As a self-employed professional, the last thing you want is for clients to perceive you as a commodity. Commodities are products or services that are considered to be basically the same no matter who provides them. When your target audience thinks of you as just another financial planner, graphic designer, life coach, personal trainer, or psychotherapist, you must work far too hard simply to get them to remember you until they need you.

Then when prospective clients consider working with you, they’ll be comparing you to your competitors based on whose price is lowest or whose location or hours are most convenient. Unless you want to offer the lowest prices or 24/7 service in multiple locations, there’s no guarantee that prospects you’ve tried hard to meet and connect with will ever hire you.

Here are five ways you can position the solution that you offer as distinctive enough to attract and hold your prospective clients’ attention, AND convince them that your solution is the one they need.

  1. Serve a specialized market — Clients think of themselves as special. Even though a web designer believes that she can serve a photographer just as well as a copywriter, that’s not the way photographers will think about it. The web designer they’ll remember and choose is the one who specializes in building sites for photographers.
  2. Practice a professional specialty — When clients have a particular issue they need help with, they look for a specialist in that issue. A person recovering from a traumatic event will choose a psychotherapist who specializes in treating trauma over one who treats multiple conditions. Parents concerned about putting their children through college will be much more likely to select a college financial planner than other planners who don’t specialize in this issue.
  3. Offer a branded product, package, or process — Clients often choose to work with me as a business coach because I have a well-known process called Get Clients Now!, not because I’m the cheapest coach around or can accommodate any schedule. And they make this choice even when they hire me to assist with business challenges beyond getting clients. The branded process makes them remember and trust me.
  4. Become a recognized expert — When clients perceive you as an expert in your field, they remember who you are, are willing to pay higher fees, and often agree to hire you immediately. You can influence clients to see you as an expert by writing, speaking, teaching, or affiliating yourself with a prestigious organization.
  5. Offer something none of your competitors has — This can be the most challenging of these ideas to implement, but a truly unique offering can make you both memorable and desirable. There are many people who offer classes on how to succeed as a speaker, but my colleague Caterina Rando calls hers the “Shero Summit,” and gives the women who participate superhero capes and gloves to wear. Prospective students see the photos, and want to join in the fun.

Don’t hesitate to differentiate yourself by choosing a market, specialty, or brand because you fear you’ll lose clients that don’t fit. You can still decide to work with any client who shows up ready to hire you. But by carving out a unique solution to offer, you’ll be remembered by exactly the clients you most want to have.

Legendary management consultant Peter Drucker once said: “In a commodity market, you can only be as good as your dumbest competitor.” Be smart instead, and find a way to position the solution you offer as a distinctive choice in a crowded marketplace.

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