Stand out from the competition

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Episode 222: 8 Ways to Stand Out from the Competition in 2020

FACT: It’s been a weird year, meaning we’ve been left questioning everything. Which means it’s easy to look at our competition and start to feel like we’re not getting it right, falling behind or missing the boat.

Now, before we dive in, know that all of this is normal. The comparison is very real, especially in a year that’s uncertain. 

And as much as I don’t even really like the idea of focusing on your competition, the reality is that our clients always have alternatives to working with us. That doesn’t mean your competition is bad or that you need to think of other service providers as your arch nemesis. Instead, you need to be aware of the alternatives your clients have, and find a way to differentiate yourself. 

So, how exactly do we do that? 

In the words of Sally Hogshead, creator of the How to Fascinate Personality Test, “different is better than better.” The idea being that it’s not about “beating” the competition, but rather being different from them.

Take a Stand: If You Stand for Everything, You Stand for Nothing

Here in 2020, people want to know what you and your business stand for. Obviously, this varies depending on who your target market is, but the reality is that if you stand for everything, you stand for nothing.

This is where having your values and vision nailed down are critical, especially if you run a business targeted at other entrepreneurs. I believe a reckoning is coming where the industry is going to fragment between those of us that are willing to step up and challenge everything, and those that are going to stick to the status quo.

Change is happening, and people will vote with their dollars. The same way we saw social businesses emerge with a giving component, we’ll see more and more business owners investing their dollars based on their values. If you need proof, look no further than Rachel Rodgers’ Anti-Racist Business Pledge. It’s no accident that the same month she championed this, she had the biggest month ever in her business. While she’s not a service business, it’s a great example of this in action.

If you work primarily with corporate clients, this may not be as bold, but it still matters. My friend Jules Taggart at content marketing agency Wayward Kind works with corporate clients, but the business is deeply committed to social justice, and that’s no secret. 

The bottom line is you need to stand for something. I know for me, what gets the most attention, engagement and attracts the right clients to Small Business Boss is sharing what I’m all about.

Don’t Be Boring (Seriously!)

It’s no secret that as a society, we’re more distracted than ever. And here in 2020, our attention is torn between so many things. You literally can’t afford to be boring.

Sally Hogshead talks about the idea of unlearning boring. We learn to be boring as a way to play it safe. We all have things that make us unique and interesting, and those don’t need to be put on the shelf as a business owner. If someone is going to work with me, they probably should know I’m fanatical about books and I’m a total cat lady.

If you want to figure out how not to be boring, start by bringing your personality to the table. That’s one thing no one else in your industry can duplicate.

And if you need ideas and you’ve done the How to Fascinate Personality Test, go read your report. My archetype is the Provocateur, so I try to lean into that as much as possible. Essentially, I don’t mess around, I’m a great listener, and I’m not afraid to make some noise. See how that works? It’s accurate and I do my best when I don’t hide that. 

Show the Hell Up

Confession: Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of individuals who got under my skin. Okay, they were my full on arch nemeses. And you know what they all had in common?

They were better at showing up than I was. Honestly, they didn’t have anything I didn’t, but they were better self-promoters. They were better at being visible and it made me bananas.

And I know I’m not alone in this. The difference for so many of us isn’t skills or talent, but our ability to show up.

But guess what? When I show up, my business does better. I feel better. And I’m way less focused on my arch nemeses.

Hiding isn’t a way to stand out as much as you try to convince yourself it is. Just do it. 

Brand Cohesion: Make Sure Everything is On Point

Next up, let’s talk about your brand. This is what I’m going to term “brand cohesion” as I no way want to imply that a pretty brand is the way to stand out. Yes, a visually compelling brand is a good start, but it’s really only one part of your overall brand, and what’s more important is that your brand –– both inside and outside –– is cohesive.

Without cohesion, your brand can be confusing and it can create fractures in the trust you have with potential or current clients. This doesn’t mean you need to invest big bucks into your brand, but instead make sure that the details are handled.

A prime example is having a cohesion in the messages and language you use. In the fonts you have on documents and the formatting. That your website, your social media and your client deliverables have the same essence. And that’s just for starters, but that cohesion is a way to build trust and stand out. 

Specificity and Simplicity Wins

Have you ever heard the saying that a “confused mind doesn’t buy?”. That’s a fact, and let me tell you, if I check things out and I’m at all confused, I’m outta there. If I don’t know what your business does, I’m bailing.

The truth is, people (including me) are VERY impatient. They need to know if you can help them in seconds flat. And that’s where specificity comes in. Remember how if you stand for everything, you stand for nothing? That same idea applies to trying to serve too wide of an audience. If you serve all the people, it’s hard for the right clients to know that you’re for them.

This also applies to your services. If you offer all the services, you can easily look like a jack of all trades and not like an expert in any of them. Instead, focus on a handful of specific services that your potential clients can come to you for. If you’ve got other services, that’s fine, but they can go onto your secret menu. Not everything needs to go on your website.

When we were redoing the Scoop Studios website we made a few strategic choices (as we offer a range of services) in terms of what services to lead with. It doesn’t mean we don’t do anything else, but rather, those are the gateway offerings we have.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Proposals

Now, I think we all know I’m a super fan of proposals, so this was a no-brainer. Especially as I know one of the reasons that many of our agency clients hired us was based on the power of our proposal.

If you work with other entrepreneurs, you’re likely used to selling packages, which is fine, but consider putting those into a proposal. And then customize that proposal so it feels like you went the extra mile. Taking 10 or 15 minutes to customize it will go a long way to setting you apart.

And if you work with B2B clients, your proposal game needs to be strong. Proposify’s State of Proposals 2020 shares some great ideas for how to improve your proposals. For example, the average proposal is 11 pages long and organized in seven sections. Also, adding images can improve your close rate by 23%.

If you’re not using an automated solution for proposals, this may be time to start. The Proposify study found that proposals with e-signatures are 3.4x more likely to close than those without. If you don’t have that function, it may be time to start. 

I’ve been using Proposify for the last 18 months, and making the move has directly contributed to increased revenue. For the $19 I spend per month, it’s paid for itself many times over.

Finally, if you’re going to send a proposal, do it quickly. The Proposify study outlines how time kills deals. It shared how 50% of wins are signed within 24 hours of opening. If you’re the last person to send a proposal, you may be losing the deal by dragging out the process.

Sending a proposal quickly says you want the business and that they can trust you to provide them with a high level of service if they say yes. 

Your Customer Experience Beyond Onboarding and Offboarding

Customer experience can make or break your business, and while we all have good intentions, it’s hard to actually execute on that experience with our clients. 

Plus, let’s be real. Many times we focus so much on marketing and getting new clients, that we give our current clients our sloppy seconds.

If you want referrals and testimonials (which you totally do) that customer experience is critical. You need to make sure the amazing experience you provide in the sales process continues once someone has paid for their project or first invoice.

So, let’s talk about what goes into your customer experience. There’s the obvious things like your onboarding and offboarding, which most of us have handled. But then there’s the trickier in-between things like ongoing communications, managing deadlines, project management, reporting and so on. Paying attention to the less obvious ones can make all the difference.

One that’s been a huge win for us at Scoop is our process around how we create content. Again, it’s super simple, but it sets us apart in the sales process as we’re able to articulate that, but then as we execute consistently on that process we eliminate one of the biggest pain points clients have with content –– making edits. We’ve designed our process in a way to anticipate and minimize the number of edits by nailing down the editorial direction early in the cycle.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to nail down processes with clients that improve CX, start with where you meet the most resistance or issues with clients. It may be revisions, reporting or something else. Watch for where they ask a lot of questions or you can sense frustration and start there.

Be Kind, Be Human

When you run a service business, you’re people, and you’re working with other people. It’s easy when you’re rushing through your to-do list to forget the human factor. Our clients have bad days, challenging times and they need compassion and kindness the same way we do.

In no way am I advocating for breaching your boundaries, but instead recognizing that different people need different things from you as an extension of your team. One client may need more time than normal to review a draft of something, another may need you to send her flowers, and yet another may need you to book a call to be a thought partner.

This is the exact reason that we need to leave room for this in our days. We can’t time block everything into oblivion or we’ll have no time to show up and be of service when we’re needed. The little things matter, and all things being equal, people do business with people they LIKE.

Build a Business that Stands Out

We made it to the end! That was a lot of potential ideas and I’m sure I’ve given you lots of food for thought as to how you can make your business stand out as we head into the rest of 2020. You may find that you’ve got some of these locked down, and that others need improvement. Or that one of them needs your time and attention as soon as possible.

Ultimately, the goal here is for you to continuously improve so you can stand out and make your competition irrelevant. Plus, it’s way easier to take a community over competition angle, lose the arch nemesis and form strong relationships when you’re confident as to why potential and current clients would work with you.

Links for this Episode: 

How to Fascinate

Unlearn Boring Post 

Anti-Racist Business Pledge 

Wayward Kind

Scoop Studios

Proposify State of Proposals 2020 




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Maggie Patterson Abou the Author

I’m Maggie Patterson (she/her), and services businesses are my business.

I have 20+ years of experience with client services, am a consultant for agency owners, creatives, and consultants, and vocal advocate for humane business practices rooted in empathy, respect, and trust.

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