How to differentiate yourself in a world full of web designers

You’ve probably already noticed…. there are SO many web designers on this planet.

It’s crazy.

It seems like every man and their dog offer web design as at least part of their business.

Everyone seems to know a “web designer”. There are things we can blame for this (like the low barrier to entry) but that’s not the topic of this post.

The worst part is that most have absolutely no differentiating factor. Have you ever seen someone in a Facebook group ask for some help with a new website? What follows is usually a massive list of people plugging their own services or tagging others that offer websites. A lot of the time, those people have never even used the person they are recommending (thanks to referral groups like BNI).

It’s always reminded me of this kind of scene:

Differentiate yourself in web design

Back when we were still creating websites (and still to this day), I was often tagged in this kind of post. But instead of excitement at the potential business, I’d just feel sad for the poor person getting bombarded with choices, kindly thank the people who tagged me and move on. Knowing that the original poster was getting bombarded with private messages, I didn’t want to contribute to that.

Your big challenge is to rise above this noise, and be the go-to business in the space you own.

Here’s the big question.

How can you possibly stand out in a world where so many people are trying to offer the same service?

Oh man, do I know how you feel. This has been there at the back of my mind for years. It sucks. When you are tagged in that giant list of web designers, what can you possibly say or do to stand out from the horde? Why would someone come to you instead when they can go to just about anyone else?

It seems like a pretty gargantuan task, but it doesn’t have to be that difficult. Let’s discuss how you can be different in this world full of website zombies.

Standing out from other web designers

Not Sucking

Obvious, right?

Well no, not really. A vast majority of web designers out there are total crap. Just ask a few people at your next networking event if they have ever been burned by a designer or developer. Everyone seems to have a horror story. In fact, that’s why we got into web design in the very beginning – after hearing so many of these stories, I wanted to do something about it.

Despite creating a lot of happy clients, for a long time I dwelled on the fact that we were no different to other web designers. That was until I heard a great man, Peter Shankman, say:

To be different, you only have to be one level above crap

While he was referring to how you treat your clients, I realised this applies directly to web design as well. If you actually give a shit and make an effort to constantly improve your service, you’ll do a much better job for your clients. This alone will put you light years ahead of the competition.

Here’s some of the main stuff you should be doing to not suck:

  • Care about the job that you do
  • Always be improving your skills
  • Read blogs to learn about new tools and trends
  • Hang out in communities for the same reason
  • Stop using ThemeForest themes
  • Either learn how to code of work with someone who can
  • Create processes and checklists to make sure every loose end on every job is tied up
  • Ask for feedback after each job and adjust based on the response

Simply by not screwing people around and doing a good job, you will get referrals (for more info on referrals, read the megapost here). Referrals are the best kind of leads you will ever get. It also helps you stand out in that giant list of designers in Facebook posts. There’s nothing like being tagged several times in the one post by different people.

Specialisation

So I don’t sound like a broken record, I’ll keep this section short by linking to the previous How To Get Web Design Clients post. Jump to the “Specialisation” section.

For a quick summary: being a specialist in one industry allows you to:

  • Speak their language
  • Understand what they need to have on their website
  • Do a better job than any generalist
  • Charge more

Basically every specialist I know makes more money and is less stressed than everyone who doesn’t. Simple.

Personality

Your personality is one of the most important things in your business. It’s also one of the easiest ways to differentiate yourself, simply by letting your personality shine through both in your writing and in person.

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People tend to work with others that they know, like and trust. Unless you’re a sociopath, the only way to make that happen is to be real.

There will naturally people you do and don’t get along with. You won’t please everyone, so stop trying to. Some people will naturally gravitate towards you. They’ll work with you and end up as your best clients. Or, would you rather do business with people you don’t like?

Be helpful

Helping people out without charging them can be a great way to stand out and get your foot in the door.

Here’s an example. On one Facebook post, a lady was asking for feedback on her new website she had just built herself. Honestly, the site was terrible. A lot of people were commenting about what was wrong with it and/or offering their services, of course expecting money in return.

It took me maybe 2 minutes to make a short bullet list of some improvements she could make that would have massive impacts. Two days later, she signed a contract for a new website.

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There were a ton of other comments on this post, with a lot of unsolicited self promos or referrals. Yet by just offering a little bit of help expecting nothing in return, this was one of the easiest deals we ever closed.

On the flip side, while being helpful is good, you can go too far. Obviously you need to get paid at some point. Just be mindful of not giving away all of your time.

How do you stand out?

In summary:

  • Web designers are kind of like a zombie horde (there’s a lot of us)
  • You need to stand out, and you can do that by
    • Not sucking
    • Specialising
    • Showing your personality
    • Being helpful

What are you going to do to stand out? Need any help with any of the above? Let me know in the comments.

James Rose

James is the co-founder of Content Snare and Aktura Technology. Once a web designer, his new priority is to help web designers and developers regain their lives, work less and get better clients.

He does this by writing helpful posts, building software and working with web designers to deliver the complex web development that they don't normally handle.

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