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Five Roles Demystified for Solopreneur’s – RFG 4

In the previous section, you heard that the easiest way to raise your rates was to own your role and demonstrate the value you play in the system.

That’s hard to agree with at first, but it makes sense once you understand the five roles in detail.

So follow along as we dive into these 5 naked roles we’ve been talking about.  And remember, as we move through this, you are in these roles while subcontracting and while being direct to client.

Realize that you see yourself as playing a role and so does your client.

The trick here is that you and your client may not be seeing the same role and that’s the critical insight here. So you need to know all five roles.

Don’t jump or skim here.  Read this top to bottom.


As a novice you’ll be revealing a lack of depth in the required client project work.

It’s easy to spot a novice when you see them in the form of internships, university projects, and when they directly state not knowing the specifics (even if when capable of figuring them out).

It’s more difficult, though, to see the client’s view of novice.  Experienced client projects (both direct or as a subcontractor) can talk to you and label you a novice even when you may have assumed a different role.

The naked truth is that you are a novice, and you know it, when the client project requires work you have less than 100 hours of experience actually doing.  This is time on task, hands on hours logged doing it.  Use caution when presenting yourself as any other role than a novice on these tasks and be prepared for unseen issues, time sinks and fulfillment challenges.


As a specialist, you’ll be revealing a narrow but noticeably deep knowledge in the required client project work.  Your skills, capabilities and experiences will lead you to have specific guidance, feedback, and problem solving action-steps.

It’s easy to spot a specialist when you see them listing required steps, processes to follow, specific time allocations for tasks, and focused discussion within the client project work at hand.

It’s more difficult to know you are a specialist if you have identified multiple possible routes to achieve a desired outcome but have not necessarily made any one method your primary method to achieve results.   In otherwords, you know a few ways to skin the cat, but haven’t done any one way enough times to know which is truly best, but you can definitely do the task at hand without much uncertainty.

It’s difficult for clients to see you as a specialist if your specialty is outside of their understanding or can be easily paralleled with another discipline they understand.  For example, you may be a specialist with vector artwork or with PHP programming or writing sales copy, but if the client has specialized knowledge of photography or ColdFusion programming or advertising they may not see you as a specialist for their needs because they are substituting “like” terms as if they were “precise” terms and you are both speaking the same language, but not seeing the same details and specifics – often assuming elements of the conversation.

The naked truth is that you are a specialist if you can offer specific examples and methods to generate desired results in the client project work at hand, usually as a result of 500 to 1,000 hours of time on task in that area.  More time here creates depth – continuing your specialist role.

Be careful to not reinforce this role when you are entering a related area you have little to no experience with.

For example, if you have been a writer and you are presented with an opportunity to write a series of sales letters, despite having hundreds or thousands of hours writing, if you have never written a sales letter, you are a novice at sales letters not a specialist at sales letters.  Make sense?


As an expert, you’ll be revealing both a wide view of the work at hand as well as deep domain knowledge and experience.  Your real-world experience will show in your ability to connect multiple points, topics, and variables to the same problem.  Your ability to offer feedback on situations, inputs and outputs around the work at hand, as well as specific details on accomplishing the task will open up your expertise.

It’s easy to spot an expert in their story-telling and comprehension of problems and the work to be done.  Usually this results in fast rapport building and accelerated confidence by the client because of the obvious intimacy of the work required for the client project long before all the client project details are discussed.  This is the natural intuition of expertise – to be able to see where things are going farther down the line even when engaged in early stage discussions.

It’s more difficult to know you are an expert if you have exposure to a very wide set of disciplines that are not easily connected.  In these cases, you may have many hours of high contact exposure, but be diluted across many disciplines which makes you very wide, but not deep enough in any one area to be seen as an expert.   Generalists often struggle with this confusion.

Clients will struggle to see expertise if they do not know how to value knowledge or understand the problem facing them.  Often experts are misdiagnosed by uneducated client projects who do not realize their needs require expertise.  Substitutions at this level happen a lot due to this paradox of low understanding clients with high understanding expert providers.

An additional concern here is that many people, especially in the solopreneur space, claim expertise when they are actually novices, generalists or specialists.  The result is that your client project has likely experienced an “expert” or many “experts” that have failed to deliver.

The naked truth is that you are an expert when you’ve applied more than 3,000 hours on the required task required for the client project work required.  


As a generalist, you’ll be revealing a broad and more generalized set of skills, capabilities and knowledge.  You probably won’t consider yourself a generalist, but you’ll see that in contrast to the other roles you do not have all the requirements of time on task.  In this case, you’ll look a lot someone who is capable of a lot of things, but not necessarily specialized or with great expertise.

Your ability to connect dots with possible solutions and your willingness to do it and figure things out will be obvious. This will be one of your greatest client project strengths especially in the initial stages of securing the work, but will also create production and fulfillment challenges down the line.

It’s easy to spot a generalist in their “book” of work.  Generalists will have a wide variety of things they can show, but generally do not have a lot of any one type of work.  Generalists will typically focus on a “get it done” approach to the work and rely upon their brawn, commitment to spend a lot of time for limited returns, but will demonstrate an ability to deliver something – anything, and this often works for the client project.

It’s more difficult to see generalists when the work at hand is very specific and the generalist has exposure and experience with the specific client project.  In these cases, the generalist can erroneously appear to be a specialist or even and expert to themselves or to the client, but in truth, may not have the deep domain knowledge that seems obvious.

Clients will struggle with generalists because the generalist sees potential in a lot of problems and will often offer many relevant options without being able to clearly zero on one in as a way that registers with the client as a true solution.  Often clients can settle on generalists but become discouraged by the hands-on required to get the results they desire.  This is obvious by clients who say they “have a guy”, but “need a pro” and in these cases, even long-term relationships can be supplanted by the offer of true expert or specialists.

The naked truth is that you are a generalist when you spend a lot of time to get a job done but do not retain the knowledge to continually build upon or cannot efficiently repeat the same process later with efficiency and effectiveness.  Generalists often have 100’s if not 1000’s of hours across a lot of client projects but typically lack systems, proven processes or a clear vision of how to get a specific result, yet are still capable of getting results.


As a broker, you’ll secure and direct client projects by demonstrating an understanding of client project needs and how to meet them.  Your understanding of the desired outcome and the ability to connect people, ideas, and results will show you as valuable even when the path is unclear and you are not the one doing the work.

It’s easiest to see brokers as sales people, but in reality, brokers tend to be high-level problem solvers with a focus on not actually being in the middle of the work, but instead, getting the work done as needed for the client project

It’s difficult to identify brokers when the broker has high level experience and deep domain knowledge of specific problems to solve.  In these cases, the broker often appears to be an expert or specialist.  At times brokers can take on strategist and consulting positions and in these cases can be confused as experts, but they do not actually have the intimate knowledge of implementation or production needs. It is also easy to confuse brokers as generalists when it’s unclear what the broker actually does with regard to the stories, past work, and results they represent. Weak communication skills will hurt brokers.

Clients struggle to understand brokers when it comes to specific examples, visual points-of-reference, and proof of getting the work done.  Often the emphasis is on results and telling success stories, but clients can be hesitant to engage and will commonly apply pressure for transparency with other parties involved and try to peg exactly where you fit in the client project work.

The naked truth is that you are a broker when you avoid doing the work, avoid accountability for the work being done until the end, and primarily focus on your connections and ability to make things happen over your understanding or execution experience.  Brokers tend to have 100’s if not 1000’s of hours in client service capacities more-so than production or execution time on task.

Role Call

See how roles work now?

It’s actually very common for you to go in and out of these roles on a regular basis.

Always remember to keep perspective on what system you are plugged into; subcontractor or direct to client.  The system has a lot of influence on how your role is executed and the rates you can charge.

It’s best to not claim a role you don’t actually fit in.  When you do, do not be surprised if it cost you time, money, sanity and even the client project.

Now, that you know your role, you can focus on what you do in that role, how to move into other roles, and how to prevent being seen as playing one role when you see yourself as playing a different role entirely.

Your role says a lot about the work to be done and how you will go about it.  Do you know you role?

About H Q

HQ is the General of and directs troops in UNIT 51, the special forces section of the site. HQ is responsible for badass and making sure it happens often. Not usually described as fluffy or gentle, HQ doesn't care much for the color pink, the smell of honeysuckles or the size of your logo on your business card. He does, however, enjoy a great lecture, business non-fiction book and lively discussions on what makes business work. He smiles when it's necessary and thinks you'll grow up to be a fine soldier in business if you decide to get your head out of your ass and learn to use elbow grease. Prefers trained dogs to puppies, but sees the potential in everything except poodles and cats. Damn cats.