industry, and members of those industries tend to communicate with each other about best practices and supplier preferences. In the case of web development and design, you’re a supplier. As you do a fantastic job for a particular client, they’ll be more likely to mention a specialist in their industry rather than a generic development company. Make sure to encourage recommendations at the close of every job well done.
Make more money
People pay for specialists, so focus on your strengths. A plumber usually makes more than a handyman, and a brain surgeon usually banks more than a general practitioner. As a web developer or designer, you should think no differently about your craft. A web professional who develops websites exclusively for casinos will be hired by other casinos more often and will most certainly earn more money per site as a result. As a specialist, you know what the business wants, and they know that they’ll get a high-quality, thoughtful product from you.
How will you specialize to command more revenue and provide more value? If you currently specialize, is there a benefit I forgot to mention? Let me know about it in the Comments below or @ifyouwillit.