For digital agencies, it's always a question of expertise
I interact with a lot of digital agencies in the WordPress ecosystem. Whether they're micro-agencies (small teams under 5 full time employees) or mid-sized agencies (up to 200 employees), the conversations often circle back to how to position yourself in the market.
For years, the only distinction in the space was on price. Some agencies charged a lot, and others didn't. And as prices went up, new entrants showed up and offered similar services for less.
But we're 15 years into this experiment and it's safe to say that WordPress hasn't died yet (regardless of how many times it's been announced). And as developers turn into company leaders, they shift from coding to marketing and sales.
And eventually we end up right back at the positioning conversation. And my answer is that it's always a question of expertise.
Does anyone remember the television show Quincy?
Back before CSI, NCIS, or Crossing Jordan, there was a show, Quincy, M.E., where the medical examiner would help solve crimes. It was the first time, on television, that we would see serious forensics as part of a tv show plot.
Why am I bringing up an old tv show? Because I remember watching it and thinking, I would like to be a medical examiner.
Years later I happen to write some software for a medical examiner's office and I discovered something – it was nothing like the television show. I know, shocking, right?
My understanding of what a medical examiner does, on a day to day basis, was superficial, at best. All I knew was from television. When I got to interact with the team at the Cuyahoga medical examiner, I knew right away that I was an amateur and they were experts.
See where I'm going?
Our customers aren't morons or idiots. They're experts in their own rights, in the world they operate in. But they may only have a superficial understanding of what digital agencies do. And we're the experts.
But that doesn't mean they think they know nothing. I often hear, “I know just enough to be dangerous,” and they're not wrong.
Your job then, when you are thinking about how to position yourself in the market, is to be extra clear on your expertise.
You must be credible – no one believes you're an expert at everything
The best agencies recognize that it's always a question of expertise. They don't try to suggest or offer the promise that they can do everything. It's just not believable.
The problem isn't just about the words we put on our websites.
Think about your case studies and project portfolios. Do they highlight your expertise? Or are they scattered all over the place.
As Blair Enns says in his Ultimate Test of Positioning,
Every competitive opportunity that is brought to the table (or created in the CRM application) should be vetted against the firm’s positioning, with the question posed: “Would winning this business increase our perception as experts in our declared field or decrease it?”
Expertise is gained by the work you take on. The more you go into a specific problem space, the greater and deeper your understanding of that problem space becomes.
The biggest mistake agencies make when it comes to expertise
You want to improve how you position yourself in the market, but there's a single problem glaring you in the face. I know it. I've been to your site. I've read the content. I've browsed the whole thing.
And you know what's missing?
All the things that I worry about, that you've stopped worrying about, because of your expertise.
Think about expertise, just for this silly exercise, as having ten years of experience. You know what happens when you have ten years of experience? You forget the first year of experience. And since you forget it, and you're engaged with the complexities and nuances of year ten, you forget to write about year one challenges.
But those are, for me (when I'm not an expert), the things I'm worried about.
The biggest mistake agencies make when it comes to expertise is remembering what it feels like, the stress other feel, when someone isn't an expert.
Let's get to work improving your positioning
If your biggest problem is that you've forgotten what pains (and stress) I'm feeling as a non-expert, then the answer is to help me in three ways:
- Highlight that you know my pain and have seen it before
- Show me that you have solved these problems before
- Predict my next set of problems (and solve those too)
You know my pain
Let's say you're an expert not only in building websites but in refreshing them. And with every refresh comes challenges. Right? You know this. It's so normal that you've likely skipped over it.
Where, on your site, is the article(s) on your content audit, your checklist, your process for ensuring that you won't lose me any backlinks or any SEO “juice” (I hate that term), in the middle of my refresh?
Did you just think I would trust you because you have some cool logos on your site? Not a chance. I'm worried. I want your expertise. But you have to highlight that you're in touch with my pain and stress.
You've solve my problems before
As I quoted above, when I look at at your case studies, do they demonstrate that you're actually an expert in something specific? Does your portfolio tell me that you can go deeper than just about anyone else, because of the work you've already done?
If it's a question of expertise, then your portfolio should eliminate the question.
You know what's coming next
I've developed a few areas of expertise when it comes to WordPress – particularly with membership plugins and with eCommerce / WooCommerce. And I'm going to tell you my favorite trick, when it comes to helping someone trust my expertise.
This approach will help you when it comes to how you position yourself in the market. Trust me.
I predict the future.
Whether it's in a proposal, or a conversation, I say things like, “if you're like any of my other clients, you'll likely get to a point where…”
And if things work out, they haven't experienced that issue….yet.
But give it a week, a month, or even a year, and when the thing happens that you predicted, guess who comes to mind? That's right. You.
Because you made the prediction. And it's a perfect way to demonstrate expertise. Because if you've barely experienced anything, there's no way you'll make predictions that you know will be right.
But as an expert, you know it's simply a matter of time.
How to position yourself in the market
I want to end by highlighting a great resource that you can use, especially when you're thinking more deeply about your content strategy. It's a great article by the folks at Audience Ops.
Most of these articles aren't all that helpful. But this one is different and I recommend it.
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