There is no denying that competition is fierce in the WordPress space – regardless of whether you’re a developer, designer or are providing monthly maintenance services.
Even stepping outside of the immediate WordPress space and looking at services like hosting, logo design or photography, the situation is the same – we live in a time where competition and pricing are often affected by both local and global pressures.
How can you deal with competition and the inevitable pricing pressure that accompanies it? And what specifically can you do to make your competition irrelevant so you are able to grow your business on it own merits?
In this article, I’m hoping to cover some basic concepts that you can use in your business to help relieve some pressure related to competition – maybe even make the competition irrelevant.
Your Competition Isn’t Going to Disappear
Nathan approached this topic a few weeks ago when he referred to the race to the bottom as part myth, part problem. He proposed that the issue of pricing pressure was sometimes caused by under qualified individuals who were over-reaching or misrepresenting their services.
While in some cases this is certainly true, we also have to take into consideration the fact that pricing pressure is often a result of global economic factors. There are many highly skilled WordPress developers and talented artists who live in countries where the cost of living is significantly lower.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Not by a long shot. Price is only one part of the equation. Differences in business practices allow you to exploit a competitive edge, especially when you are targeting your local market. Responding to client emails, answering phone calls and communicating expectations are often areas where lower price contractors struggle and clients grow weary.
Yes, it’s true that you will still be under some pricing pressure locally – there will always be competition in any market where you can generate a profit. But, without economies of scale, it becomes very challenging for a developer or designer to stay in business for any length of time if their prices are rock bottom. There are too many variables and too little margin for error.
Have you heard of the “unattainable triangle” before? Basically, the idea is that each point of the triangle represents one competitive aspect (I’ve swapped out fast, good and cheap for something more applicable):
In theory – and certainly true from a personal experience standpoint – you can only provide two of those points to your customers at any one time. There will always be one that suffers. If you’re a coffee drinker, you’ll understand this comparison:
Tim Hortons offers low price coffee with quick service; their quality leaves something to desire. Starbucks, on the other hand, offers higher quality coffee and great customer service; but you pay a premium price. It would be virtually impossible for Starbucks to turn a profit if their coffee was high quality, their service was great and the price was cheap. It’s just too difficult to turn a profit.
The same concept applies in the WordPress space. A developer might be able to provide a well-coded, compliant website at a cheap price. But I can almost guarantee that the service will be lacking. Alternatively, they could provide the same website with great customer service but there is a cost involved. In situations where quality and service are high, the client should expect to pay a premium.
As a general rule of thumb, any time a client approaches you looking for quality and service at a cheap price, you should seriously consider sending them elsewhere.
Maybe you’ve tried ordering a cheap logo at some point in time. You know, the ones that cost $5-10. They often look great (even if they’re not original), and the price is awesome. If you ask for a revision, however, be prepared to wait. Sometimes you’ll wait four days just to get an email reply. Then another four days will go by before you see the revision. From a customer service perspective, that would rarely be considered appropriate by North American Standards. Wouldn’t you rather pay more and receive better service?
The unattainable triangle provides you, the developer or designer with an opportunity to create an edge: A competitive advantage not easily outdone.
In fact if you know your target market well enough, you stand to make most of your competition irrelevant.
Brand Preference versus Brand Relevance
David Aaker wrote a book called Brand Relevance which Strategy+Business named one of the top three marketing books of 2011. In the book he discusses the idea of positioning your business in one of two ways:
Brand preference involves creating a desire for your brand over others within the same industry. Apple comes to mind – one of the most well-known brands of all time. How many people do you know own an Apple computer but couldn’t tell you what kind of graphics chip was inside if their life depended upon it? They don’t care! They just want an Apple computer. There are a lot of consumers out there who prefer Apple as a result of very effective marketing.
A major downside to brand preference is that it can be very expensive. You are essentially trying to convince your prospects that you are the most popular choice. With little to offer in the way of uniqueness, you’re relying on your ability to be persuasive. An expensive proposition for any WordPress business especially considering the chances are high that a competitor will have deeper pockets than you do.
The second option and arguably the more challenging of the two involves creating brand relevance. This is undoubtedly the area where you want to focus the bulk of your time and effort. By becoming a highly relevant brand, you’ll be making your competition irrelevant at the same time. But what does that mean?
Brand relevance basically involves creating a brand that is entirely unique – meaning your goal is to place your WordPress business in a category of it’s own. You can do this through a variety of methods which we’ll get to shortly.
Before we do, it’s important to point out that as a WordPress developer or designer, focusing on relevance is a much easier path to navigate. Not only is it less expensive from a marketing perspective but I think it allows for a much larger margin of error as well. Even if you don’t nail the relevance perfectly the first time around, you’ll be able to refine what you’re doing over time and optimize your results accordingly.
We’re not just focusing on the relevance of services though. Yes unique services can set you apart but so can many other factors. There are other steps you can take which will help to define your edge:
4 Specific Steps to Make Your Competition Irrelevant
Seth Godin does a wonderful job explaining exactly what a brand is. You can head over to his website to read the full definition but here’s the gist of it:
If a client chooses your company over another or is willing to pay more for your services, that means they have placed a premium value on your brand. And your brand is represented not just by the services you provide but how you provide them.
Everything you do as it relates to your clients, has the potential to increase or decrease your brand value. Your brand value is your edge.
So what are the key areas worth focusing on?
1. Select a Niche
We don’t need to spend too much time here since niche selection was covered not to long ago right here on Elegant Themes. However, it bears repeating that by selecting a niche market you’ll be able to:
- Create a more targeted message that speaks to a specific type of client.
- Charge more due to your expertise and knowledge of a specific market.
Once you’re done here, make sure you head over to read the full article. For now though, we can move on to step two.
2. Create a Unique Service
Services are the lifeblood of your business. Although it’s possible to provide a service that is completely unique, it’s not always an easy task to accomplish. As well, your ability to provide a unique service can be quickly overrun by competition. That’s the problem with edges. Their lifespan is finite and the more profit potential that exists, the faster the edge will dissipate. It’s also too easy to get caught up searching for a unique service where none exists.
Think back a few years when mobile responsive design was just becoming popular. If you were one of the first developers who included responsiveness as part of your website development service, you had an edge. If as a designer you included .psd files for responsive layouts as part of your design process, you had a leg up on the competition. Both of those edges were short lived. Eventually mobile responsive design was readily available and clients came to expect it. There was no longer an ability to charge a premium.
You can also be unique by bundling together different services. Whether you do the work yourself is irrelevant. Simply providing a one stop shop for your clients can present an edge over your competitors. Just make sure that everything you do, you do well.
Your whole objective here is to create as much brand relevance as possible. When your target market looks at the services you offer, you want to come across as the obvious choice. You want them think “That’s exactly what I’ve been looking for”.
3. Create a Bold Personality That’s Client Centric
Referring to our previous definition of a brand, we know that although your brand is represented by what you do, it’s more about how those actions make your clients feel. Obviously, you can’t control how someone else feels but you can control how you and your business interact with the clients. Here are some things you might consider when developing your brand personality:
- Who are you speaking to? Make sure you understand your market before you craft your message.
- Be Consistent across all fronts. The reality of business today is that there are many forward facing fronts that need to managed concurrently. Website, social, newsletters and face to face. You should strive to deliver the same message wherever your clients are.
- Be Bold. If you’re the same as everyone else how can you hope to stand out? Bold doesn’t mean flamboyant or obnoxious; it doesn’t mean a flashy logo or bright colors and it doesn’t mean you need to get in peoples face. Being bold means means be who you are and be damn good at it.
4. Build Long Term Relationships
Let’s assume at this point that you’ve done the following:
- Targeted a niche market
- Created a unique service that targets your specific niche
- Developed a brand that appropriately dictates how you will communicate and deal with clients.
Low and behold you’ve landed your ideal client. Great news!
Of course, it’s only natural that you want to keep them around as long as possible and your best chance of accomplishing this is achieved through the delivery of great customer service.
It’s sounds easy, and it is. But in reality, there are many companies that screw it up. This is good news for you because it means when customer service is done right, it presents a sizable competitive advantage.
One of the first things you should consider is making sure your message is consistent through the entire life-cycle of your client. Don’t promote your services or portray yourself through social channels using one voice and then switch to another once a client comes on-board.
Do you remember as a child when you watched TV commercials about toys and everything was dramatized? Cars jumping across treacherous crevasses; dolls that looked and acted like a real babies and superheroes who were invincible and flew through the air on their own.
Yet, when you finally received one of those toys, for your birthday or another special occasion, there was always a sense of disappointment. What you were sold was never quite the same as what you received. It’s that sense of disappointment that you NEVER want to impart on your clients.
Beyond that, there are an infinite number of things you can do to keep clients happy and loyal. It just takes planning, time and effort. It’s doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Treat your clients the way you would want to be treated and 9 times out of 10, you’ll be on the right track.
Here’s the most important thing to remember when it comes to building long term relationships: The more solidified your relationship with a specific client becomes, the less your competition will matter. Any time you are in a relationship where your needs are being met and you are treated fairly, there is little need to look for a better deal.
We’ve touched on several key areas in this post and it’s worth summarizing the most important ones:
- There will always be competition but it’s possible to create a competitive advantage that will make the majority irrelevant.
- Focus on building brand relevance as opposed to brand preference.
- Select a niche.
- Create services that solve problems specific to your niche.
- Create a personality that speaks to your niche.
- Once clients are on board, focus on building long term relationships.