Specialise to succeed: four ways to stand out from the pack

Heather Townsend loves a challenge. That’s one reason why she gets a kick out of helping lawyers and accountants to modernise their approach, progress in their careers and grow their client base. It’s also why she’s written three must-read books aimed at professionals, including The FT Guide to Business Networking, How to Make Partner and Still Have a Life, and The Go-To Expert.

Here, talking exclusively to the BDLN, Heather explains why specialising is critical to success in today’s market, and offers four pieces of advice to ensure you differentiate yourself…


1) Get specific about your clients and your services

The first step on the road to success is to get specific about your target clients and the services you will offer them. And I mean really specific. Many professionals fail to do this in anywhere near enough detail. For example, a typical mid-tier firm might identify that they’re after SMEs. However, ‘SME’ could refer to a one-man band, a high-potential tech start-up, or a mature £50 million business. They each have very different needs.

Your service line is not unique and does not make you stand out.

After working out which clients to target, it’s key to offer and sell the right services. Many professionals make the mistake of still trying to sell the service line. That won’t cut it. Your service line is not unique and does not make you stand out.

Rather than promising good all-round service – which is a given – it’s far more attractive to clients if you come across as an expert in their niche. Businesses and entrepreneurs want to work with professionals that they perceive to really understand their world and talk their language.

2) Tailor your message

After you’ve targeted your services, you must communicate in the right way – and in the right places – to demonstrate your specialist knowledge.

It takes time and effort to truly get under the skin of your sector, but if you do, you will understand what your clients want to hear and read.

The information you put out must be targeted and focused. Your content must sing to your niche.

Professionals often create content that’s far too generic. The information you put out must be targeted and focused. Your content must sing to your niche. When you use the right language, not only will you gain extra trust from existing clients, you’ll also attract new interest, both on- and offline.

3) Build up your online profile

Everyone knows you have to ‘get out there’ to develop your business. That used to mean physical networking. These days, ‘getting out there’ means getting the appropriate information about yourself, your specialist services and your firm to your carefully targeted audience – and that means a combination of online and offline work. However, today, successful networking starts with a solid online footprint. It’s the first impression you make.

Some professionals say: “I don’t need to hone my online profile – I’m doing fine without one.” Such people tend to have a client base that’s been built over the past 20 years, don’t need to grow it rapidly, and see it expand organically through referrals. Unfortunately many such people are in decision-making roles. This means that they can often limit the effectiveness of their fee earner’s business development attempts by not seeing the online world as important.

Word of mouth and reputational draw may work now, but what about in 10 years’ time?

This traditional approach is not future-proof. Social media is here to stay and in an increasingly time-poor world, online networking allows us to identify the people who we actually want to meet. If you have no online profile, or a poor profile, how many potential clients are you going to miss or put off? Word of mouth and reputational draw may work now, but what about in 10 years’ time?

4) Let your personality shine

Professionals have become conditioned to keep the personal out of their online profiles. The thinking is: “I’m a professional so I am only allowed to talk about my skills, experience and credibility.” But many clients are not inspired by that stuff, so it’s important to communicate things that really make you tick.

Show some of your core values to the world

If you think about your personal brand as a series of circles, the middle circle contains a core of information that people usually can’t see – drivers like your values, motivations and passions. I firmly believe that it’s important to show some of these core drivers to the outside world, so when I encourage people to write their LinkedIn profiles, I advise them to put their personality and soul into it.

To conclude: in the professional services sector, it’s easy to blend in. What takes thought and planning – and, yes, some degree of risk – is to successfully differentiate yourself and your firm from your competitors.

I think we can all agree that blending in is not an option, so now is the right time to get specific, tailor your message and build your online profile.