Every time my son joins a baseball league, they bring in a professional photographer to take the team photo. This past season, that same photographer would show up at games, take close-up action shots of the boys, and hand out cards with a link to his website where we could view thumbnails and download a hi-res version—for a price.
The only flaw in his plan was an amateur photographer who was doing the same thing. (Every time she showed up, he’d leave in a huff.) I’m not sure what her gig was; maybe she just enjoyed taking photos. Or perhaps it was a personal vendetta. I really didn’t care, because she gave us parents access to her cloud server where her photos were uploaded. Needless to say, I didn’t buy any images from the professional photographer’s website.
“I Can Do It Myself!”
For nearly every service business in existence, there’s an amateur who can do it himself … or at least thinks he can. Never mind your professional training and skill; that amateur is convinced he did just as good a job. Ask any business owner whose daughter built his company web site.
Photographers have battled this for years, and the digital camera only makes it worse. With the advent of the PC and software like Microsoft Publisher, graphic designers became the newest members of the “Why Should I Hire You when I Can Do It Myself?” club.
Innovations like the printing press have given people access to that which was previously available only to the privileged few—such as books. But all innovation is inherently disruptive. We love it when technology enables us to do things we couldn’t do before. We hate it when it allows our clients to do what only we could do for them.
There was a time when creating a website seemed like voodoo magic. Today, you can build a professional-looking site online in an hour or less. Add a little tech savvy to the mix, along with a WordPress theme, and you have a site to rival the best custom design. The availability of these tools lets the average small business publish a website that’s just as good as you or I could build—without our help. Gutenberg would be proud.
Now I know there are a lot of reasons why you and I think what we create is vastly superior to a do-it-yourself site. But guess what? Most business owners don’t. Or at least not better enough to justify three times the cost. I’m sure the professional photographer could point out why his baseball shots were better than the amateur’s.
The more your customer is empowered to apply your solution himself without your expertise, and the less that can go wrong when he does means you’re selling a commodity. Breaking out of this trap requires that you ask yourself the following two questions about your business model and your target market:
- What problem am I solving?
- What are the negative consequences if they try to solve this problem themselves?
I struggled with this when I sold web design services. I tried resorting to the age-old designer claim that “customers won’t buy from you when you have an ugly, unprofessional-looking site.” But then I discovered that ugly sites can convert as just as well, or better in some circumstances. Oops.
I also tried the “bad code” approach: that these do-it-yourself tools don’t produce standards-compliant sites, making it harder for search engines to rank you. And while that’s a good argument in theory, the reality is, it’s a poor selling point. If you’re going to differentiate yourself against these do-it-yourself solutions, it has to be a differentiation that your customers actually find valuable.
When my dad was in business, very few people had the skill or desire to rebuild their car or truck engine themselves. And those who did still came to us for the parts and machining services. But all the tools to build and market a website are readily available to your customer, many of which are quite capable of producing a decent site. So how do you compete against “good enough”?
Stay tuned for the next post in this series: How to Compete Against “I Can Do It Myself!”