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 differentiate 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.
Speaking of branding, if you want to go deep on branding, here’s a really cool guide for you. It’s written in the simple style that makes it easy for you to read and implement at least one step. Check it out here!
Now, if you want to differentiate your services, here’s how:
Be clear about the term “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.
The problem is, that while you understand differentiation in a general way, you really struggle to be specific about what makes you and your services stand out.
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.
Understand the critical pillars of differentiation
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 consultant decided to differentiate himself by dressing what he called “professionally”.
In his building contractors niche, his clients were not interested in his dark suits and striped shirts. They were interested in his capacity to help them manage their finances and file their taxes.
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
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, I have a strong background in HR and an equally strong background in trade unionism. When I combine these for my small business clients, it solves one of their biggest challenges.
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.
When I started out, 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 properly provide. This was making many potential clients skeptical that service providers could deliver the required services.
Hence “no” became a differentiator.
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 is a service helping expatriates to settle quickly and easily in your country.
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 important 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 like having the habit of going the extra mile.
It’s like doctors who make house calls. Lawyers who see clients in the evening and on weekends. 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.
The key thing is, that specific result usually requires you to combine your knowledge, skills and experience 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. Why?
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 the 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.
Now it’s over to you…
If you’ve not given much thought to differentiating your services before, use the information to start now. Standing out in a crowded market is good for your brand and your bottom line.
If you’ve used any or all of the 7 strategies above, let us know how they worked or are working for you.
To your differentiation success…
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