The Differentiation Problem

Nathan Crawford
Sep 25, 2017 · 3 min read

“An efficient team of technical problem solvers to help streamline your business processes. Or whatever.”

How many times have you seen that on a website? Plastered across the landing page lies some variation of vague bullshit about problem solving with a smattering of “creative” or “technical” and hinting at some bland service offering that everyone else kind of does too. As the industry matures, it continues to spawn more agencies, freelancers, and hustlers. It does not, however, seem to be spawning much personality.

The problem stems from a combination of our desires to please everybody and to make money. It’s easy to get sucked into the idea that having opinions pisses people off, which narrows your potential market. And yeah, depending on your opinions, that is totally a thing. Conversely, tiptoeing too far down that path of safety and inclusivity is what I assume leads to these vague, bland taglines I keep reading.

The other problem here is a lack of understanding of our markets. In the creative industry, it can be tricky to nail down a target demographic. Since we’re kinda generic problem-solver types, it’s easy to think we can solve problems for literally anyone because why the hell not? Money is money, right? Sort of. The more you try to include, the harder it gets to stand out. Because if you’re friends with everyone, you’re kinda friends with nobody too.

I’ve spent enough time trying to appease all sides that I’m as guilty as anyone. For a brief moment a few years ago, I kinda became that guy. I’m lucky I learned pretty quickly how ineffective trying to be friends with everyone is, and how draining it was for me. It might be a little counterintuitive, but focusing more on my values, friendships, and hobbies has actually opened a lot of doors.

The hard part is that it takes time to be introspective about these things. Instead of condensing the nuances of your personality/company down to a LinkedIn-style spec sheet of proficiencies, you’re gonna have to dig a little further into what you’re actually about and why. I’m not here to give you the magic solution, because there isn’t one. Just know that there are lots people you will vibe well with, but you might never find them if you’re just another hard worker with a keen eye for design.

So where do you start? Sure, you could casually drop a few f-bombs into your website copy to spice things up, but you’ll probably want to do your homework first. Maybe describe what you do with sentences your grandparents would understand. Maybe curate your new biz pipelines differently: categorize markets by personality traits instead of location or revenue, then speak to those markets like actual people instead of the metadata in their websites. Maybe all of the above plus a healthy dose of A/B testing.

Ultimately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution because every agency, freelancer, and hustler is a little different. I’ve accepted that there might never be a better way to understand those differences than a good chat over a couple beers, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all try a little harder than efficient technical problem solver. Because, fuck.


Nathan Crawford

Written by

Lay low, aim high.

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