Standing Out from the Crowd: How to Sell Online Services When COVID is Driving Everyone Online

by | May 12, 2020

What makes something stand out?

Being different.

Right now there are many dog trainers who are all facing the same problem — they have received “shelter in place” or “stay at home” orders. So they’ve turned to online, and they’re working to sell online services… and they’re shouting about it everywhere they can online in an effort to keep some income coming in.

Of course, when everyone is posting and sharing and promoting their online classes, it can make it hard to stand out. It feels like a whole lot of noise. And then there’s you. How can you compete with all that?

The answer is to be different.

Being Different to Sell Online Services: What do YOU want to be known for?

You’ve probably come across the advice that you need to ‘differentiate your business’ or know your differentiators. It’s common business advice.

The basic idea is that you should evaluate the competition and then figure out how you’re different from those competitors, and market yourself based on THAT…. Whatever “that” is.

For many in person dog training businesses, for a long time, there have been two things that made them different: location and methodology. Many positive trainers have built their businesses entirely on those two things — here is where I’m located and I’m a positive trainer.

Gradually (even before COVID), as positive training has become more widespread, and it’s become easier to find positive trainers, it’s become harder and harder to stand out based on those two factors alone.

Those two things didn’t make a trainer different enough for them to really stand out.

And so we’ve seen trainers begin to differentiate themselves based on services — sports training, or manners, or reactivity, or board and train vs. classes vs. day training, etc.

But those things aren’t enough to sell services online… because for each of those things there are a dozen other trainers ALSO offering those things online. Those things no longer make one trainer different from another.

So how CAN you stand out?

The truth is there is no one right answer here — each trainer and business will need to do a bit of their own soul searching to find the right approach for them.

It might be something simple, like visually differentiating all of your online content, or using a very unique-to-you tone, or it might be something more complex.

The Middle Finger Project - Screenshot of Unique Language

The Middle Finger Project has a very unique tone.

Screenshot of talking shrimp - selling online services

Talking Shrimp has a retro-design vibe and a unique, fun tone.

If we think about the dog training industry, what name comes to mind when you think about separation anxiety? Online agility training? Aggression?

My guess is Malena DeMartini, Susan Garrett, and Michael Shikashio.

If you’re an FDSA student, there are probably also specific names that come to mind if I ask about location specific markers, behavioral wellness, and getting super nerdy with tuck sits and fold back downs.

In all of these examples, the trainers have chosen to differentiate based on a specific expertise. In some industries, companies choose to differentiate themselves based on price. For most of you, you’ll want to bring several of these elements into play — and become known as the person for “X” in your area, then layering on something fun or quirky about you as a trainer (Your breed? Your sense of humor? Your style of dress?). Right now, there’s also a ton of support out there for super local… people are looking for options to support the small businesses near them. So you could focus on that angle, promoting other local businesses, networking that way, and drilling down as a business on how you are part of that community.

The bottom line is you’ll want to figure out the right options for you, and make sure those things shine through to help you stand out.

But…

When Everyone’s Super, No One Will Be

Okay, so if my advice is to find what makes you different and focus on THAT, and everyone takes that advice, then we’ve got a lot of diversity and again, what makes one company or choice stand out from another when selling services online?

If we’re all different, then we’re all the same, right?

As a consumer you choose between brands everyday. What’s your favorite fast food restaurant? Your favorite cereal? Your favorite cartoon growing up?

You probably have a “favorite” for each of those — so what makes them your favorite?

The truth is different brands connect with different people. So once you understand what makes you different, you need to think about who that difference will appeal to most. What key problems do you solve for your clients? What kind of clients will be most attracted to you? What kind of clients do you most want to attract?

You need to know those pieces and then make sure they are clear in your marketing.

Engagement and Connection to Sell Online Services

Ultimately, it comes down to the idea that people buy from people and brands they like and feel connected to, who they believe can meet their needs or solve their problems.

What will ‘connect’ with me may be different than what will ‘connect’ with you.

That’s okay.

But as a business owner you want to be looking for opportunities to build those connections with the people who fit best into your idea of your ideal customer profile. As a small business this is your super power — it’s about doing the things bigger businesses can’t scale.

For example, my auto mechanic sends out a handwritten thank you card anytime a customer spends more than $400. It doesn’t cost them much, and it doesn’t take up a ton of time… but man did that make an impression the first time I got one in the mail!

Lisa Barone (a social media and PR expert) shared an example from her hometown in a blog post on this topic — she wrote:

“There’s a great cafe in my hometown called Francesca’s Cafe. I go there in part because the food is delicious and cost effective, but I also go because the owner, Francesca, tweets me when she has a fresh stock of pumpkin syrup for my lattes or when blueberry muffins have come out of the oven. These little bits of humanization are powerful and things customers latch onto and remember.”

The Last Piece: Marketing Consistently

There’s one more aspect that is often overlooked when selling services online that I want to mention.

While all of the things in this post are important, without this final piece, none of them will make much of a difference at all.

That last piece? Be consistent.

This is the hardest piece of advice to follow, but just as it’s important in dog training to be consistent, it’s incredibly important when trying to stand out as a business too. Yes, right now everyone is panicking, and that means they’re all doing all the things to try and bring in business right now.

But for most of them, that won’t last long.

They’ll do it for a few weeks. Maybe only a few days. And if they don’t see immediate results, they’ll give up. They’ll try another shiny thing. So, stick with it. Keep showing up. Keep putting things out there on a regular schedule, following your marketing plan(s) and know that consistency alone makes for an excellent differentiator.

What differentiates your business from your competition? Can be you more intentional in how you include that/those factors in your marketing? Do you have a favorite brand or company, who you buy from because of who they are? Let us know in the comments! I promise to read (and reply!) to every one.

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