Quality vs. Quantity

I’ve read a few posts recently on social networking and the difference between being a business card ninja (someone whose primary goal at networking events seems to be how many business cards they can pass out) and making connections (check out Marian’s post on how this plays out in the online social networking world).The point of these conversations is that it’s important to make deep connections when networking–whether in person or online–and that it’s only networking when you take the time to actually get to know the person you’re connecting with. Otherwise, it’s like standing in Starbucks or in Times Square and screaming “Look at me” – people will look, but they’ll just think you’re weird.

The reason I bring this up is because the issue at heart here is one that affects every aspect of every business–depth vs. breadth; wide vs. deep. It’s a decision business owners (including freelance writers) should make consciously. They should decide what works best with their strategy and in that situation.

A while ago I interviewed several business experts for an article I was working on, and we got to talking about strategies retail stores use when deciding what products to stock – and what do you know? This is exactly the issue that came up. For that particular article we were discussing whether retailers are better off carrying 3 or 4 of something in every possible color or a half-dozen each of the most popular 4 or 5 colors. While there may be one customer somewhere that is interested in that puke-green t-shirt, carrying colors that are more popular will make it easier to turn the inventory.

My point is that in almost every aspect of business (not just networking) individuals have to decide if they’d rather offer a buffet or a gourmet meal. But most of the time you gain more from serving gourmet, from going deep instead of wide, from making lesser but more real connections that from having 20K followers on twitter (follow me here!) and not knowing any of them.

Like any other business owner, writers also need to decide if they’d rather specialize or generalize. While there are some advantages to generalizing–namely, you can write for any number of people about any number of things–it limits how deeply you get to explore any one topic. It means you constantly need to do new research on the new topic. Instead, if you specialize, you quickly build up a well of knowledge and sources that are industry-specific and that you can tap as needed.

When have you had to decide between these two options? Was it better to go gourmet or to offer a buffet?

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