I have been a freelancer / IT consultant for the last 20+ years I still have trouble coming up with my brand or specialization. The closest description to what I do is some kind of a generalizing specialist.
The reason why I have trouble is that I want to highlight my expertise in cyber security, VoIP, virtualization, Linux and Windows DevOps, software development and rapid prototyping, complex networking, and more.
Just typing this makes me cringe because I feel shy and humble calling myself an expert in these fields considering the geniuses that I look up to in those fields. And yet, I feel like somehow I'm undervaluing myself because on some level I have proven myself to be an expert.
Let me give you one of many examples where this happened: I was working with a senior network engineer on a complex network architecture problem involving BGP, VSRP and VLANs, I successfully able to lead my colleague to a solution. If the senior network engineer left the project I would have finished just the same except it would have taken me 3x longer (because I would have to look up all the commands and router capabilities that my colleague had all memorized in his head). Anyone who gave me Cisco command test would conclude I had no idea what I was doing - after all, how can an expert not have all the commands memorized? Am I really a networking expert?
I have many similar success stories in other areas. My success always involves one of two factors. Either, patience from my client because they trust me that I will get to a solution by brute generalization and perseverance, or some domain expert that I can work with whose brain I can pick and lead them to a solution. I enjoy doing both (working collaboratively and by myself)
What do you call that kind of consultant? Can I call my self an expert? Yes, I was the one who was instrumental in leading my colleague to the goal, but I wasn't the one who had all the commands memorized. Or on another occasion, yes, I solved a really complex technical issue that no one else could, but I had to learn on the job. It's like an expert that doesn't know anything. Or it's like expert only because even though my peers could be more of experts than I can they don't use the same brute generalizing perseverance to reach the goal - they give up because they get intimidated by the problem. Can I still call myself an expert?
I'm not asking how I handle current clients. Once clients know me they know exactly what my value proposition is - they are all very happy. How do I communicate this to new clients? How do I explain that I'm an expert that has to learn the thing as he goes? It just sounds weirdly inconsistent.
Of course the natural answer here is that I'm simply a manager - except I tried that and I'm definitely not a manager type. I like to get my hands deep into the minutia of IT (and I absolutely have to because that's what makes me so effective). Also I'm not a manager, because I hate nagging people. Whenever I'm made a manager it's by title only - I still get my hands in there on a daily basis.
When I meet someone new and they ask me what kind of IT I do, I have a stupid blank stare, because I want to answer "I do it all and I'm also pretty darn good at it all" ... but I keep quiet because I know how ridiculous and stupid that sounds. And even if I could get over that, it still sounds like serious bragging. I can't brag because it's being humble that drives me to learn more.
I'm an expert learner I guess .. but again more cringes and more weird looks - this time from the person who I'm talking to. What the heck does that mean and why would anyone want to hire an expert learner? ... this guy really is a weirdo.
So as you can see that's why keep all these weird theories to myself :-) and try to act more or less normal. As a result I pick one of my many areas of expertise and talk to them about that ...but I feel like I'm missing telling them about all the other stuff I'm good at.