How to Flatten Your Competition

flatten your competition

Every business, big and small, has competitors, and we all want to beat them.  But what if you didn’t have to?  What if you could learn how to flatten your competition; to even make them irrelevant? That way, it wouldn’t matter what they did.

Here’s how competition usually works.  Each year, the big TV networks compete with each other to get higher ratings during “sweep” periods. They use “stunt-hosting” to pull in more viewers to their respective morning news shows.  They’re fighting over the claim to “most popular” show.

Does any of this really matter to their viewers?  Is the show more interesting? Has all that effort, and money spent really gained them anything (other than bragging rights)?

Carmakers spend millions of dollars each year on ads, trying to outsell each other.

Do the cars and trucks last longer?  Or get better mileage? Do their customers (and non-customers who are bombarded with all these ads), feel better about the companies?  It’s old-fashioned interruption marketing — lots of money spent, plenty of annoyed viewers, and not much human connection.

How to Flatten Your Competition

Instead of trying to beat the competition, why not ignore them entirely.  Do something they can’t (or won’t do). Offering something unique, or a solution that solves a tough problem can help you stand out from everyone else.  If you’re known for a speciality, clients will seek you out.

For example, circus attendance is declining, but Cirque de Soleil is thriving. Why? Because they ignored the traditional circus audience of children and went after adults and corporate clients instead.  Their shows are definitely not for children, and they charge much higher prices than traditional circuses.  Since there is no other “adult” circus, they have no competitors to worry about.

Make a You-Shaped Hole

Remember watching Bugs Bunny cartoons?  Every time Bugs went through a wall or a solid object, he left a Bugs-shaped hole.  Take a tip from Bugs (and Cirque de Soleil) and create something that’s unique to you.

Be the writer who creates annual reports that look like infographics.  They’re easier to read, more fun, and remarkable.

Or, be the photographer who travels the world solely on airline mileage points, and then teach other people how to do the same thing.

Do something unique, over the top, or simply remarkable (how about late-night fresh chocolate chip cookie delivery?), and your competition won’t matter.  They’ll simply be irrelevant.

Master One Thing

Develop expert knowledge on a particular subject that people will pay to learn or have done.  Pick something that you care about, that you could talk about all day.  Gary Vaynerchuk loves wine, and found a way to talk about it that was obvious (in retrospect) but unique.  He never mentions “nose” or “finish” or other technical wine terms, he talks about wine in ordinary language that consumers use (not the language of wine experts).

There is a woman who has a coaching practice focused solely on helping pet sitters to grow their businesses.  She helps pets sitters only, not babysitters, not plumbers, not web developers, just pet sitters.  She has mastered that one service for a particular group of people.

Become a Partner, Not a Vendor

Another way to do this is to become an essential partner with your clients, rather than just a vendor.

If you help them with their business strategy, listen carefully when they talk to you, and above all, be helpful, they will start to regard you as a key part of their business success, rather than another expense.

If you think they’re making a mistake, tell them, even if it costs you money.  For instance, I had a client who wanted to do a large mailing from a list he had accumulated over time.  I would have made money writing the sales letters, but it was a mistake.  The list was no good and the mailing would have wasted his money.

I talked him out of it. Yes, I lost that particular project, but I gained more trust from my client.  And, it was worth it to both of us.

The competition didn’t matter much after that.  I was his trusted advisor.





Get More Clients With This Simple Trick

a small business edge

Cliff Edge(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did you know that there’s a simple trick that can help you get more clients?

It’s something that many small and medium size businesses ignore, or don’t even know about.

It isn’t more years of experience or knowing more software. It isn’t your location either.

It’s something that can help you stand out from your competition and make it easier for you to get more clients.

I call it having “an edge.”

What’s an edge?

What do I mean by an “edge” anyway? Lower prices? A sack of razors in the back?


An edge is a term that Seth Godin uses to define something that makes your company different.

Something that other businesses would have a great deal of trouble duplicating.

For instance, any restaurant can lower prices, but not every restaurant could (or would) offer a 15-course meal that takes three hours to serve and consume. And not every patron could afford the time or the money to eat such a meal.

Does an edge mean complicated and expensive?

Not necessarily. Your edge could be a meal that lasts three hours. Or, one that’s served in 12 seconds.

You could treat everyone really, really well (like Zappos). Or treat them badly. Ratner’s (a restaurant in New York City), was famous for its grumpy waiters. They told you what to eat, steered you away from the fish and toward the blintzes, and generally treated their customers poorly. Customers ate it up (sorry), because it was something to talk about to their friends.

Your edge could be adding something (a free web site favicon, a free soup strategy, or a font of the month).

You could over-engineer your products (like Patagonia does).  Most of its customers don’t really need clothing that can withstand -80F temperatures, or keep them comfortable three miles up on a mountain, but they like to think they do.

Or, you could offer super-fast turnaround (at an appropriate rush price), for clients with big, hairy deadlines breathing down their necks. Think of what FedEx did for packages for people in a hurry.

The key is to create something that’s impressive, noteworthy, and well remarkable.

This is the last in a series of posts about competing against outsourcing.  The other posts are:

Avoid This Common Business Trap

Animal trap on Hilbre Island, Wirral, England.

Watch out for the trap (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you fallen into this common business trap?

Many smaller businesses try to be all things to all people.

Sometimes, the problem is being too vague:

“We’re a full service marketing agency that leverages your company resources to maximize profits”

Other times, it’s being too broad:

“We do logo design, landing pages, WordPress themes, and SEO”

Specializing in everything is specializing in nothing

That hypothetical logo design, landing page, theme company may do some of those things well, but likely not all of them.

Cell phones have evolved from simple portable phones to game devices, still cameras, libraries, video cameras, messaging devices, and a host of other things.

They’re no longer very good for making phone calls.  The voice quality is often poor, and they’re hard to hold comfortably up to your ear for a long period of time.

On the other hand, take MailChimp.  They specialize in email marketing.  That’s what they do.  Not iphone games, not branding, not even email copywriting.  They make email marketing software.  Period.

Why one thing works

People know where to “file” you.  If you’re a grant proposal writer, then if a friend or client comes across a charity seeking grants, they know to refer you.

The benefit to you (and your clients) is that you get to know your business, your clients, and their problems, really well.

If your business is backup, do backup, not installing servers, not database management, not warm cookies.  Don’t try to cast  your net too widely, learn marketing from fishermen.

Negatives are good

Our hypothetical referrer in the previous paragraph also knows not to refer you if they meet someone who needs a technical writer.  It’s a completely different skillset.

I was asked the other day if I did branding.  Could I?  Probably.  Do I?  No.  It’s not my specialty. No branding, no general advertising, and no press releases.

Instead, my clients hire me for copywriting and response-driven marketing.

You can charge more

Remember BUMI from last week’s post?  They focused on one thing, and could charge higher fees, because it was now a premium service aimed at larger companies with specialized security and backup needs. A higher perceived value meant higher prices.

This is the fourth post in a series about competing against outsourcing.  The other posts are:


How to Charge a Premium and Get More Clients

A stack of Money/Picture of money (The followi...

Image via Wikipedia

Can you really charge a premium and get more customers?  It seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it.  Surely, charging more must mean less business not more. Right?

Not necessarily.

Backup company BUMI was losing customers. They did some analysis and realized that their problem was their pricing. They were charging $50 a month and their clients were leaving because it cost too much. They also realized that it was costing them nearly $50 a month to support those customers.

The usual response might be to start a price war, or lower prices and try to “make it up on volume.” But, that’s not what BUMI decided to do.

Rather than lower their prices, they tripled them.

Charge a premium and get more clients

Instead of trying to compete on price, or compete against hundreds of other moderately priced backup companies, they repositioned themselves as a top of the line backup solution with a special focus on financial services and other firms with special security needs.

BUMI now had a premium service, and could charge more for it because they were offering added value and services to a specialized audience.

Their new customers were more IT savvy too, needed less basic help and instruction, and were willing to pay for peace of mind and security.

Yes, they did lose more customers initially, but their revenue and profits rose! In fact, they did so well, the CEO took the entire company to Disneyworld.

Ignore the cheap competition

Rather than trying to compete against hundreds or thousands of low-cost “providers,” position yourself as the top of the line instead. Turn away the low-cost jobs and refer them to other people.

As a friend said recently, “I found that it was easier to get businesses to pay me $1,000 a month than it was to get them to pay $400.”  The higher price equals a higher perceived value. You’ll attract better clients, who understand that what your higher prices will pay off for them in improved revenue, better appeal to their clients, and even save them money and headaches on solutions that don’t really fit their needs.

Do something that makes you stand out in their minds because you offer a better service and more remarkable experience that’s worth paying extra.

This is the third in a series of posts about competing against outsourcing.  The remaining posts are:


Simple Ways to Keep Your Clients and Get New Ones

Bagel Day!

Bagel Day! (Photo credit: Joey DeVilla)

Trying to compete against overseas designers and developers?  Overseas designers and writers are churning out work as fast as they can (to make money as quickly as possible). Luckily, there are simple ways to beat outsourcing, keep your clients, and get new ones.

Back to those outsourcers for a minute.  The trouble they have is that they’re many time zones away.  They don’t have time for personal attention.  And, they can’t meet or talk to their clients face to face. But you can.

Send something personal

Instead of thinking like a 21st century person, try thinking like a Victorian instead. Create a calendar with your company name, photos, and appropriate reminders (if you’re in the gardening business, this could be planting and fertilizing timing).  A graphic designer might display beautiful typefaces (or even art made with type). Or just include a bunch of completely silly holidays (like International Bacon Day).  You can even make them up.

Bagel Day!

 Bob Poole suggests Bagel Day! Who doesn’t love bagels?  Call your favorite client and ask if you can drop by the next day.  Why?  Because you’ve just declared tomorrow to be Bagel Day.  Deliver the bagels, and thank them for being a client.


If personally delivering bagels is impractical, send something else (tickets to their favorite sports team, a bottle of wine, or even better, gifts for their kids or grandkids.  My dad owns several buildings in CT. His real estate broker regularly sends gifts for my nephew.  Has she endeared herself in a way that no other broker ever did?  Sure she has!

Video calls

Email and telephone conversations are great, but sometimes quite a bit can get lost in translation.  With written words, verbal cues, tone of voice, and temper are missed.  Telephones are better, but you can’t see face-to-face.

Try scheduling regular video conferences with your clients.  It can be for updates, conference calls, or even part of the work process (don’t just suggest a typeface, show them in real time and get real time feedback).  Or go through comps.  This used to be expensive, but with Skype and Google Hangouts it’s free.

Face to face

When you’re  a freelancer, it’s easy to get stuck in your own “cave.”  I’m creating! Don’t bother me.

But, sometimes, you need to get out (you’ll feel better, get new ideas, and meet new people). Go to a networking meeting.  Have coffee with a client, or reconnect with people you haven’t seen in a while.  Look for complementary creatives (graphics and web development, for instance). People do business with people they know and like.  If you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind too.

What other ways can you reach out?

This post is the second in a series about competing against outsourcing.
The remaining posts are: