Freelancing is on the rise. In today’s insecure job market, being your own boss has never been more appealing. In the States, one in three workers is freelancing, and where the U.S. leads, the world follows. To them, I say: come up with a killer unique selling proposition (USP).
If you are thinking about becoming a freelancer, or have become one, you are presumably good at what you do. But that’s not always enough to create a sustainable business. It’s ferociously competitive out there. Having a clear USP can help you stand out.
Your USP is what defines you as a professional and makes you different from everyone else offering a similar product or service. A well-articulated USP will help you present yourself to the world and will help customers find you when they’re looking for your product or service.
When you are freelancing, and more so if you’re offering your services online, you’re essentially competing with everyone else in the world with similar skills and an internet connection.
In a crowded marketplace, you can only win business if you are cheaper or better than the competition.
Don’t compete on price. It will be a race to the bottom and won’t earn you a living. A well-structured USP can help you focus and do things differently so that you can compete on quality, not price.
Imagine you are a plumber. There are another dozen plumbers in town, and you all have similar equipment, materials and experience. How can you come up with a USP that sets you apart from the competition?
Five questions can help you define your USPs:
1. Who are you?
First, identify your strengths and talents and what makes you the outstanding professional you are today. What are your technical skills? Have you got a particular area of expertise? Write them down and add any awards, accreditations and memberships that back up those claims.
How long have you practised your craft? You will have acquired experience along the way, but also satisfied customers, employers and colleagues. Transform those into testimonials and LinkedIn recommendations. You are also likely to have a sound basis for a portfolio so you can show the world what you do. Add everything to the list.
Now think about your personality traits. Do any of them make your delivery unique? Maybe it’s your attention to detail, the ability to work under pressure or knack for coming up with creative solutions under the tightest of budgets. Make sure you write down everything.
2. What’s the market like?
Next, you want to know in more detail what’s happening out there. Who are your competitors? And before you freak out because you have competitors, stop. Repeat after me: competition is good. It shows customers are willing to pay for what you have to offer, and that others are making a living by doing just that.
If others are doing it, why shouldn’t you be able to do the same?
Do your research. What are your competitors offering? At what price? Do you score well against them? Don’t be fooled by an impressive website. Dig deeper. How are they positioning themselves in the market? What words are they using to describe themselves?
3. What do your customers want?
Now it’s time to find out more about your clients. If you have already sold your services in the past, pick up the phone and give them a call or buy them a coffee. If you don’t have any customers yet, speak to someone who represents your ideal client. You’re looking for the core reason why they buy and the path they follow in their quest to meet their needs. What’s their problem? What helps them decide the best solution for them?
For those of you who are determined to get to the bottom of things, call someone who’s turned you down. If you have a positive and friendly approach, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to get some feedback on why they didn’t pick you. It will be painful, but it will also give you some invaluable information on how you’ve been marketing yourself and what to change.
4. Where are the opportunities?
Based on the information you’ve gathered form your market research and customer interviews, think about how you can articulate your particular strengths, talent and experience so that they fit the needs of your clients. You want to come up with a unique approach, one that is different from your competitors.
Consider the problem you’re solving, how it’s currently solved and whether you could do something differently. Take the list you wrote back at the beginning. Are customers looking for something that current competitors aren’t quite offering yet? Is there a gap in the market that your talents and experience could fill?
This is probably the most difficult step. Sometimes it’s because of a lack of information. If that’s your case, go back and do some more research. More often than not, it’s hard because you’re the last one to realise what your core strengths and talents are. Why? Because they’ll come easily to you. What we find easy we sometimes don’t value, even if others out there do.
So, to help you with this question, I’d like you to consider something else.
5. What are your passions?
What fuels you? There’s bound to be a few topics and activities that you are particularly interested or involved in. Is it basketball, dogs, books? Baking, DIY, stamps? Yoga, music, street art? Some of this stuff won’t be relevant in the USP defining process but put it down on paper.
Now, take a step back. Is there any way you could bring some of that passion into your freelance work? Can you somehow fit those interests into what you do for a living?
When you’re genuinely into something, often it’s because it taps into your natural talents. Learning more about that subject becomes a hobby, so you invest time and energy in becoming better. However, it never feels like a chore. You become a master without even trying.
Passions can be the best shortcut to a killer USP.
So back to the plumber. He’s qualified, he’s experienced, he’s good at what he does. He knows his competition and marketplace. He thinks there’s a too much emphasis on plumbing replacement and not much on restoring at the moment.
After speaking to customers and checking out some industry publications, he has also spotted an interior design trend. There seems to be a growing interest in including original antique plumbing pieces, such as radiators and taps, in high-end house renovations.
It also turns out that our plumber spends his weekends going to flea markets and car boot sales and buying antiques that he lovingly restores.
Any guesses as to what his USP may be?
Best of luck finding yours.
Image credit: Loren Javier / CC