Is your point of difference killing your business?

Point of difference business

Back when I first started Swish Design a major point of difference was my responsiveness to people. Clients loved how fast I got back to them; morning or night, weekend day or weekday.

Every time someone said to me, ‘Wow, I emailed a graphic designer three weeks ago and still haven’t heard from them,’ this reinforced my belief that uber-responsiveness was a brilliant way to set myself apart from others.

I didn’t stop there, however.

In addition to being super-fast with my responses to emails, I was also super-fast to turn things around.

Did you email me some changes to a flyer this morning? You’ll have the amended file by lunch time.

Want a brand new website up within a week? Yeah, no worries. What’s that you say? Every other designer you asked said it couldn’t be done? Well. I’m not ‘every designer’ am I?

As if the above wasn’t enough to set me apart, there was also the way I charged for my time.

If something only took 5-10 minutes, I never charged for it. Sounds nice, right? And honestly, it would have been fine if I was only doing that for one or two people. But I was doing it for everyone. Even people/clients I barely knew.

Let’s do the math:

10 minutes to do a job
PLUS 10 minutes’ worth of emailing with the person about said job/processing exactly what needs to be done
PLUS 10 minutes’ worth of ‘dead time’ (the time that’s involved with switching from this task to the next)
EQUALS 30 minutes of time that can’t be billed for.

Do 10 of these ‘quick little jobs’ every week (and I was) and that’s nearly 5 hours of unbillable time per week. That’s nearly a whole day!

There are good points of difference and there are bad ones

The reason I resorted to the points of difference above was that they were ‘easy’ for me. I’m fast and efficient so … play to your strengths, right?

The problems with the above, however, are obvious:

  • They set a standard that was hard to keep up the more clients I got. I ended up working all hours of the day (and night) to keep up.
  • They set a standard no one else could replicate because no one else was me. It meant I couldn’t hire help because the level of help I required was ‘me’. (i.e. non-existent)
  • Not billing for time I should have put a huge amount of pressure on all the other hours in the week.
  • Not billing for time I should have makes clients uncomfortable and uncertain. When they send through a request, they don’t know if they were going to be charged for it or not. Quite often they didn’t want to be seen as taking advantage.

The best point of difference you can offer?

You don’t have to do things fast, or immediately.

You just have to do what you say you’ll do.

  • If your website says, ‘We respond to all emails within 48 hours,’ then respond within 48 hours.
  • If you say, ‘I’ll send through that quote on Thursday,’ send it through on Thursday.
  • If you’ve made a promise and you’re not going to be able to keep it, let people know before you’ve missed the deadline, not after.

In a world where we expect to be let down by service providers we don’t have to go above and beyond to set ourselves apart. We just need to set clear expectations, and then deliver on them.

The good thing about this approach is that it’s both replicable and sustainable.

And business building too.

After all, as Michael LeBoeuf points out:

A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all.


7 thoughts on “Is your point of difference killing your business?”

  1. Very valid points here Kelly – So often we create the expectations in our clients/customers ourselves thinking we are offering the best service but in fact, we are just building pressure and an opportunity to let them down. I love the term Under Promise and Over Deliver. ie Would Wednesday be suitable to have that to you? Then deliver it Tuesday creates a far better impact.

  2. Thanks for the post – that’s a message that should be drummed into everyone who is starting, or already running, their own small business.

  3. I recently spoke to a fellow self employed service provider that was complaining that her clients rang her at all times of the day and night. I asked her why she answered. She replied ‘because they expect me to’. She had never considered that she had set those expectations by her actions. Early on I thought I had to do this but once I started setting different expectations, it changed my life! Another great article Kelly.

    1. Thanks so much Carli. It was a crazy crazy point of difference to try and offer. And it took a breakdown to extract myself of it!

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