Make Yourself Irreplaceable with a Limited Skillset


Not all of us designers are a Jack-(or Jill)-of-all-trades. Some of us have that one thing we are really good at and we are okay at other things. We might be great web designers, but our coding skills are just sub par. In the design business, we can get discouraged easily, because clients and companies look for people who are well versed in their skill set. Also, job titles are becoming more and more comprehensive, but don’t fear. If you don’t have it all, there are some steps you can take to make yourself irreplaceable.

Look for Help

Let’s get personal for a moment: I am a print and web designer and that’s honestly about it, and to be honest, I prefer print over web design. It takes me hours to code, I get frustrated and if it doesn’t go right the first time, my troubleshooting skills are non existent. Fortunately for me, when I got a client who was interested in web design, I almost always had to turn them down because my coding skills just weren’t up to par. I’m sure I ended up losing out on decent money and clients because once you can’t help someone out as best as they need, they end up dropping you.

Eventually, I got tired of passing up on opportunities. I needed a partner and I needed one quick. So I wandered over to Craigslist and put up an ad about who and what I was looking for. I got about 20 interested people from just posting in two different cities (not the big ones, either), checked everyone out and made a decision. I actually ended up finding someone I liked, met with him and the rest is history.

My point is, if you don’t have a certain skill and you find your clients are looking for that skill often, just find a partner or outsource. Not only did I hook up with a web developer, I found a videographer as well and now I don’t have to turn down a lot of work. You’d be surprised how many people are looking for partners and are as like-minded as you may be.  Having a partner doesn’t just mean more opportunities, but it means less work on your plate. I don’t have to go crazy about troubleshooting coding any more, I can actually get started with the next client. So hit up Craigslist or some other ad websites, or just get into some good networking and get yourself a partner or two.

Go Above and Beyond

This is a very cliché statement, but it’s a very true statement. We can assume that most of the people looking for your work are not people who can do your work and are oftentimes people who don’t understand the work that you do. You can capitalize off this by making sure your client understands your work process and what you are doing. Going into consultations and meetings with nothing they can see is never good. Really make a huge presentation about their work so they understand you mean business. Don’t reveal too much information but try to get them to understand the amount of work you’ve done so they can understand the quality as well.

Going above and beyond doesn’t just have to be design related either. If you can get more information from the client about the company and what the designs may be used for, perhaps you can share some knowledge with the client. I try to get information on marketing techniques, audiences and upcoming events so I can lend a hand. Make sure it’s cool first, but perhaps come up with some marketing and promotional ideas and submit them to the client. If the client likes them that could mean more work for you via the submitted ideas or because the client sees you have taken an active interest in helping them. For you it may not be marketing and promotional ideas, but it may be a potential brochure or site redesign or just letting them know the benefits of different technologies. Don’t just treat the client as a means to work, but take an interest and work with them like you work there. Everyone always wants more bang for their buck, just think of different ways you can do so.

Relationships are Key

Networking is one thing but having a professional relationship with a client can be so much more rewarding than just exchanging business cards. Treat your client like you would treat a good friend and they will at least consider you first. Everyone has to understand that designers and clients are humans and respond to human emotions. How flattered do you get when a friend sends you a Christmas card? How neat do you think it would be to get one from a client?

Doing things like sending cards and updates creates more of a personal connection with a client. It also keeps you fresh on their mind. Make it known to them that they matter to you. Remember things about them to talk about during meetings. Some clients feel more of a connection by talking on the phone rather than through e-mail or Skype. The little things really matter with people. Be genuine and don’t go overboard (and creepy) with it. After all being successful isn’t necessarily about how many people you know but how many people you have relationships with.

Exploit Your Niche

Your limited skill set can be the very thing that makes you extremely different from others. The truth is, when you can typically focus in on a niche to the point of being an expert, you can really bring a lot of attention to yourself. For example, if you are a print designer and you want to exploit your niche, you can create solutions and new trends in print design that really put you at the forefront of that niche. By branding and having a good marketing strategy, you can end up being a print design guru.

Setting yourself up as an expert of a particular niche can really get you a loyal client base because they believe in you and your expertise. Write articles and e-books about your niche to really push the point that you are an expert and know exactly what you’re talking about. On your business card, instead of it saying ‘print designer’ think of something really clever to call yourself to drive the point home. This not only makes you neat, but can really help filter out the type of jobs that you get–if you set yourself up as a print designer, clients will typically only come to you for print design.

It’s really easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we as designers have to be well versed in everything. If you understand other skills, but are really strong in one particular area, you can be as lethal if not more lethal than someone who claims to be a Jack of all trades. Build teams and really build your brand and you can become someone who would be considered irreplaceable.



  1. Walter

    i can relate so much to this article. a focus expertise on certain skillset is a real must and something you can falls back on at all times. but somehow it helps also if you have general understanding on other sets of knowledge, you can’t be on your comfort zone all the time.

  2. j

    Tell that to companies looking for 4 skillset in one. I tell them they can’t afford Jesus. So keep looking for that needle in a haystack!

  3. It’s interesting that the market is becoming more and more about specialization. This is good because it creates a greater sense of value to us as designers, and helps us avoid spec work.

  4. jakeZ100

    It’s good to be an expert at one thing, but in this economy it’s not a bad thing to have a hammer, screwdriver and a pair of pliers in your toolbox.

  5. Antown

    Not interchangeable people do not exist. The main thing to understand what you enjoy doing in life the most. I mean, do not drink, smoke or a walk. I mean, what would you like to create. What would you like to do all my life, every minute. This will be your vocation, in this case you will be a specialist.

  6. Over the last couple of years I didn’t focus on any particular skill. So at the moment I’m more a jack-of-all-trades and therefor not amazingly good at one skill. Do you think this will be a problem getting work at a company?

    Being a jack-of-all-trades is good when you have your own small business, knowing you can solve (almost) everything they throw at you.

  7. Michael Francis

    There is definitely truth in this article. When I stopped focusing on mass appeal, and getting everyone in the world as a client, I focused on my true strengths. I now have loyal clients, plus referrals.

    Could you imagine a Doctor who specialized in eyes, teeth, and heart surgery? What if he gets confused while operating..?

  8. Anne Renaud

    I agree. When I was 8 years old, I told my father I wanted to be an artist. To which he responded: “Anne, there’s too much competition”. I said: “But dad, if you’re the best, there IS no competiton!”. These are words I’ve lived by ever since then, and though my niche is minuscule, my clients trust me to know what I’m doing. I get to be the hero, and that’s a HUGE perk. I do complex finish restorations for a living.

  9. Jane

    I’m not sure I’m on board with this one. If you make yourself irreplaceable, you can’t get promoted!

  10. sanji

    Good read! All-in-one-guy are pretty much hard to find or sometimes they pretend to be. Hope Companies will learn that we have different skills.

  11. Ian

    Wonderful article, I totally feel the same way. However others might disagree that you should focus on a certain niche and master it.

    • Kendra Gaines

      The whole niche argument is alive and well for sure lol. I definitely think if you can create a team rather than trying to learn and do everything yourself, you put yourself in a much better place. Niche’s are really where the money is! When someone makes themselves an expert, clients want them.

      • Hands down, focusing on one thing and becoming an expert will get you more money. Not only is trying to be a jack-of-all-trades tiring, you begin to notice that as you try to build a weak skill up, your strength(s) begin(s) to suffer. Great article and I whole-heartedly agree with you.

  12. To point to an expert in your field is very interesting. It’s very easy find designers who says to know everything, so it’s better know someone who is a en experts in something rather than take some know-all guy.

    Great article.