Effective Differentiation for Freelancers
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One of the biggest struggles for many freelancers is finding a way to stand out from the crowd of others providing similar services. In many cases there really is a huge difference from one freelancer to the next in terms of quality of work, quality of service, specific services provided, experience, and turnaround time.
However, potential clients often seem to have the perspective that we’re interchangeable and all created from the same mould. Therefore, they usually see price as the main point of difference between freelancers.
If this is something you’ve been struggling with, you may reap significant benefits from developing a plan to successfully differentiate yourself from others. If you’re finding the intense competition to be limiting your workload or forcing you to lower your rates, take a look at what truly makes you different from the other freelancers out there waiting to land your would-be clients. More importantly, be sure that whatever makes you different is clear to those potential clients.
Differentiation can help freelancers in a number of important ways. The obvious benefit is more business, but there is also the ability to help you to avoid competing solely on price. If you’re tired of pricing your projects too low in order to secure and retain clients, find a way to be different than the others competing for the business. If you really are different, price comparisons become less effective for the customer, because they know they’re not paying for the same product.
Personal branding is also one of the major benefits of differentiation. Corporations are always focused on branding themselves and creating a specific image in the minds of customers, but what about freelancers? We can benefit in the same way if we’re able to show clients what makes us unique.
Differentiation goes beyond simply providing high quality services. Even the most talented freelancers will always have plenty of competition from those who are comparably skilled. Effective differentiation requires something on top of the quality of service. Let’s take a look at a few possibilities and some real-world examples.
One of the most effective ways to differentiate yourself is to specialize in a very specific area of work in your field. Rather than being a known as a general freelancer, take the area that you enjoy the most and that you do very well, and market yourself as a specialist in this aspect.
A good example of specialization is Adriaan (Adii) Pienaar who is a self-proclaimed WordPress rockstar (see Adii’s interview with Freelance Switch). Rather than promoting his services to clients as a freelance web designer, he has chosen to focus on designing WordPress themes for clients, and he’s doing a very good job of standing out with this approach. If you do a Google search for Freelance WordPress Designer you’ll see his blog/portfolio on the first page of results, and two of the top three results are articles written about him, including the Freelance Switch interview.
While Adii may not be the first freelance designer you think of, he has a good chance of being the first freelancer you’ll find if you want someone that specializes in WordPress themes. By labeling himself as a WordPress rockstar he’s also done a nice job of branding himself.
Many of us work in fields that allow us to serve clients all over the world. Freelance designers, developers, programmers, and writers can all work for a client down the street or at the other side of the world. That flexibility sometimes causes us to lose sight of the fact that we still have the option to target local clients.
Because of the opportunity to reach clients all over the world, we’re also competing with freelancers from just about anywhere you can imagine. Some clients will prefer to work with a local freelancer, who will have a sizable advantage over those who are not local. Many clients would prefer not to get online at all. Rather than barely competing on a global level you may be able to become a leading service provider in your locality.
Additionally, localizing your work can have benefits in terms of potential clients finding you through search engines. Maximum Designs uses the phrase “Freelance Web Design in New York City” in the title tag of its home page. While phrases such as “web design” or “freelance web designer” will obviously be extremely competitive and difficult to rank for, good rankings for local search phrases are more attainable. Maximum Designs also uses “New York City” a few times throughout the site, including in an H2 tag to help its chances with search engines.
Aside from organic search results, pay-per-click advertising can be set up to target local clients by only showing your ads in certain geographic areas and by bidding on search phrases with local keywords. Matt Griffin of Liquid Design Media told me recently that local PPC advertising is by far the most productive advertising he’s ever done.
I mentioned earlier that one of the main benefits of specialization is branding yourself. Rather than just being another freelancer, what do you want to be known for? I think a current example of effective branding is James Chartrand of Men With Pens. James’ writing seems to be everywhere, including regular contributions at Copyblogger and occasional posts at Freelance Folder. In my opinion James’ writing style has branded him as a go-to guy for blog and website content. If I was looking for a writer, he is one of the first people that would come to mind.
Another example of branding is Chris Garrett. Like James, Chris gets around, and that exposure has helped him to get his message out to a huge audience. In addition to writing, Chris offers blog consulting services, and by demonstrating his knowledge through his writing he has branded himself as a leader in the consulting industry. Recently Chris has continued to improve his branding by co-authoring the ProBlogger book with Darren Rowse. If you’re looking for a blog consultant wouldn’t you be impressed by someone who literally wrote the book?
Demonstration of Expertise
A standout portfolio is obviously a priceless asset for a freelancer. For obvious reasons, clients like to work with those who have demonstrated their abilities and their expertise. In addition to having a stellar portfolio, blogging about your area of work is becoming increasingly important for freelancers. By maintaining a popular blog you can consistently show readers the knowledge and expertise that you have, and in time you’ll build your name as a leader in your field.
One example of demonstrating expertise through a blog is graphic designer David Airey. There are thousands of graphic designers with incredible portfolios, but David goes a step further by writing insightful blog posts that have opened up new opportunities for him. His blog currently has over 4,000 subscribers and he’s frequently mentioned around the internet as being an excellent designer. With so many other graphic designers out there, it’s pretty unlikely that David would be having the same success with his business if he was not demonstrating his expertise through his blog.
What Are Your Doing to Stand Out?
What approach do you use to differentiate yourself from other freelancers?