Face facts: You’re replaceable, and there’s only 2 things you can do about it
Let’s say that co-owners of a business who know nothing about creating a website (except that they need one) are in the market for a website. They need a site that gives potential customers all the info they need about the boutique and includes an e‑commerce section, too. And ideally, they’d like the project to be wrapped up sooner, rather than later, if you please. These business owners are going to consider the offerings of the first four readers of this article.
You’re one of the four, of course…
You create websites. You have great experience and know you’ll be able to deliver exactly what the business owners need. You charge a fair price — one that adequately values your labor and experience — and always deliver an end product that’s up to spec. The reader next to you produces a website that meets all of the owners’ requirements – but charges half your price. The next reader in line creates a website (that also meets basic requirements) at half your turnaround time. And the person who came before all three of you offers a faster turnaround and lower price on a website that — yep — still meets all of the owners’ requirements.
Whose work is better?
Let’s say that you have a strong hunch your competitors are cutting corners. You’re pretty sure at those prices and turnaround schedules, they’ve got to have subpar practices in place. They put in zero effort to optimize the site for search. They have no strategy to the sites they create. Or they just have (ugh) crappy, generic design. You could try to secure the boutique owners’ business by pointing out all of the many, many ways your work is the best. You could stress your years of experience. You could tell your potential customers again and again that you create great websites. The best websites. Better than all the websites of all the other designers they’re considering, though, of course, you really have no surefire way of determining exactly who they’re considering or what your competitors’ final products are like. Unfortunately, your competitors are probably doing the same thing. And your potential customer doesn’t know who to believe. But whatever. They need this thing done. They choose the designer with price that is lowest and turnaround that’s fastest, since to them all competitors’ experience and final sites are on-par.
How are you supposed to make yourself stand out?!
If you can’t do it cheaper or faster and so. many. customers. don’t understand why your techniques or practices are better than other companies’, how the hell are you supposed to stand out in such a crowded field? I see two big opportunities to set yourself apart:
Option 1: Find a niche and burrow deep. Like, really deep
This one’s all about zeroing in on your customer. Maybe it’s crafting strategy and producing websites for food trucks serving woodfired pizza. Maybe it’s oral surgeons’ offices. Maybe it’s California boho-chic boutiques and fashion designers. General contractors. Elementary schools. Veterinarians. Whatever it is, find your niche. Narrow it down. Then narrow it down some more. Learn all the ins and outs of maxillofacial surgery, or the precise message that boho-chic boutiques are trying to send. Orient your tone, sales pitch, and offerings to cater to that niche. Reach out to trade groups. Conferences. Professional networks. Focusing in on a specific niche doesn’t mean that you’re closing yourself off to other customers. Instead, it’s a way to create a stronger connection with a specific subset of buyers. And that connection can raise you above your competitors in the eyes of your customer.
Option 2: Play to your differences, not just your strengths
This one’s about focusing in on you. When you offer a final product, as we web designers do, you’re replaceable. People all around the globe can create websites. And an endless array of competitors can beat you in price, efficiency, or other commodified measures. The one thing that your competitors can’t beat you in is being you. Only you are you. I know that sounds pretty cheesy, but it’s true. There’s something that makes you you, and not someone else. There’s something that makes your team your team, and not any other team. There’s some quality that catches the attention of others and piques their interest—oh, that’s different. Stand out. Engross them with your you. Find that unique point of difference, explore it, emphasize it, solidify it. When you zero in on what makes you different, not just what makes your skills strong, or your process solid, you stand out.