There you are…
Sitting with a potential website customer, you’re connecting, getting on the same page, and then out comes:
“You seem a bit overpriced. I can get this same thing on Wix for free… what’s the difference? Why should I hire you?”
And it’s happened. The hammer has dropped. You start questioning yourself…
“Am I a commodity?”
“Should I even be in this business?”
“How can I compete?”
You educate. You rebuttal. You exclaim:
“MY WEBSITES ARE BETTER! I HAND CODE AND BUILD FROM THE GROUND UP! I AM NOT A DIY TEMPLATE SOLUTION! DO YOU HEAR ME?! I AM BETTER THAN THAT AND WORTH THE MONEY!!!”
At least that’s what’s going on in your head. Maybe what comes out of your mouth is more tactful, but who cares. You won’t win. Even if you get the deal, you’ve lost. Well… maybe, but we’ll get to that.
No matter how you handle the objection, you can’t force them to take it back. It just won’t go back in the box it came out on. It doesn’t even fit in the box anymore. A question the size of a thimble becomes the 800 pound gorilla. The pink elephant everyone hates but can’t stop talking about.
Before I tell you how to compete with these companies (or rather, how to avoid ever getting this question for the rest of your career), let’s first get something straight: what DIY even means.
Do IT Yourself.
What is IT?
According to Wix.com, it’s this:
“Create Your Stunning Website. It’s Free.”
“Build it Beautiful: websites, domains, commerce and more, start your free trial today.”
And of course, Godaddy:
“Domain + Website + Email: All starting at just $1.00 per month.”
It’s at this point where you might think I’m about to rail on how terrible all of these companies are and how worthless and unvalued their products are.
I have no negative feelings toward any of these products. Matter of fact, I’ve been particularly impressed with the team at Squarespace for some time and believe they are building a great product, community, and supporting ecosystem.
This article is not about learning how to bash these systems. They are just tools. You can’t get mad at tools. Even if you swing a hammer and smash your thumb to smithereens, no matter how you slice it, it was your fault.
And you can’t get mad at people (like your prospective clients) for wanting to give them a try. Or for questioning why you cost a hundred times more than them.
What you can do is understand exactly what IT is though, so you understand what it is you are actually competing against, and how to maneuver yourself away from being squashed by the obese pink elephant.
On these platforms, IT is a website. A website that you can build by yourself. You can pick your design, click some color wheels, swap some photos, fill in the blanks, and whallah! You are online.
Now all you have to do is hit the “get more customers” button and all is well. Where is that again?
Doesn’t matter… this thing is $1 PER MONTH!
And heck, for $12 per year, I can afford to not have customers for a long, long time.
No one needs a website. It cannot feed you. It cannot cloth you. It cannot get you laid. Websites have no value. I will say it again:
Websites. Have. No. Value.
That’s why companies can give them away for free.
Let’s get meta for a minute…
Websites are a collection of tiny, tiny bits of information that are stored in a space so small the eye cannot see it. You would have to have a very special microscope to find them and even if you do, a single website’s weight would amount to nothing. Lighter than the air it sits in.
So why are you trying to build a business that is 100% focused on selling them?
Why are you trying to compete with companies that already inherently understand this concept. They know they can sell a website for ZERO DOLLARS because it will cost them ZERO DOLLARS to deliver it.
This war is over. You have a rock. They have nukes. And lots of ‘em.
(Sidenote: I was in a cab the other day going to my hotel from the airport and what did I see on the advertising screen in front of me? An advertisement for Squarespace. Not only do they have nukes, but they have stockpiles full of them and they are blowing up your battlefield before you can even wind up your arm to throw that stone.)
But here you are. Still trying. Your website says, “We Build Great Websites!” (that was my agencies old tagline) and theirs says, “Create Your Stunning Website. It’s Free.”
Rock vs nuke.
You must stop. And I will show you how.
I know you must be thinking right now:
“Brent, if websites have no value, then why do people pay me to create them every single day?!”
I know… crazy huh? I must be pretty bold to make this assertion.
But I’m not. All I know is a simple truth: no one has ever hired you to build a website. They have hired you to get them to a desired result. They hired you because you have the voodoo to get them that desired result by moving bits and bytes until they are stacked and stored just right and then something happens that will help them.
Websites are a medium. A conduit. A weightless apparatus that connects ideas, people, economies, nations, knowledge, and power at a scale never before seen or understood by the human race.
As a web designer, a builder of the internet, you wield that power. You have a rare opportunity in the history of mankind to instantly disseminate information to over 3 billion (and quickly growing) people, and then get a small fraction of them to do something.
This something is why they hire you. Your clients desire at a deep level to do something else and they have paid you their hard-earned benjamins because they believe you are the best chance they have at unlocking the powerful genie that is the Internet.
All of the great war strategists of all times have known about one basic rule:
If the odds are stacked against you, you must change the rules.
And right now, the rules that have been established are simple. Everyone has agreed to wrap the value of web design, development, and internet marketing around a handful of commoditized terms like website, SEO, SEM, PPC, social, conversion, traffic, and so on. Each a commodity in their own right.
What’s not a commodity is this:
More customers. More donors. More voters. More influence. More power.
But those are hard services to sell (because they are complex and you have to think and be smart and jab and cross and weave and bob and be on your toes 24/7).
These things will never be commodities. If they were… then just like Wix, we would see homepages with this:
“Get Your Stunning Customers. They’re Free.”
But we don’t. Because customers are a finicky bunch. Think about it, if we could go to a website (like Wix) and click a button on the homepage (for free) and out would pop a high paying customer in less than 60 seconds, we would all do that all day long. It would be like finding the vending machine that you insert a dollar into and a hundred dollar bill squeezes out the change slot.
No matter how many dollars you put in the top, hundreds always flow out the bottom.
Sounds like a great idea until someone else sees you with your magic money-printing vending machine and crushes your skull in.
(Don’t worry, a mob comes to crush their skull in. And then a bigger mob for that mob ad infinitum until they blow the whole place up and the machine goes down in burning skull crushing glory.)
Some folks have gotten close to building this vending machine and just this has happened. Take Groupon for instance. For many early adopters, Groupon was the magic vending machine. Then others saw. They came, they trampled, and left nothing to be seen.
Helping a business get more customers will never be a commodity. Helping a non profit get more donors or volunteers will never be free.
The second someone even sniffs a magic money-printing vending machine, it and all those around it are destroyed.
Get what I’m saying?
I’ll say it simpler:
Stop selling websites. Sell a value proposition they can’t commoditize because it’s just too damn hard. Sell something so valuable, that your client will never even think you are in the same league as Wix.
There is a lot of value on the internet (because the internet connects over 3 BILLION PEOPLE!). If you are smart, savvy, experienced, and well educated on the phenomenon, you can make heaps of money. Farther than the eye can see. You can do this by bringing this value to customers or clients (products or services).
As I mentioned, websites aren’t inherently valuable. Like any tool, alone it is inanimate. Without motion. Without value. Once you put that tool to work, in the right hands, it can create a masterpiece. But tools need hands.
In order to compete against the Wix’s of the world, you must change where you focus your value. I’m not just talking about coming up with fancy Unique Selling Propositions or Unique Value Propositions or Unique whatevers. What I’m talking about is where in the world does the value you create fit?
Is it you that is inherently valuable? Is it the web artifacts you are building?
It’s the net benefit of other people doing something of value to each other. You are simply the enabler of this value (and of course you get a nice little cut).
For example, you might help your client find more customers on the internet using all of the tools and skills available: websites, search, social, content, traffic, conversion, optimization, analytics, processes, apps and so much more. Once you find these customers, if all goes well, they will pay your client and get something in return. A widget. A service. Whatever. The value you have provided is connecting two people so they could do something.
The value is, and always will be, in people. People getting in touch with other people. People helping each other solve problems. People delivering value to one another.
I’m not advocating that you go learn every internet-based technology and process in order to compete with the Wix’s of the world. There are plenty of folks that focus on a single technology or idea to accomplish the highest value activity they can.
Let’s take a trending skillset like UI/UX.
There are companies out there that focus on just this one specific type of methodology just to help a company understand how their visitors use their website that make millions of dollars.
I have met with several founders of UI/UX companies that spend weeks and months doing in depth study on complex and intricate connections and processes between people. They get paid hundreds of thousands to well into the many millions to do this work. When I ask them why this work is so valuable, it always comes down to this simple idea of helping people connect with other people so they can do things better, cheaper, and faster.
For example, when on a group field trip during $10K Denver, we visited EffectiveUI and they explained how they helped Boeing understand a complex situation involving dozens of departments, thousands of people, and aluminum pencils that fly in the sky. The fact that “websites” and “apps” were involved is almost elementary to the actual value that EffectiveUI was providing Boeing.
The end result was that planes carrying hundreds of passengers can take off faster (getting people places sooner), spend less time in the hanger (making airlines more money which puts more food on people’s plates), and reduces stress among employees (increasing the odds that these people will stick with their job longer).
I highly doubt that Wix was ever brought up in their pitch.
What they most definitely did bring up was how they planned to help Boeing capture value by taking a deep look at what people were doing in a variety of activities and figuring out how to help them using interface-based tools.
You need to capture this complex unique value for yourself. Figure out what you do to connect your clients to their customers in a way that improves everyone’s general well-being.
Websites are commodities. This is not something that has “happened” or “will happen more.” They were born a commodity. They will always be a commodity. Accept this truth.
Know that what you deliver to your client… the designs, the funnels, the files, the bits and bytes are all worthless commodities the second they leave your fingertips.
The sooner you accept that it’s all an illusion, the sooner you can take the red pill and find the truth. The truth is that you can crush Wix. For Wix has taken the blue pill.
Wix will continue living in the world where the steak they eat is real (but you know it isn’t). You know that any business owner can go to Wix and create as many $12 per year websites that their heart desires and still have nothing more than a heap of bytes that are worth zero dollars on the open market.
You know they will never be able to capture the true potential they have waiting for them. At least no better odds than I have at the roulette table in Vegas.
The truth is simple:
Being able to create a website and being able to extract value from the internet are two completely different skillsets. After almost two decades of building websites has taught me: Getting a website online is about 1% of the issue to capturing the potential value of the internet.
And here in lies your competitive advantage; when your lead says those formerly fatal words:
“You seem a bit overpriced. I can get this same thing on Wix for free… what’s the difference? Why should I hire you?”
A deep breath:
“Because a Stunning, Free Website is not what you are after. You want something else. More customers. More transactions. More fans. A website is only the medium and Wix cannot promise you anything more than a website with some bells and whistles. What I can promise is that we will find the root issue you are trying to solve and I will work with you to build the best solution to that problem. I will help you find opportunities on the vast internet that you didn’t even think possible. Opportunities that may very well change the future of your organization and life. Does it make sense for us to continue talking?”
And with that, you will set yourself up for whatever your Unique Value Proposition is. Whatever high-value skill and toolset you wield will be ready to perform in the many ways we know one-size-fits-all web solutions can’t and never will be able to.
Your ability to be their online partner is more valuable than any commodity in the world. And if you can distill this, not only will you crush those offerings, but the sky will be the limit as to how much money you can make.
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