By John Tabita

How to Compete against “I Can Do It Myself”

By John Tabita

I Can Do It Myself!

Last week, I talked about how the do-it-yourself nature of web design and marketing is making what we do for a living into a commodity. According to the folks at Imagine Business Development:

Commoditization, in its essence, is the reduction of what can go wrong when a solution is applied without your expertise. If the answer to, “what can go wrong?” is “nothing” then you are selling a commodity.

The onward march of technology guarantees that most companies will face the commoditization of their product or service sooner rather than later. I once worked for a company that developed million-dollar machines that computer-painted large-scale graphics on vinyl. At the time, it was revolutionary and made hand-painted billboards (and those who painted them) obsolete.

But a decade later, technological advances allowed other manufacturers to develop and sell large-format printers that could rival the quality of these million-dollar babies … and for a fraction of the cost. Suddenly, large-scale, computer-painted imagery was a commodity.

My former employer’s solution to their dilemma was more complex than you or I face, but that doesn’t make the road any less rough. Here are two ways to compete against “I Can Do It Myself.”

Up the Ante

One way to increase the value of your offering is to “up the ante.” In other words, provide a solution most business owners need, but can’t easily produce themselves.

For me, that meant adding SEO to my offering. At the time, SEO still had the voodoo-magic mystique that web design had a just few years earlier. But even that’s beginning to change. Self-fulfillment services like Yext and Localeze are making it easy for companies and organizations to build local search citations that aid their SEO.

To succeed in the ever-evolving world of web marketing, you must continue to offer services your clients cannot or will not do for themselves. What might some of those be?

In a recent study, 53 percent of small business owners said social media is the marketing channel they need the most help with. Automated solutions are already looming on the horizon, promising to provide “all you need to thrive in the world of social media” in just 30 minutes a month. The window of opportunity may be closing fast.

Besides SEO and social, local SEO, and content marketing are increasing in demand at a higher rate than web design/development. You may need to branch out from your specialty, or partner with someone else who can help.

Don’t assume the services you’ll be offering tomorrow will be the same ones you offer today.

Don’t Compete

The do-it-yourself nature of our industry means you’re not only competing against other web firms and freelancers, you’re also competing against your prospect’s ability to do it himself, as well as the decision to do nothing at all. While you can’t do anything about the former, you can decide not to compete against the last two. So rather than targeting “small to medium-sized businesses,” your best customer is one who:

  • Is in enough pain over his problem that he’s motivated to find a solution
  • Doesn’t have the desire or ability to solve it himself

You can find out if a particular prospect fits your criteria by asking a few simple questions:

  1. What problem are you solving by hiring me?
  2. Is solving this problem “mission critical” or a “back-burner” issue?
  3. Why aren’t you doing this yourself?

The answers will provide the information you need to decide if he or she is worth pursuing as a prospect. Targeting businesses and organizations who fit this criteria means you’ll waste less time marketing to those inclined to say, “Why should I hire you when I can do it myself?”

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Asking the right questions can mean the difference between closing the deal and losing the deal. Get my free guide, 27.5 Must-Ask Questions for Consultative Selling. Just follow me on Twitter and I’ll send you a link.
  • I find it useful to have this page on my website that explains clearly how the freelance consultancy services I offer compare with ‘productised’ or do-it-yourself offerings online: http://adamlofting.com/hire-me/logo-design-example-costs/

    I won’t ever try to talk people out of using these services if it’s appropriate for them. And for many businesses it’s great for the owners to get hands on with this kind of work – at least in the early days.

    • Adam,

      I think it’s good that you recognize crowd-sourcing and DIY solutions as appropriate for some clients. Too many designers are incensed over sites like 99Designs. By doing so, they’ll never come to grips with how the market is changing and will never figure out how to compete against it.

  • Cindy Ahura

    That resonates with me. In pre-qualifying a customer, these 3 questions can be incorporated into a questionnaire you send out to prospects.

    • Exactly. I’d recommend that you get these three questions answered to your satisfaction before you ever agree to a meeting.

  • Interesting post.

    As a online marketing specialist you have to keep abreast with the latest in the industry. It is critical that you keep updating yourself.

    However, I do not agree fully with @john that automated solutions are going to take over. I agree that they are competition for online marketing professionals and companies but I strongly feel that automated systems would be discouraged over a period of time and manually engaging through social media is going to have benefits that cannot be compared with automated social media management.

    Again as an online marketing professional you have to keep adding skills to your repertoire so that you keep getting paid well and that does become challenging at times.

    • I don’t mean to imply that automated solutions are going to take over. But as they become more sophisticated, they pose more and more of a serious threat.

      The automated solution I linked to above, Demand Force, was acquired by Intuit for $420 million. For that price, I’d say they’re quite serious about jumping into this market. Social media consultants are going to have to deal with that, the same way web designers have had to.

      Typically, these types of solutions appeal to the lower end of the market. Unfortunately, that’s what a lot of freelancers target. The large agencies are going to win the top end of the market. That means, in order to compete, you need to abandon the bottom and go after the middle.

      By that I mean stop going after the mom-and-pops and try targeting companies that are too large for the DIY solutions and too small to have the resources to do in in-house. My dad used to talk about companies that were “too big to be small, and too small to be big.”

      I’ve written about pursing clients in the $5-10 million annual revenue range and had people comment that they can’t imaging landing a client that large. But I did, and they were the best clients to work for. Unlike the mom-and-pops, these clients would never dream of a DIY solution.

  • sean

    When your customer tries to communicate with you, listen to them, try to understand what they’re saying and follow through with taking care of their needs. We wouldn’t be attempting to “do it ourself” if the last three consultants didn’t bring a “know-it-all” attitude to the table, mostly ignored what we had to say repeatedly and then proceeded to get less than half of it right. Our business does operate a bit differently from others and the “one-size-fits-all” approach mirrored what I learned in the automotive industry, “universal parts” fit universally, badly.

  • In the “Up the Ante” section, the SEO links have the following issues.

    Yext does not accommodate Canadian businesses. It does not accept provinces, postal codes.

    Localeze comes up on my browser as having poor reputation based on user ratings.

  • Akilah

    I like the idea don’t compete. I adopted this same strategy about a year ago. I’m in an online networking group of new business owners, often someone would post a comment about needing a website, of course I would mention my business and almost always someone would come behind me and mention all of the ways they could do it themselves (nothing personal against me but they were sharing what they know) . I finally had to tell my self to stop Competing and stop giving all of the reasons why they should hire instead of DIY. So now I post my information invite them to view my work and if they reach out I know they are the ideal client, they had a choice and chose to use a pro, as opposed to being convinced they need me.

    I even took my services a step further that now I offer training group and individual for DiYers that want to do it themselves, i dont show everything but i give lessons on set up proper layout etc. things people would take hours trying learn, i make more accessible. Of course I would love them as a full client but the reality is everyone is not your customer, but I can at least leverage the market by providing another service that will help make DIY a little better.

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