Do you offer services that can be filled by other business professionals? Almost certainly, yes. If your service is so narrow that there’s no competition, there’s probably not much of a market for it either.

So how do you give clients a reason to choose you over a competitor? The procedures you follow may be the same – and may actually be dictated by regulations or professional practice. Your pricing is about the same. So how do you stand out, and also avoid a race to the bottom regarding your fees?

It’s an important question, because those ‘commodity’ services you offer are probably your biggest income earners, giving you the financial resources to build new, less-commodified services.

So what, then, would convince prospective clients to choose your service over those of another firm?

In a word, “trust.”

To see why, think of yourself buying a commodity service – cleaning the ducts in your house, dry-cleaning an expensive garment, or checking your car’s brakes. Many competing providers offer these services, and their prices are similar. But you’d prefer one provider over another if you had a reason to believe that they’d go the extra distance in protecting your interests and actually cared about you.

One way to develop this level of trust is through a type of content called “How-to-work-with,” or HTWW. It describes how a customer or client can get good results in working with a service provider in a given field or profession. As I pointed out in Post #52, the best kind of content answers a burning question from a client.

For example, consider a lawyer with a focus on preparing individual wills. Good HTWW content would advise a potential client what information the lawyer will need to do the work, what documents to bring to a meeting, how many meetings might be involved, and other success factors.

HTWW content comes across particularly well in video, because you can easily bring across a few key points to make it a bite-sized chunk (see post #37 for more about creating thought leadership video).

Capturing and converting customers late in the sales cycle

HTWW content is useful for helping, engaging and converting people who are late in the sales cycle – just before they make a choice of a service provider. Think about it – who would be googling “how to work with a forensic accountant,” other than someone who has a full-blown fraud crisis on their hands?

It can also help convert customers who have a service provider they are displeased with, and who are looking for alternatives. You may be able to scoop up a rebound relationship as a result.

This makes anyone seeking HTWW content a particularly unique valuable lead. If there is any place to focus your high-value lead generation tools, such as a free consultation, this is it. The people who seek out, and then read to the end of HTWW content are not tire kickers. They are people ready to buy.

Consultation is key to good HTWW content

Designing effective HTWW content starts by you sitting down with a latte or a glass of wine, and a blank notepad (hand-writing helps the ideas flow more freely). Think of how you’d advise your best friend, if that friend came to you for advice on how to work with someone like you. Think of which factors cause projects to go well, and what pushes them sideways.

It helps to consider projects that went particularly well -- all the stars aligned, it worked like a dream – and what factors contributed to this happy result. Then, think back to the nightmare projects, in which Murphy’s Law ruled, and then list the factors that contributed to the fact that everything that could go wrong, did so.

Consider which factors are within your control, client’s control, and which are external – such as the response of a regulatory authority, tax authorities, or a third-party supplier.

Some questions to consider:

What is the best time in a larger process, such as a construction project, to involve professionals such as you – towards the beginning of the larger process, middle, or end?

What information does the client need to provide, in order for you to do your best work? What’s the best format to provide it in – an electronic spreadsheet, printed diagrams, work samples, or something else?

What’s the best way to secure confidentiality and security of data?

What risk-mitigation steps can be taken to add reliability into the process – regular meetings, update reports, cross-checking, or proof-reading?

What steps can the client take in order to save money on a service provider such as you – for example, retaining some of the work in-house?

How (and why) to cut your own invoice

Just a word on that last point – maybe you’re not too keen on providing advice on how to cut your own invoice. But think about it – would you rather have an invoice for perhaps 70 percent of your usual fee, or 100 percent of nothing? Your objective is to get the assignment, right? So get the assignment, and do it in a way other than low-balling your fee or cutting your usual hourly rate.

If you can demonstrate good practice, show that you walk the talk on providing responsible, caring service, in tandem with you’ll build credibility with that client. Eventually, you’ll build trust to the point that you can make recommendations on additional ways you can help the client, likewise you’ll earn more than the missing 30%.

Fundamentally put yourself in a position you probably actually find yourself sometimes – trying to decide between various seemingly identical services. Then, create the kind of content you’d like to find.