We get to work in an amazing industry. We get to work with a number of clients from small businesses where we help make dreams come true, to large corporations on huge projects. But this industry depth also means that it can be hard to stand out as a freelancer or an agency. In fact, most freelancer and agency sites could swap all their text and no one would be able to tell the difference.

In this sea of sameness, how do you stand out?

We’ve seen this come home over the last year as so many WordPress developers I know are finding it hard to get more work. People that went from fielding 10 requests for work a week are now back to hitting Craigslist to reach out to prospects.

If you’re ready to stand out, get ready for some work. You can’t ride the wave anymore, but if you put some time in to the next 10 things, you can stand out and start to improve your work prospects.

1. Wear Your Brand

The first place to start is to wear your brand and your personality out where everyone can see it. I write about my kids and the fact that if you’ve built a great business but have wrecked your relationships you’ve failed.

I have most of my own clients on my email list which is more geared towards running a development business than having a membership site. Despite this possible disconnect, many of my clients say that they love the email list or that they first found my email list as they worked to develop their business. Then they started to work with me on their site.

You’re clients are people. They want to work with a person. They don’t want bland corporate speak that makes you feel like you have a bigger business. It just makes you look stupid. Be yourself.

2. Niche Your Services

How many developer sites just say they do WordPress services? Seriously, take a look around at the WordPress agencies in the towns around you. Almost every single one of them has the same basic tag line.

It’s something like “We Build Awesome WordPress Websites.”

No one is going to write that they do crappy work and it’s late and over budget. That “awesome WordPress” tag line is as good as saying nothing. It might even be as bad as saying that you’re just like everyone else. A commodity, so pick whichever firm gives you the cheapest price.

Stop that crap and take a look at your site. What does your it say to your prospects? Is it just one more site in the sea of sameness?

I’ve written a book on Finding and Marketing To Your Niche. If you want to find that niche and then stand out, you should get it. You need to start standing out if you want to stay in business. If you need more hands on help send me an email: curtis@curtismchale.ca and we can make a plan to stand out and bring in more work.

3. Have an Opinion

Have an opinion and voice it. My friend Morten isn’t afraid to talk about things he thinks are broken in WordPress. He’s fighting for better accessibility and international support and may seem at odds with whatever the newest hotness is. He isn’t, he just wants it to be something that good for everyone, not just able bodied English speakers.

What can you stand on and be vocal about? Being vocal will mean that you get some attention. Attention makes you stand out. You’ll be someone that other developers refer work to because they know you have something to stand on.

4. Have a Product

I have a membership plugin called Easy Restricted Content for WooCommerce. I admit that if I only looked at the plugin sales, this was not a good endeavour. I have in no way paid off the investment.

But I get clients every month that come to me to help with their membership site after finding my plugin. Sometimes we use it, sometimes something else is a better option. This year alone I’ve had 5 clients and over $25k in work because they found my plugin and needed help with parts of their site.

You don’t have to be able to write a plugin to have a product. You don’t even have to write a theme that serves a niche market. You could have a book for your niche, or an email course, or a video series.

Have something that you can brand so that you’ll stand out. Something that makes you look like the authority you are.

5. Use Your Blog

I assume you’re reading this because you work with WordPress, but when was the last time you blogged using the blogging software you work with? How many of your clients have you told to blog to get more sales and traffic?

I tell my kids that they can’t eat cookies for breakfast, and wouldn’t you know it I got caught eating a cookie as part of my breakfast this morning. Classic case of do as I say, not as I do.

You’re doing the same thing with your site if you’re not producing some type of content. Do a podcast, or a YouTube channel. Then publish it on your site as well. Content works if you do it.

Two weeks in to producing membership videos on YouTube I signed $6k of work with someone that found me on YouTube. I’m talking to another client on a $10k project right now.

Content works.

6. Contribute

Yes it’s good to have your own projects, but you should find something to contribute to as well. It doesn’t have to be WordPress Core, in fact I’d say that you’re going to have more impact if you find a sizeable project outside core and contribute to that.

You don’t even have to write code. I’m cited as a contributor on a bunch of projects because I helped out with documentation. I’ve noted when documentation was lacking or incorrect and then I wrote about it. I’d publish the work on my site and tell the developer about it offering to contribute it back to their project as well.

Sometimes it does end up in their documentation. Sometimes I get a link to my site. Either way, I’m cited as a contributor alongside another project and I stand out again.

You could even answer questions on the WordPress.org forums. While much of it is answering similar questions over and over, I’ve dug deep with someone on the forum. That time turned in to my first $20k contract and then three more years of $10k of work, plus the referrals they sent my way.

Schedule time in to your week for contributing to the community. If you’re not sure how to manage your schedule I talked about timeblocking on The Productivity Show and when I showed you how I use Bullet Journalling to run my business. It’s your fault if your schedule is overwhelming.

7. Don’t Talk like a Developer

The thing about being a developer/nerd is that we get interested in the technical aspects of so many things. We take on projects because they’re fascinating from a technical perspective.

Your clients don’t care though. They have a business problem they need solved.

A friend and I used to work on a whitewater kayaking site together. We’d write about the trips we did and give guides to different places to paddle rivers. He was not technical at all. One of the best stories is when he called me because his computer wouldn’t turn on. I asked him, as a joke, if it was plugged in. The answer was a short pause then “shit” and the phone hung up. It was unplugged.

When I’d be talking about some new feature of the site, he’d often stop me after a minute or two and say “all I heard was I’m a big nerd for the last few minutes” can we do X?

This was great training for working with clients. They don’t want to hear about all your technical talk. They want to know if you can solve their problem. When I first talk to a client I always say that I sometimes talk to myself about a problem in a call and that if they don’t understand what I said, and I don’t stop to tell them what it means to them they need to tell me I’m a big nerd and I need to explain it to them.

Not only does this elicit a laugh, it does get clients to stop me from time to time and ask me to explain something. One client named Sarah said that I was the only developer that stopped to explain things which is one reason she went with me. I was triple the price of everyone else, and couldn’t start the project for two months instead of the next day that others offered.

She waited and paid more happily.

8. Have a Client Vetting Process

Far too many developers work with anyone that has a pulse. You’ve got money, they’ll work with you. Now I’m never going to fault you for taking the work you need to take to feed your family, but don’t get stuck there.

You need to establish your client vetting process. You need to qualify your prospects as valid clients before you take any money from them. If you’re not sure where to start I wrote a whole series on client vetting to get you started.

Steal my process and modify it to fit your ideal clients. Stick with it and you’ll start to stand out from the crowd.

That same client, Sarah, said I was the only developer that didn’t book a call with her the same day I got the email. I sent her my schedule and told her to book a time. When she pushed back about talking right away I told her she had to wait because my calls were already full. She was going to have to wait two weeks to talk to me. That was part of my client vetting process. If she wasn’t strongly interested in me as the expert then I wasn’t going to work with her.

Of course this assumes you put in the work up front to establish yourself as an expert. So you better do the damn work that I’m talking about in this post.

9. Have a Follow Up Process

On top of having a great client vetting process, you need a client follow up process. My friend Jason talks about this on his podcast: How to follow up with a lead. I love the last email he suggests. I adopted it as my last email because the one I had wasn’t nearly as effective as what he used.

I wrote about how I follow up with clients and gave you the exact schedule I use. The sad fact is that most people never follow up strategically with their prospects and clients. They just hope that a random email every so often gets them work.

It won’t and that’s what you don’t stand out.

10. Ship Your Damn Work on Time and Do Good Work

On one hand, this should be obvious but the longer I’ve talked to clients and coached freelancers, the more I know that so many projects don’t ship on time. I admit that I’ve done it as well.

This harms your business. I know one freelancer I’ll call Bob that I used to refer work to, but they kept shipping late or just not digging in to the project properly. I had one of their clients come back and talk to me about a bug on their site because Bob said he didn’t know about the plugin and that I could probably fix it.

That meant the client paid me $250 to update the plugin and then reach out to the plugin support team. Then I installed the fixed plugin to test it. I spent about 30 minutes on the project because Bob couldn’t be bothered to do the basic things that needed to get done to try and fix the problem. This was the project he was already getting paid for, but couldn’t be bothered to handle.

This is not the first time I’ve herd these stories about Bob working with clients, but it’s the last one that I’ll help happen. I don’t refer work to Bob anymore. I talked to Bob a few weeks ago and he’s having a hard time finding work. He isn’t getting the referrals he used to get, and I don’t wonder why.

Your reputation is all you have, so put some effort in to doing good work on time.

I’ve written a book on Finding and Marketing To Your Niche. If you want to find that niche and then stand out, you should get it. You need to start standing out if you want to stay in business. If you need more hands on help send me an email: curtis@curtismchale.ca and we can make a plan to stand out and bring in more work.

If you want to stand out from the sea of sameness that is WordPress Developers, that’s what you have to do. Yes it’s work, but if you want to run your own business it was going to be hard work anyway. If you thought that some cosmic deity would smile on you for being earnest about wanting to run your own business, you were lying to yourself.

It’s time to stop lying to yourself. It’s time to start putting in the work that it’s going to take to stand out from the crowd. If you need help making a plan I can help.

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