What sets you apart?
That’s a question you need to be asking yourself if you want to be a successful designer these days—but it’s an incomplete question too. Because what sets you apart is relative: Compared to whom? Compared to what? Unless you finish that sentence, it’s impossible to answer.
The complete question is: What sets you apart…from other designers…from others offering the same services…essentially, from your competition? The only way to effectively answer that question is to know who you’re competing against.
Unfortunately, many creatives have no idea and, truth be told, may not want to know, because it can be depressing.
When you know who the competitors are, you go to their web site and it always looks like business is booming, which, if you’re like many designers I know, kicks off an internal monologue that goes something like this: “Look at all those clients! How did they get those clients? Their portfolio is full of new work and I barely have anything new to show. They obviously have more and better clients than I do. They must be doing better than I am. I’m a loser.”
Before you sink too deep into that quicksand, I beg you—please stop yourself from falling into the “comparison trap.”
Remember, all you can see is their marketing! You don’t know the reality.
I talk to a lot of people and I can tell you that the picture is rarely as rosy as it looks.
So while you do indeed need to know who your competitors are and what they’re doing, you also have to be strong enough not to let it discourage you. That’s a fine line to walk, for sure.
Sometimes, even if you have no clear idea who the competition is, you know they’re out there because someone else is getting the work—not you! Sometimes it’s not even a person. It could be a piece of software or a robot!
That means you really have to be on your toes to stay a few steps ahead and constantly reinventing and innovating, which is the true path to success. But, again, that’s only possible if you know who (or what) you’re competing against.
So who is your competition?
Here are just 3 of the many different ways to identify the competition:
- Your competition is any other local designer or firm. The most obvious competitors are other designers you know, especially the local ones. They may be your colleagues and sometimes even your friends. But what about local designers undercutting your prices and whose work you consider to be inferior to yours? Does that make them more competitive, or less? Are bigger local agencies too big to be your competition? Can your prospect tell the difference in quality amongst any of these options? Design is very subjective, so probably not.
- Your competition is another designer or firm in the same niche. Having a niche makes it super simple to spot the competition. They’re the ones who are also members of the trade association. They’re the ones who are speaking at the association’s events and writing on their blog. They’re the ones also lurking in the association’s online forum. And they’re the ones who position themselves squarely in that niche on the homepage of their web site, no matter where they’re located.
- Your competition is your client’s paralysis. When you never hear back from a prospect, you may assume a competitor got the project. But often, the project is shelved, postponed or put on the back burner. That’s what you’re competing against—the option of doing nothing. That’s a reality more often than not.
Your real competition is anyone and everyone else your client is considering. That may include the local designers you are aware of, but it may not. It may include freelancers on the other side of the world who are willing to work for almost nothing. It may include the proverbial “client’s nephew.”
To find out who you’re competing against, you have to know what other options your client has—and it may be different for each client. It doesn’t hurt to ask—they just might tell you. Because ignorance may be bliss, but not when it comes to the competition. It’s better to know than to pretend you have no competition.
Plus, instead of being demoralized by the competition, you can use them to motivate you. You can learn from them and use what you learn to grow your business and innovate to stay ahead of them. In my next article, I’ll show you how.