NatGeo is one of my favorite TV channels, and I recently checked out the show Doomsday Preppers. I expected wild tales of fringe folks building bunkers and stockpiling MRE’s. Instead I saw (mostly) regular people doing their best to plan for an uncertain future. And in some ways, I get it. Financial collapse, worthless currency, inflation — all of these possibilities create an understandable sense of anxiety.
And in my line of work (especially this time of year), I hear about that anxiety all the time. Money seems tight, things just don’t feel “right,” and no one wants to spend money on extra services.
So instead of paying someone else to provide a service, we paint our own houses, self-diagnose our own medical conditions, manage our own investments, teach ourselves to play guitar, design our own websites, and prepare our own taxes. We’ve become a nation of Do-It-Yourself’ers.
But if we’re all DIY’ers, how will we each earn a living? Is “Service Provider Armageddon” in our future? How do we stay relevant (and get customers to hand over their hard-earned dollars) in a DIY world where people feel financially pinched?
What follows are five somewhat-tested yet definitely viable things to try.
1. Answer the phone.*
I’ve always used email as my primary means of communication. This works for me because it gives me (and the client) a record of what I recommend they do and why. Actually using my phone as a voice device instead of a data device is not my natural inclination or preference. I really struggle with it. The phone just rang with an unknown number and I stared at it. 😐
But human interaction is the key to being a successful service provider. If the service that you provide is something that could otherwise be reasonably accomplished by a DIY’er or software program, then the only thing that distinguishes you from the nameless, faceless internet is your humanity. And human beings talk with one another.
Mostly I say this as a memo to myself: Answer the damn phone. The person on the other end is a real live human being who probably just needs a question answered, and hey — might even want to avail herself of my services!
2 Be responsible.
If you aren’t reliable and responsible, it doesnʼt matter that youʼre a good or interesting person. What matters is that youʼre helping people get something done, most likely in a way that saves them time or money, or gives them a sense of relief or control, or improves their well-being.
Here’s what being responsible looks like:
- Make promises and keep them.
- Respect other people’s time. This means both being on time and not wasting time.
- Listen to and understand your customer’s needs. (That starts with listening, by the way. As [the late] Stephen Covey said, “Seek first to understand.”)
- Always do your best.
All of these things are important, but especially the third bullet point. That’s the part that distinguishes a person who provides a service from a generic software program.
3. Don’t compete on price.
It’s a race to the bottom that the little guy and gal can’t win. ‘Tis true that lower prices for consumers = win. But lower prices for service providers = not being able to keep the lights on. If your service is a commodity that can be performed by others or software at a relatively low price (like tax preparation or web design or lawn mowing, for example), then you exert little pricing power anyway.
So if you’re putting yourself out there as the lowest cost provider of Service X, maybe it means you’re afraid to charge what you’re worth. In that case, don’t manage your fear. LEAD your fear. “Fake it ’til you make it.” (Or as they’re taught in medical school: “Watch one, do one, teach one.”) Understand what you’re worth in the market you serve, and then have the confidence to compete in that market at those prices.
Whatever you do, don’t offer your services at the lowest possible price because it’s really hard to charge premium rates thereafter. Don’t become known as the WalMart of Web Design. Instead…..
4. Brand yourself.
I’ve mentioned the importance of this before, but in the context of pricing. This time I want you to think about the reputation, trust, and feelings you want your service to evoke. Do you want to be known as a creative thinker? A connector? Someone who possesses specialized knowledge? Someone who’s insanely helpful?
Remember that as a service provider, your brand is a WHO and never a WHAT. People do business with people.
With a personal brand, you become associated with specific ideas, movements, aesthetics, and people. You stand out in a sea of similar service providers. And the more you refine your personal brand, the more targeted your message becomes and the more you will be doing the work you want to do, with the people you want to be working with, and at a price point that everyone can agree on. Big wins all around!
BONUS BENEFIT: When your reputation spreads and precedes you, it makes interactions with potential clients that much easier. They already know who you are, what you do, and how you’re different. So you have to spend less time convincing them to hire you.
5. Grab their attention.
Meld your many interests and abilities into a uniquely remarkable business that nobody else does. Skills and credentials and degrees aren’t enough. Those are commodities too. You’ve got to grab their attention! Be totally creative. Visualize and solve interesting problems. Be known for your ideas and personality. Having a memorable and attention-grabbing personality is one way to decommodify a commodity.
In a world where many people feel broke and out of control, just remember that we’re all human beings serving other human beings. The future doesn’t have to be like what the Doomsday Preppers are prepping for. I think it will be about innovation and inspiration, and relationships versus transactions. Most importantly it will continue to involve connections between and among human beings.
What do you think? Do you worry about your business/industry/profession becoming a commodity? How are you staying relevant in a DIY world? I’d love to hear your sage thoughts in the comments section below.
(Photo by jbartok.)