How to Choose Between a Specialist and a Jack-of-All Trades

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When making key staffing decisions for your business, you can’t be paralyzed by uncertainty. It could harm your business in the long run.

Luckily, choosing between a general consultant with a wide berth of knowledge and a specialist who only knows one thing (but knows it better than you ever will) can be quite simple. This decision can be reasoned out by weighing the pros and the cons. You simply need to know what they are.

Related: Hiring a Consultant? Shun the 24-Hour Turnaround and Other Hype.

Hiring a generalist.  

If you’re in the early stages of your business, you would probably want to hire a generalist consultant with broad knowledge of several areas. Generalists offer several benefits that are great for startups, including:

Adaptability. The startup environment is constantly changing. Generalists can adapt to change much faster than specialists can. They can shift gears and recover quickly from a wide range of unexpected situations.

Experience. General consultants have enough experience across industries to recognize patterns and help solve common problems. A generalist has probably dealt with the issues you're facing and can provide the experience needed.

Guidance. General consultants rarely hand you a solution. Instead, they’ll collaborate with you, help you understand problems and use their expertise to guide you through the process of finding solutions.

Resourcefulness. When you venture outside a specialist’s area of expertise, he or she is often not helpful -- even in a related field. A generalist, however, knows exactly whom to talk to if he can’t answer a question. You gain access to many resources through one person or a team.

Affordability. Most startups have pretty limited resources and specialists can be expensive. If you need help with more than one specific project, you’re better off with a generalist.

Even if you’re not running a startup, you may have similar needs. Some industries are always volatile and require the assistance of someone comfortable with change. Or you might be planning a business relocation and want help adjusting to the new area. Whatever your situation entails, think about whether this list fits your needs:

Related: 10 Questions to Ask When Hiring an SEO Consultant

Opting for a specialist.

Tapping a specialist should be reserved for larger companies with deep pockets and the times when you need to fix something relatively small and specific, especially if needs to be done quickly. This approach works when you already know what you need but lack the skills to get there.

It’s the difference between needing someone to build a kickass landing page for a website and needing help developing the company's entire online presence.

In the first scenario, you have a task on your to-do list, and you can’t get it checked off by yourself. You need a specialist to come in and provide a solution.

But when you’re working on a big-picture goal, such as becoming noticed and engaging with your audience online, you need someone to work with your team and take the steps to build something substantial. You need a generalist who excels in several tech areas: someone with a knack for design, coding, SEO and possibly even website copywriting. That individual should also be able to find resources to fill in whatever holes she can’t personally fill.

If you have a mix of short-term projects butwant big-picture help, talk about the company’s needs with your team. Pay attention to the language you use and how specific you get. If everyone is on the same page and can clearly define problems, you may just need specialists. If there’s a lot of disagreement, however, you may want someone experienced who can unify your vision and help make it real. 

Related: Don't Pay a Consultant Before Chatting With Your Vendor