You’re Nothing Special: How to Stand Out in a Crowded Marketplace

How to stand out in a crowded marketplace

With so many web designers and agencies out there, how do you stand out from the crowd? Why should clients hire you over the competition?

I’m sorry to break it to you but your mother was wrong. Despite what she told you, you are not that special. Or at least, the web design business you run isn’t. There are thousands of agencies out there, just like yours. They offer the same services for a similar price. They say almost identical things about themselves on their website.

I’m sorry to break it to you but your mother was wrong. Despite what she told you, you are not that special.

In fact, if you look at most web designers’ websites, they are similar. They list the same set of services. They all talk about creating great experiences. And they all emphasize what wonderful people they are. Most of these sites are interchangeable.

How to stand out in a crowded marketplace: Interchangeable website
The truth is that most web design websites are interchangeable. Image courtesy of NoVolume.

So what makes one agency a success, while another struggles? Is it the quality of work? Well, actually no. There are many agencies who produce outstanding work. But many of these still struggle to keep clients coming through the door.

There are three things you can do if you want to stand out. Three actions you can take to keep work coming in. These are:

  • Find a specialism.
  • Build your reputation.
  • Focus on your customer service.

Let’s explore these in a bit more depth, starting with finding your specialism.

You might also like: Why You Should Specialize in Ecommerce.

1. Find your specialism

One way of standing out from the crowd is to reduce the size of the crowd. In other words, you need to reduce the number of people you are competing against. The best way of doing this is to specialize.

By specializing in an aspect of web design, you reduce the number of people that can compete. You reduce who can compete with your level of specialism in that area. For example, let’s say you become an expert in the healthcare sector. You’ll find there will be fewer agencies with your experience in that field.

This kind of specialization may feel counterintuitive. After all, why would you want to turn away potential work? The answer is that you wouldn’t. In fact, you shouldn’t turn away work that lies outside of your specialism if times are hard.

What I’m suggesting instead is that you focus your marketing efforts (e.g. your site) on a specialism. You can still accept work outside of that area, but it provides a focus to your business that sets you apart.

How to stand out in a crowded marketplace: Specialism
Focus your website on a particular specialism and you will reduce the number of competitors.

It’s also important to remember that there are a lot of potential clients out there. Even if you specialise in an area such as healthcare, there will be no shortage of people interested. What’s more, the nature of the web makes it easy for these clients to find you.

How to specialize

The question then arises; what should I specialize in? There are two main options available;you can specialise in what you deliver or who you deliver for.

For example, you could specialize in delivering Shopify ecommerce websites. By becoming an expert in this field you will attract clients interested in a Shopify site.

How to stand out in a crowded marketplace: Shopify specialization
You could specialize in what you deliver. For example some specialize in building Shopify sites.

Or you could specialize in a particular target audience. For example, as I said earlier, you could specialize in the healthcare sector. You will become an expert in the challenges this sector faces, and so, attract clients who need help in this area.

Deciding how to specialize is simple. Look at your portfolio and try to identify recurring patterns. Are you doing a lot of Shopify sites, or working with a particular type of client? This should help you narrow the field. They will also be valuable case studies when promoting your specialism.

But specializing will not be enough. Others will have specialized in the same area, so you will need to do more work. You need to build a reputation that sets you apart.

You might also like: Paul Boag on Content Marketing & How to Start Your Blog.

2. Build your reputation

There is this myth in our profession that if we do good work, clients will come to us. This is not true.

There is this myth in our profession that if we do good work, clients will come to us. This is not true.

Sure, repeat business and word-of-mouth recommendation is important as I will come onto later. But it will not be enough to sustain you, especially in the early years. Instead, you need to build your reputation.

It’s not enough to have a website telling the world how great you are. You need to be able to prove this. You need to show people, and not tell them.

You can do this by sharing your expertise. Blog often, write books, speak at events, publish newsletters. Take every opportunity to share what you know. This will establish you as an expert in your field. There won’t even be any need to promote your products or services. In fact, you should avoid this.

How to stand out in a crowded marketplace: Blogging
I have been blogging every week for over 10 years. The result is I have built a reputation as an expert. A reputation that sets me apart.

Self-promotion makes you look desperate. It undermines the image of you being a “thought leader.” Instead, let the knowledge you share speak for itself. People are more likely to listen to you and share your posts if it’s free from self-promotion; that and provides value by teaching them something new.

People are more likely to listen to you and share your posts if it’s free from self-promotion

But here is the harsh truth, building a reputation does not happen overnight. Too many agencies start a blog, and then give up when they see how few people are reading it. Too many get demoralized when they don’t get accepted to speak at an event, and stop applying to speak.

To build a reputation that sets you apart, you need to share your expertise on a consistent basis. This means sending out your newsletter without fail. It means blogging week in and week out.

Yet this effort can be for nothing if you do not also keep your clients happy; one word from them online could counteract your reputation building. That is why a relentless focus on customer service is a key component in setting yourself apart.

You might also like: Check Out This Free Ecommerce Business Course on Skillshare.

3. Focus on customer service

It goes without saying that if we want to remain competitive, we have to produce great work. But that’s only the beginning. If you want to stand out, you need to offer an exceptional level of customer service.

Imagine going to a restaurant that served delicious food in a wonderful environment, but your waiter was obnoxious and rude. Would you go away happy about your experience? Of course not. The service you receive is as important as the “deliverable.”

How to stand out in a crowded marketplace: Waiter
A rude waiter can ruin a restaurant experience. Poor service in web design can be just as damaging to the client experience.

In the same way, we need to place as much focus on the service we provide as we do on the websites we deliver. It’s this customer service that will cause our clients to praise us online and recommend us to others. It’s this same customer service that will keep them coming back time and again.

Repeat work and word-of-mouth recommendation is the secret to business success. Without it, the amount of effort you need to keep new work coming in will prove impossible. Also, your competitors will find it easy to lure your clients away.

At the heart of great customer service lies good communication. But many web design agencies are poor at this is an area. We focus so much on delivering a project that we forget to engage the client and keep them informed. In fact, we often exclude the client for fear they may derail the project.

It doesn't take much. Keeping the client updated on a regular basis is enough. But you need to update clients even if you haven't made any progress. Otherwise they will start to worry.

Also, don't wait to tell them about possible problems. Better to warn them, and then exceed expectations. The last thing you want to do is surprise them with an issue.

Finally, actually talk to clients! Pick up the phone. Have a meeting. But don't rely on electronic communication. You might like it, but so much context gets lost. Clients find it reassuring when you speak to you in person.

Our sector’s weakness in customer service gives you a chance to set yourself apart. Involve the client in the project and communicate with them often. If you do, you show them you have an approach that puts customer service at the heart of your offering. This makes you different from your competitors.

Our sector’s weakness in customer service gives you a chance to set yourself apart.

Explain this client centric approach through testimonials, case studies, and website copy. Doing so will give you a significant competitive advantage.

Stop obsessing over your website

As web designers, we spend far too much time redesigning our own websites. Too much time agonizing over design and copy. We think that our websites will make or break our marketing efforts. But in truth they are but one small element of what sets you apart. In fact, with so many web designers obsessing over their sites, it doesn't help much in the end.

Keep your site simple. Focus on finding your specialism, take time to build your reputation, and offer an outstanding service. You will find these much more effective ways of setting yourself apart from the crowd.

How do you set yourself apart from the crowd? Let us know what strategies you use in the comments below!

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