By Andrew Neitlich

How to talk about your web business so that you set yourself apart

By Andrew Neitlich

Sitepoint visitor Michael writes:

I really need to differentiate myself from the
competition. Most people I meet hear I’m a web designer and the
response I get is, “Oh another one”. Can you give some
tips/hints/ideas on how to help define this in an upcoming blog?

Great question, Michael! First, please continue to send questions my way so we can keep this blog interactive and interesting to you.


Now to an answer:

First, stop describing your business in terms of what you do. As soon as you say, “I’m a web designer,” you become a generic vendor.

You need to introduce yourself with what marketing folks call a “hook.” A hook is a compelling way to get somebody interested in what you do. A solid hook answers three questions:

1. Who is your target market?
2. What problem do you solve (preferably in emotional terms)?
3. What benefits do you get?

Here are some examples:

“I help furniture retailers who are struggling to attract more customers grow their business with a powerful web presence.”

“I help resource-starved non-profit organizations use the web to get all the donations, volunteers, and support that they need.”

“I help lawyers get more clients by helping them look more professional, credible, and knowledgeable than their competitors.”

Once you get their attention, you need to answer a few more questions:

1. How are you unique compared to everyone else?
2. How do you do it?
3. What’s the proof?

Here are more examples:

“Unlike other web designers, we focus exclusively on lawyers. In fact, we’ve worked with the top five law firms in the area. We have a proprietary methodology that covers the six points every lawyer needs to have in place for an effective web presence.”

“Unlike other web designers, we go way beyond design to provide a turnkey solution. We can tie your web presence to your accounting system, customer relation system, and outbound lead generation and follow up process. I have a stack of references, tesimonials, and case studies of clients talking about the results that this approach has got for them.”

“We’re the only web firm that offers a money-back guarantee. In fact, you don’t pay us until you tell us that you are delighted with our finished product.”

Michael, I hope this helps! Everyone: Aside from posting some more questions, please give some more examples of how you talk about your web business to set yourself apart…..

  • Simon Roe

    I too have this problem. i find it hard to say what i do for a living without feeling like i’m at a rehab meeting “Hi i’m simon and i’m a web designer, i started 5 years ago and couldn’t stop…” etc.

    i find that knowing the person i’m talking to helps a lot. you can focus in on what interests them most. also having made sites for other business in the fiels helps a lot.

    will be interesting to hear more about what people say

  • I agree with Andrew on this one. Anything you can say to somebody to get them to continue to talk with you is the key. If you just say you are a web designer that is certainly nothing special anymore since everyone seems to think they have a nephew or something that can design websites. Most of us on sitepoint know that is not true but some people certainly still think that way. Getting a person to actually continue speaking and having dialogue with you about your business is HUGE! You will immediately know if they are interested by their response to your answer. Nice tip Andrew!

  • Anonymous

    Nice response to the question on how to make yourself unique to one’s target audience. As someone who leads a start-up doing blog design and publishing for lawyers I think I’ll ‘borrow’ some of your language about helping lawyers. Though we’re the only folks out there limiting our work to lawyer blogs – so far.

    Keep up the great work on your blog. Receive it by syndication and engjoy reading the posts.

    – Kevin

  • I agree with Kevin. Great answer to a great question. I too will ‘borrow’ from your examples in order to develop my own selling technique which is pretty dire at the moment

  • buono

    I am proud to talk about what I do!

    I always talk about how lucky I am to have spent the last 8 years doing work I enjoy in a dynamic industry.

    It says:

    This person enjoys what he does
    This person is experienced
    This person takes pride in himself and his work
    This person can deal with change

  • rick_g22

    “Our mission is to produce websites that are not only appealing, but also efficient AND user friendly. Our main goal is accessibility. How many times have you had to navigate with dozens of mouse clicks in a website that you get lost in, or fill in a form to find out 20 minutes later that the services were temporarily unavailable? I’ve seen it in tax administration websites, banks, online stores… i mean, what were they thinking about? Come on!

    The difference is this: We DON’T just think about the company, but also about the potential client who will browse the company’s website.

    Our flash animations are compacted without sacrificing quality, and, unlike other web designer companies out there, ours ensures that your website is A HUNDRED PERCENT standards compliant (XHTML, CSS2, WAI). This means increased search engine ratings, and easier website maintenance.

    For intranet projects, we base ourselves on multi-layer architecture. This means
    that you can use easily-editable templates to change the look and feel, without needing to spend weeks to change the website’s look and feel. It also means an efficiency boost in development and maintenance of about 400% compared to other web application developers. To add a module, design the template, copy/paste the front-end code from another module, to a bit of editing, and voila! In one day you have a full working module for your existing intranet application.

    Other designers/developers may use cutting-edge technology, but do they use it WELL? We do.”

    How’s that? :) Well, that’d be my intro if I worked freelance – but since I work on contract, oh well ^_^ What do you think guys?

  • Ladislav Martincik

    I’m living in Czech Republic and when I see sentences like:
    “We’re the only web firm that offers a money-back guarantee. In fact, you don’t pay us until you tell us that you are delighted with our finished product.” I have to laugh, because If I’ll try this at my country some client are going to take advantage of my offer and they will never pay even if they suppose to be satisfied.

    Sorry for my English.

  • Jeremy

    I think this article offers some excellent tips. Thank you.

    Jeremy Lushene

  • tida

    rick, too many features, you should stick one or two unique benefits.
    And being better is not a benefit, more effcient is not a benefit. I should say that being better is a benefit that is hard to position and hard to prove. It is also expected.

    100% standards compliance is a good start but how does that benefit the client.

    Instead of saying 400% boost in effciency, how about “our templates help increase your sales by easily creating different look and feel designs for different seasons; it effortlessly allows you to point and click your way into seasonal designs in less than minutes.

  • The money-back guarantee is a fine idea, but lordy, don’t wait until the end of the project to get your money! Cash flow is a good thing and your idea pretty much kills it. Always ask for half up front and half in the end + a money-back guarantee if you want to add it in.

  • RichS

    to rick g22:

    Not bad, but generally too wordy. Treat your text more like an ad instead of a mission statement. (BTW, never use the word “mission” in a mission statement!!!) If the reader doesn’t get the message quickly and clearly they’ll stop reading. Here are some examples of what I mean.

    < >

    “We think about your company and potential clients who visit your site” is cleaner and more to the point. The phrase “DON’T just think” is too negative sounding (about yourself) and could be confusing, especially with the word DON’T in caps. You’re trying to talk to the owner… say “your company” and not “the company.” It should be more like a personal conversation.

    < >

    “Compact, high-quality Flash animations that are 100% standards compliant… for increased search engine ratings and easy site maintenance.”

    You shouldn’t use technical terms (or at least limit them)… the guy you’re talking most likely doesn’t know or doesn’t care. It can obscure your message. When the sentence is well written you sound like you know what you’re doing… you don’t have to say it.

    < >

    “Intranet projects are based our efficient, multi-layer architecture. Change the “look and feel” of your site with easy-to-edit templates and be “up and running” in record time!” The rest of your paragraph basically tells the client how easy your job is… and never give specific numbers like “400%” or “in one day.” It will surely come back to haunt you when delays happen, or when you hand them your invoice!

    < >

    “Cutting-edge technology and cutting-edge design… our distinctive edge!” Why even mention other designer/developers?

    See what I mean?
    Good luck!

  • Conte, Ricardo

    To Rick g22:

    VERY NICE if you are selling to a person that is going to sell a site to the end user and buy your technical services,

    NOT THAT GOOD to talk to business people, they will not listen to that, they will start to think about their own business after the first sentence.

    Suggest you read twice Andrew Neitlich

  • First off, people remember the bad longer than the good. Find something that people hate about your industry and then improve that. Chances are, as web dev is now fairly mature, they’ve had some negative experiences to pull from.

    I don’t worry about saying anything, I’d rather get them to say something. People will talk for hours, but only listen for minutes.

    Ask them about their business. That’s the easiest ‘in’ I’ve ever had. “Nice tie… where’d you get it?” … then “Really? What do you do for work?”

    FORM – Family, Occupation, Recreation and Money.

    Those are the 4 safe topics. Start external and work internally, from ‘the weather’ to their job, to their family… sharing connections with them as they go.

    If you’re passionate about what you do forget about trying to sell them on it and just talk about it as you have your conversation. I talk about Internet business so much to people that my enthusiasm just leaks out… and catches on to others. I can walk into a crowd of 20 people and get 3 to 4 potential clients, not because I’m good at sales but because my energy is contagious. Try that next time.
    Energy. People WILL remember how you make them feel.

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