How to stand out from the crowd when you run a professional service firm

Competitive advantage: the eternal buzzword in the business world.  It’s what sets you apart and makes your clients prefer you over the competition. And when your competitive advantage is exceptional, it might even justify a higher price that people are happy to pay when they understand the value they are getting.

Naturally, strong competitive advantage is key to a successful business practice of any nature. But while it’s a little bit more straightforward with products, as quality is tangible; with services it is a completely different story.

As an executive coach and business growth consultant, I understand the challenges that professional service firms are faced with when it comes to competitive advantage.

Unlike businesses that offer products with much clearer quality characteristics, professional service providers such as accountants, solicitors, engineers, software developers, compete on services which are largely viewed as standard. Their expertise is intangible, hard to differentiate, at times hard to prove, and sometimes even hard to explain.

In such industries where services are relatively standard, it is the small things that matter the most in terms of differentiating yourself. Here’s a few ideas to consider:

Personal Touch

No surprise here I suppose. Being nice and friendly never falls out of fashion and sometimes it makes all the difference. Ever been to the local coffee shop where the owner asks you with a genuine smile how everything is? Or ever been at a place, whether a hotel or a store for example, where the staff opens doors for you and offers to help you with the bags? How did it make you feel?

I personally often go the extra mile to go back to these places and avail of their service or buy their products even if they are further away or a little bit more expensive. It’s the same with your own clients. When you interact with them, give them all your attention, make them feel like the most important person in the world at this moment. It won’t go unnoticed.

Go the Extra Mile

Being nice is invaluable and so is being helpful. Go the extra mile, offer a service that won’t cost you almost anything but will make the life if your client much easier. Thus, if you were an accountant, for example, and you needed your client’s invoices at the end of the month, instead of asking them to get the documents organised and sent over to you, arrange for them to be collected and organize them chronologically yourself. Give your client a call to remind them about the tax return forms deadline submission approaching or just to see if everything is ok and whether they have any questions or issues. Make sure they understand that this is not part of your service but you are happy to help and save them time. It shows that you appreciate their business and that matters.

Solve Problems

Listen carefully to what your clients share with you when chit chatting. Every business owner has struggles and pains, issues that make their business suffer. It could be a process they are struggling with, something that eats into their profits, expertise they need and can’t find or anything really. As an external party you might be able to see a straightforward solution to their problem that your client is blind to or unaware of. You don’t need to spend loads of time thinking about your customers’ problems but sometimes we are so consumed with our own routine and struggles that we don’t actually listen at all.  Be open, listen attentively and where you can, try to help. You might know someone who could help your client or you might have an idea for a solution. It would probably take you five minutes to help and it could mean the world to your client.

Be an Expert

Most of us provide an array of services but when you have expertise in a very specific area that could be a huge advantage. In case you don’t, invest time and money into educating yourself. Sign up for courses, attend seminars, talk to experts. It will be money well spent. And in case you do have that knowledge, make sure you get that across though blogs, social media, networking events, etc. Establishing yourself as a professional with expertise in a particular sphere will absolutely make you stand out.

Just think about it – if you were the head of a pharmaceutical company looking for a brand agency, who would you prefer – any brand agency or a brand agency that specialises in branding for the pharma industry in particular?

As they say, Go the extra mile. It’s never crowded. Not only does this approach guarantee to make you stand out. It will help you get more business in, and most importantly it will help you get more loyal business in.


If you have any questions or would like to discuss other ways of how to best stand out in a crowded marketplace, you are welcome to contact me. I’m an expert in business development and marketing with extensive experience and focus on professional service providers. You can get in touch with me, Paul Davis, here.


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