Last Updated on April 11, 2024 by Lorna Barrow


cover image for how to differentiate your service in a crowded market

Have you ever struggled to differentiate your services?

I know I have. And I bet as small business service providers, we all have.

When I started ITDS some 20 years ago, the thing uppermost in my mind was:

Lorna Barrow, if you are going to make money, you have to find a way to differentiate your services!

But I had no idea how to differentiate them and I seem to constantly hire the wrong persons to help me.

Learning to distinguish your services is critical in a crowded marketplace.

It’s also an important part of your professional development, as well as another means of establishing a brand called you. 

Now, if you want to differentiate your services, here’s how:


Be clear what you mean by “differentiate your services”

When you decide to differentiate your services, what really do you have in mind?

If you’re thinking of finding ways to make them stand out from the competition, in a meaningful way, you’re right.

But you really struggle to be specific about what makes you and your services stand apart from the others.

When this is the problem, you are inclined to question if differentiation really works, and if you should even bother to try to differentiate your services.


Establish your own pillars of differentiation

They are some recognised critical pillars of differentiation for a service. 

These include:

1. Service Quality – Reliability, Responsiveness, Assurance 

2. Customer Experience – Convenience, Personalization  Engagement 

3. Specialty/Expertise – Unique Capabilities, Innovation

4. Value Proposition – Pricing, Cost-Effectiveness 

5. Brand Reputation – Trusted Brand – Building a strong, reputable brand image

But we’re talking about being unique and standing out remember?

So why not determine some pillars just for you and your business? 

Here are just 3 of mine:


1.  You have to be able to deliver on your claim

For example, let’s say that you claim you have a unique way of delivering training.

You cannot then deliver training following the exact methods you and the other 500 participants learnt in the Trainer of Trainers course.

If you do, you do not have a meaningful differentiator and you are not delivering on your claim.


2.   Your differentiator has to be meaningful for your clients/niche

Once, a newly minted Renovations Contractor decided to separate himself from his competition by dressing what he called “professionally”.

In his building renovations niche, his clients were not interested in his dark dress pants and striped shirts.

They wanted him to look like he knew about fixing their plumbing and painting their houses. 


3.  You have to be flexible and adaptable

This requires you to keep your eyes on trends in your niche or market.

In a sometimes fickle and changing market, what you once depended on to help you stand out from the competition can easily become the norm. 

You have to be aware of these trends and be flexible and adaptable enough to find new and different ways to differentiate your services.


7  Strategies to Differentiate Your Services

Now here are 7 strategies you can use to help you standout in a crowded market place. They work for me and my clients.


1. Solve a specific business challenge in your market 

Let’s say you’re a small business consultant offering a range of services. Nothing wrong with that. I do too.

But you can differentiate your services by finding that important challenge your clients have – that you can solve.

For example, let’s say you have strong leadership skills  as well as equally strong communication skill.

Perhaps you can combine these to create and deliver a leadership program for small business people called Rapid Scale Leadership…that’s what I did.


2. Say “No” to what you cannot, or will not offer

I know you’re wondering: how is this a differentiator?  I didn’t know it was. And I certainly didn’t intend it to be. 

But when I started out in business, I was very clear about what I wanted to offer.

When I said “no” to  services I was not willing to provide, I was just being honest about what I could do, so I wouldn’t undermine my integrity. 

But then I became known for saying “no”.

I soon realized that this was because many service providers were saying “yes” to services they could not adequately provide.

This was making many potential clients skeptical that service providers could deliver the required services.

Hence saying “no” when every other service provider is saying “yes” to everything, is a very strong separator. 

The secret is, when you say “no”, your performance on your “yes” services must be exceptional.


3. Create your own niche 

This is not as hard as you think.

For me, a niche is a group of people, with a common need or problem, which you and and your services can solve.

If you accept this, you can do some research and find such a group.

The exciting thing about this is that it crosses all recognised markets and niches. The emphasis is on the potential client and not the market or niche.

A good example of this might be using your tech-savvy skills to help tech-challanged small businesses to leverage personalized customer interactions, using AI.


4. Offer a unique approach to doing business

It may be common in your industry to conduct business in a certain way. It could be the way clients are billed, your opening hours, etc.

If you can think of a way to approach doing business that is beneficial to your clients, you have found a way to differentiate your services.

For me, it is constantly recognising what is different about small businesses and devising solutions and ways to implement those solutions, that are ideal for each individual client.


5. Provide an outstanding level of service

You may think that this is hard to do because to even enter the services market, you have to be prepared to offer great service.

So how can you up your service to outstanding?

It’s really about having the habit of going the extra mile.

For example:

  1. Doctors who make house calls 24/7.
  2. Lawyers who see clients in the evening and on weekends.
  3. Corporate trainers who deliver training on public holidays.


6. Develop and deliver a specific and valuable result

I cannot tell you what that result will be for your business.

But I can tell you that if you can develop it, you will truly differentiate your services.

For example, when I deliver public speaking training, I help the participants build confidence even before they speak.

The result?

It removes their fear of public speaking and the actual public speaking skills are icing on the cake.

In my case, being able to deliver that specific result is an unbeatable selection of my relevant knowledge, skills and experience, combined in a unique way, to solve a series of problems along the way.


7. Look and act differently from all you competitors

This might not be the easiest one for you to try because it involves an element of risk and requires lots of confidence.

Here’s my personal example.    

I’m known for my signature jeans in the training room.

No other female corporate trainer has attempted to try this in my island.


Perhaps it’s because jeans do not fit the “uniform” for the sector.

But they fit in with my never-fit-in personality, my unique delivery style and my confidence to pull it off.

But the real secret is that when you deliver outstanding service, you can get away with almost anything. Including a distinctive look.


Your next “differentiating your services” steps 

If you’ve not given much thought to differentiating your services before, use the information to start now.

Start with the one that you think challenges the most. It will build your confidence and make the rest easy to try.

Just remember…Standing out in a crowded market is good for your brand and your bottom line. It also helps you to improve your role as an influencer.

Now, if you’ve use any or all of the 7 strategies above, let us know how they worked or are working for you.

To your differentiation success…


How to Easily Differentiate Your Services In A Crowded Market

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Lorna Barrow

Lorna Barrow is a Business Breakthrough Specialist, an unfiltered Transformational Speaker, a Writer, a Coach and a self-confessed Small Business Junkie. She recognises that small businesses are unique and when it comes to helping you and your business make that BIG breakthrough, she's all in for you!