A product’s Unique Selling Proposition (also known as Unique Selling Point or USP) is what makes it different from competing products, and more importantly, what leads customers to buy it.
For those in marketing, USPs are extremely important because in order to sell more of a product you need to know what will motivate customers to buy your product instead of the competition’s product, and then you need to effectively communicate that USP.
A large percentage of freelance designers struggle to land as much business as they would like. If this is the case for you, have you taken time to think about what makes you unique in comparison to other designers out there? Why will clients want to hire you instead of another designer? It’s critical that you identify what it is that separates you from other designers, and you must be able to communicate that or make it obvious to potential clients.
Why USPs are Important for Freelance Designers
Knowing your Unique Selling Proposition is an important step for freelance designers for a few reasons.
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Designers Face Lots of Competition
There are very few barriers of entry into the world of freelance design, and as a result there are tons of people out there who are working either full-time or part-time as a freelance or independent designer. On top of that, you’re probably also competing with design agencies for customers. That level of competition makes it a real challenge for most freelancers to land enough business to earn the income that they would like.
As is the case in any competitive industry, if you can stand out from the crowd you have a much better chance of being successful. In order to stand out you need to know what you can offer to clients that other designers cannot.
Your USP will be very influential in how your customers and potential customers view you, or how you brand yourself. You’ll want their lasting impression to be something that makes you unique and something that will lead them to want to hire you. Once you know what is unique about you and your work you’ll be able to determine how to brand yourself to make the most of your USP.
It Helps Clients to Identify You as the Right Designer
It’s likely that many of your clients have a hard time deciding what designer they should hire. For most clients this can be a daunting process because they don’t have the experience in the industry to know what separates on designer from another. If you can helps these clients by making your USP obvious it could help to make their decision easier because they can see exactly what you have to offer that other designers do not.
With most clients that don’t have experience hiring a designer, if they’re not sure what separates on designer from another they will typically use price as the determining factor. However, if you’ve done a better job of educating them about your USP they may see that you’re a better fit for their project, and price may not be the deciding factor.
Examples of Possible USPs for Freelance Designers
Your Unique Selling Proposition could be any number of things. To give you some ideas we’ll take a look at USPs that are frequently used by designers, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Take a look at the things listed here and think about your own situation.
Many designers choose to specialize in order to stand out. You could specialize in developing custom WordPress themes, e-commerce websites, church websites, email newsletter design, character illustration, etc. When clients are looking for a type of service that matches up with your specialization it’s likely that you’ll stand out more to them when compared to a freelancer who markets his or her services in a more generalized way.
Of course, there are also down sides to specialization. For example, if your area of specialization is working with a particular CMS, your long term workload will be dramatically impacted if the CMS loses popularity. Also, landing clients outside or your area of specialization can be more difficult because some clients will assume that since a project is not in your area of specialization that they will be better off hiring someone else.
Despite the negatives, specialization is used as a USP by a lot of designers, and it can be rather effective in the right situation. Potential clients almost always feel more connected to a designer when they see an area of specialization that is a fit with their project.
Although it’s not recommended, one possible USP is services that are priced below all competition. While this will land you some clients it is likely to lead you to the types of clients and projects that you don’t really want to work with, which ultimately results in a frustrating working experience. Another reason to avoid using price as your USP is that it seems like there is always someone willing to do the work for less. If you want to make low price your USP you’ll have to be willing to price your services below people all around the world since finding a low cost provider is not that difficult through bidding sites.
The goal of a freelance designer’s USP should actually be to offset any advantage held by those who use low prices to stand out. Clients who are extremely price conscious will need to see a reason to hire you over someone whose services are priced lower, and that is why your USP is so important.
Designers who have established a high profile in the industry are able to use this to stand out from the crowd. A high profile could come as a result of being a popular blogger, attracting a large following on Twitter, speaking at conferences and events, or anything else that helps you to stand out in the industry.
While establishing a high profile is not easy and will take time, for those who are able to achieve it the results can be powerful. High profile designers usually have plenty of clients that want to work with them, and higher rates can be justified.
If the client is located in your geographic area you could have an advantage over designers in other parts of the country and the world. Many clients prefer to work with local designers, and some designers use this as a USP by setting up their portfolio site to target local clients (see How to Successfully Localize Your Design Business).
Some clients, especially those who have limited experience in the design process, wait until the last minute to contact designers. You probably get emails from potential clients from time-to-time asking if you can get their project done next week. While short notice projects are challenging to work with, if you’re willing to accept them you will definitely stand out from other designers.
Some designers and companies specialize in doing Photoshop layouts or coding PSD to HTML. These types of designers and companies often use quick turnaround times to market their services. For typical client work there is a certain amount of time that you’ll need to be able to do quality work. But if the client’s request allows you to have at least the minimum amount of time needed and if you’re willing to take the work on short notice you may face limited competition. It wouldn’t be my first recommendation for a USP, but it is one option.
Some designers are able to stand out from others because of specific experience or an accomplishment. This could include authoring a book, working with a very high profile client, or anything else that could help to position you as an authority in the industry. This would be the type of experience that would speak for itself, and would lead clients to feel like they have to work with you to get the best results possible.
Incredible Portfolio of Work
Most designers attempt to market themselves by letting the work speak for itself. This can be effective if your quality of work is truly outstanding. In order to make this work you’ll want to emphasize the best items in your portfolio as much as possible on your portfolio site. You can also use sites like Behance, Carbonmade, and other portfolio/networking sites to showcase your work.
Most freelancers offer at least a few different services. Putting these services together may help to more effectively meet the needs of potential clients. For example, you could offer business card and stationary design to go along with your web design services. Or you could offer search engine optimization and social media marketing in addition to blog theme design.
Bundled services may be able to help your clients to get more of what they need from one provider, and it may keep you busier as the amount of work that you get from each client will increase. If all of the services offered are of interest to your potential clients it will help you to stand out from others who are offering just design services.
Diversity of Skills
Along the same lines as the previous point, even just having a wide variety of skills and experience can be a USP. Clients may not be looking for several different services at this point in time, but knowing that they’ll have someone to turn to in the future can be re-assuring. Clients often prefer to work with as few service providers as possible, so having a designer that can also handle other things like app development, SEO, or social media marketing can help you to stand out. This would help the client to avoid the need to use 3 or 4 different providers by just using you for everything.
Results of Past Clients
If you have a track record of helping clients to achieve outstanding and measurable results, that can be used as a USP. After all, a designer is hired to get results. There are a lot of designers out there and if you can demonstrate significant results from your past projects, you will stand out from the majority of them.
Using your clients’ results as your USP will require you to clearly communicate those results through your portfolio site or in communication with potential clients. Of course, you’ll need to get the permission of your clients to share their information with others, but many will be willing to let you share numbers that don’t give away too much information about their operation (for example, a percentage of increased revenue after a website re-design).
Quality of Service
There are a lot of clients out there that struggle to find a designer that provides a level of customer service that satisfies them. If you can show that you’re different and that you will take good care of them you can stand out from the other designers that have let them down. One of the best ways to do this is to use testimonials from your satisfied clients.
While this is difficult to achieve, it does work for some designers. If you are able to develop a particular style of design that people begin to recognize and associate with your work, you may be able to attract clients who are want that style for their own work. If it is recognized as a style that is distinct to your work, who else would they hire to get that style that they want.
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